“Make my own sauerkraut? Really? That seems complicated…” That’s what I thought, too! I was extremely intimidated by the idea of trying to ferment my own foods. Much to my surprise, it’s anything but complicated. You need not be a stellar cook or a “foodie” to try your hand at fermentation—all you need is a knife, cabbage, sea salt, and a glass jar or ceramic crock to stuff it in. Trust me, I’m a serious sauerkraut novice, and through experience I’ve realized that making this stuff is not as difficult or complex as our minds make it out to be.
Fermentation, an ancient approach to food preservation, has been practiced across cultures for thousands of years. Through the process of fermentation, food is not only preserved but also becomes more digestible, nutrient-rich, and chock-full of probiotics. The digestive benefits of fermented foods are the most widely discussed and explored health aspects of fermentation. Beyond the positive impacts of fermented foods on digestive health, the health benefits are vast—ranging from immune system support, to mental health and well-being—and we’re learning and discovering more every day. (I’ve listed some great fermentation resources below, including an article that explores the relationship between beneficial bacteria in the gut, digestive function, and mental health.)
I could go into detail about the myriad benefits of fermented food…But we’ve got some sauerkraut to make! I’ve kept it simple, and the following recipe makes a modest amount of sauerkraut—perfect for just getting started. I’ve included some spring herbs in the recipe, but the kraut can be made with or without these herbs—leave them out for a simple cabbage-only kraut, or experiment with other herbs and spices if you’re feeling creative. Ok, let’s get to it.
Red Cabbage, Burdock root, and Nettles Kraut
1-2 cabbages (red or green), sliced
2 medium-sized Burdock roots, sliced
1-2 cups fresh Nettle leaves (spring-harvested, before the plants flower)
Sea Salt (without added iodine or anti-caking agents)
Large mixing bowl
Glass jar or a ceramic crock (large enough to pack all your ingredients into once processed)
Smaller glass jar or ceramic plate that will fit inside the larger jar or crock (see photo for example)
* Do not use metallic containers
Clean rubber gloves (unpowdered, not used for cleaning…to keep your hands from getting stung by the Nettles!)
- Combine cabbage and Burdock in the mixing bowl.
- Massage veggies as if you’re kneading dough, adding sea salt in small amounts as you go.
- It may take a few minutes, but soon enough the cabbage will start to release water (thanks to the salt). If the cabbage is reluctantly juicing, add some more salt. Taste the cabbage periodically to make sure it tastes salty, but not too salty.
- Keep massaging until you have enough juice to be able to submerge the cabbage-mix (once it’s placed in the jar—but don’t put it in the jar yet!).
- Now, put on those gloves! (Unnecessary if you’re not using fresh Nettles)
- Add Nettles and massage until they are well-mixed with the cabbage and Burdock. (Don’t worry, the stinging part of the Nettles will be denatured through the massaging and fermentation processes.)
- Place ingredients in your large jar, packing it down as you go (with your fists, or a kitchen utensil such as a meat-pounder, pestle, etc).
- Once the large jar is packed, place the smaller jar inside it to weigh down the cabbage—completely submerging it under the juice. This is important, if exposed to the air the cabbage will mold. If the smaller jar is not heavy enough to weigh down the cabbage, fill the jar with water to make it heavier! Press down carefully on the weight to help force more juice from the cabbage. Do this periodically as it ferments to ensure the cabbage is submerged.
- Place jar on top of a plate to avoid any juice overflow on your countertop. Cover jar with a clean towel or cloth to keep dust and flies out.
- Leave it to ferment! Warm temperatures will encourage the kraut to ferment faster; it will ferment at a slower rate in cooler temperatures.
- Taste a little bit of the cabbage each day until it reaches your desired taste—around 5 days to 2 weeks. It should have a sour taste, not salty. The longer you leave it to ferment, the more sour it will become.
- If mold appears on the surface, skim it off the top and don’t worry—that’s the top’s exposure to the air, but the cabbage itself should be submerged and protected. If mold appears in the top layer of the cabbage itself, remove that portion, and pack the remaining cabbage down firmly so it’s completely submerged.
- Once the kraut has reached your desired taste, place the finished product in a clean jar in the fridge. It should last about 6 months in the fridge…provided you don’t eat it all first!
** Final note: If something goes awry the ferment will begin to smell REALLY bad/putrid. Use your common sense and intuition and if your body says, “Don’t eat that”…Then don’t! And don’t be discouraged, either. Try again!
- Wild Fermentation, Sandor Ellix Katz
- The Art of Fermentation, Sandor Ellix Katz
- Sandor Ellix Katz’s website: http://www.wildfermentation.com/
- “Gut feelings: the future of psychiatry may be inside your stomach”, Carrie Arnold: http://www.theverge.com/2013/8/21/4595712/gut-feelings-the-future-of-psychiatry-may-be-inside-your-stomach
- Cultures For Health website: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/