Tangy, sour, crunchy and refreshing, sauerkraut makes a delicious accompaniment to any meal.
Fermented and pickled foods have been part of the human diet for thousands of years. In fact, just about every culture has some type of fermented food with sauerkraut being one of the most popular and well known. It is definitely one of my favorites, especially when it’s homemade. Sauerkraut basically means “sour cabbage” and that’s exactly what it is. You take some cabbage, spices, salt and sometimes whey and you smash it all up together then set it aside for a few days while it ferments.
From a culinary perspective, making your own sauerkraut is actually pretty easy, fun and well worth it since raw sauerkraut is so much more flavorful and healthful than cooked and pasteurized. Once you’ve got a batch ready to eat, you can enjoy it as a condiment or as a zippy replacement for sauces or dressings.
From a health perspective, raw sauerkraut is seriously amazing stuff. Research demonstrates that eating four or more servings of sauerkraut a week has a pretty significant impact on your immune system. In fact, one study revealed that when subjects consumed a half a cup a day of raw sauerkraut a day it significantly reduced the risk of viral infections like avian flu. For decades, if not centuries, sauerkraut has been recognized as a digestive aid and treatment for gastrointestinal issues, including ulcers and ulcerative colitis.
Sauerkraut is a great source of Vitamins C, B, and K to name a few and it also has a significant amount of calcium, magnesium, iron and other minerals. If you’re feeling adventurous it’s worth trying your hand a batch of sauerkraut, especially with flu season on the way. It will last a while once fermented.
Here’s a basic recipe to begin with but once you get the hang of it you can switch it up and create your own unique options.
To begin you will need:
2 heads of cabbage (green or red or both)
1/2 cup of Whey (if whey is not available you can use more sea salt)
1 Tbsp of Sea Salt
1 Tbsp Caraway Seeds
Core the cabbage heads, cut into wedges and then slice/chop into small strips. Place cabbage in a large bowl and add whey and sea salt.
Here comes the fun part. Begin squishing and massaging the cabbage into the whey and sea salt. Keep this up until the cabbage is softened and enough liquid has formed in the bowl to cover the cabbage easily.
Now add the caraway seeds and mix well. Place the sauerkraut in glass jars with lids, canning jars are perfect. Fill almost to the top but make sure there is enough liquid in each jar for the cabbage to be completely covered. This is very important because we want fermentation not mold and if the cabbage is above the liquid, it will mold. Now put the lids on your jars and place them on a shelf or somewhere that they can rest and ferment.
Depending on the time of year this process can take anywhere from a week to 10 days (also depending on how fermented you want it to taste). Check on them every day or so to make sure that the cabbage is below the liquid line. If it isn’t just open the jars and push the cabbage down under the juice. Make sure you have clean hands first!
If you’d like to experiment with different flavors and spices you can try these:
- Use Curry instead of Caraway seeds, it may sound frightening but it is fantastic!
- Add mustard seeds with the Caraway seeds
- Chinese Five Spice is also interesting instead of Caraway seeds
For a spicier version of fermented goodness, try adding this to your cabbage:
1 cup of grated carrots and 2 medium onions, finely sliced. Replace the caraway seeds with 1 tablespoon of oregano and some red pepper flakes.
Hints: Just so I can easily tell the difference between the sauerkrauts that I make I use different colored cabbages for different spices. I use purple and green cabbage for the spicy mixture (which is a modified Cortido). It turns a lovely pink/red color. I use just green cabbage for the others, the caraway version will stay nicely green and white and looks lovely and the curry version turns a spectacular yellow.
Make sure you store your sauerkraut in the refrigerator after it has fermented to your taste. It will last for a couple of months technically. Although it never lasts that long in my kitchen because I love it and eat a little bit of it with just about everything. If your sauerkraut does grow mold, which will more than likely be either black or pink, don’t eat it. You’ll have to throw it away and start over.