Before I lined my shelves with food magazines and my tables with stationery, I invested in several wide-mouthed mason jars and a copy of Fermented Vegetables by Kristen and Christopher Shockney. I was an amateur preservationist, ready to take on unreal amounts of cabbage and turn them into a hot dog’s best friend- sauerkraut. It felt like I was in school all over again, making a science fair project, and every single time I spotted active bubbling in my kraut jar, I’d exclaim, “It’s alive!”. The jars smelled suspicious for weeks, and as a result, so did my home.
SO WHY FERMENT?
We can’t go a week without fermented foods like chocolate and cheese, coffee and beer, none of which add any substantial value to our bodies. But this funky, stinky, ferment promised beneficial probiotics that boost the immune system and nourish your colon (I know it sounds gross, but trust us, you’ll love it). Fermenting also deepens the flavour profile and retains the nutrient value of the vegetable, that would be lost, had it been blanched. When slaw gets too boring to serve at a party, bring out the kraut.
THAT’S COOL, BUT IT SOUNDS LIKE TOO MUCH WORK
It’s actually child’s play. All you need is 1-2 good quality heads of cabbage and salt.
Core and shred the cabbage, and add the salt by hand, tasting it as you go. Stop if it’s too salty and add more cabbage to balance the salinity. Your sauerkraut should taste good before, to taste good after.
Massage in the salt till you see some brine collecting at the base. Squeeze the cabbage till it releases some more brine or massage it till there’s enough brine to pack it into the jar.
Pack in batches, using a plunger as you go, to ensure that there are no air bubbles and the brine rises to the surface. Your jar is full when there’s 2-3 inches of space between the brine and the shoulder of the jar.
Cling the surface of the brine and introduce a weight into the jar (this could be a smaller jar, or a stone to keep the cling in place and ensure that the cabbage remains immersed at all times.
Tie a muslin or cheese cloth over the jar and keep the jar over a plate. Allow it to ferment for 3-4 days, by which time your kraut will be alive and kicking.
HOW DO I KNOW IF IT’S READY?
Check on your sauerkraut periodically, it should change colour to look translucent (the colour of cooked cabbage) and smell sour. The warmer the temperature of the room, the faster it will ferment. Taste after the third day. It should taste pleasingly sour and pickle-y without the acidity of vinegar. Allow this to ferment for a few more days, for a stronger flavour. Remove the weights from the jar when ready, bottle the jar, and refrigerate. This will last for about 6 months.
WHAT IF I HATE CABBAGE?
Who said anything about restricting yourself to cabbage? Once you’ve got the groundwork down for making the perfect saeurkraut, you can make a host of lacto-fermented veggies and go way beyond cabbage kraut. Let these happily glisten in a warm corner of your kitchen out of direct sunlight. Here are a few suggestions:
Spiced Beet Kraut
Grate 2 beets and add to one head of shredded cabbage. Add 1 large, thinly sliced red onion, 200g sliced green beans, 3 cloves of smashed garlic and a few seeded and thinly chopped jalapeños. Massage these ingredients together, then add 1 tbsp each of cumin seeds, lime zest, dried oregano and red chilli flakes. Add 1-2 tbsp of sea salt and let the brine develop. Pack with the plunger as instructed above and make sure that the bay leaf at the bottom. Top with a large outer leaf of cabbage and weight down with a sealed, water-filled ziplock bag and allow to ferment. Check daily to make sure that the vegetables are submerged and taste after 5 days, though this kraut tastes best after 2 weeks. Skim off any foam or moulds that may develop, the kraut will be perfect under.
Add 1 1/2 to 2 tbsp of salt to 1-2 tbsp of grated cucumbers and 4 tablespoons of lemon juice and to and massage into 2 heads of shredded cabbage and allow the brine to collect. Mix in the garlic, and proceed as above.
Combine 1 1/2 kilos of grated sweet carrots with 1 tbsp of fresh ginger and juice and zest of 1/2 lemon. Massage in 1 to 1 1/2 tbsp salt and let the brine collect. Use cling film to cover the surface of the brine and place the sealed, water-filled ziplock bag as a weight. Proceed as above.