I have blogged about fermentation before but I have become more and more interested in culturing various veggies and liquids and thought it was time for a review. In keeping with my new modus operandi (aka easier to read blog entries) this week’s blog is primarily to do with one fermented food, sauerkraut. Next week, kefir and the following week a review of kombucha. Since I first started fermenting foods I have learned so much and through experimentation I have found some really interesting ways to “mix it up” and add variety.
One reason I have become more interested in keeping cultured foods around the house is for their probiotic effect. Lately there has been no end of articles about probiotics helping your body fight off all kinds of horrors and cultured foods are one of the best, if not the best, natural source of probiotics.
Cultured foods can be anti-carcinogenic and have antibiotic properties as well. They repopulate the lining of your gut after you have damaged it with rounds of doctor prescribed antibiotics. If you suffer with GERD they can be your best friend because of the lacto-fermentation that is used. Yes, cultured foods can alkalinize and normalize your gut. Even your breath can be sweeter thanks to the activity of lacto fermentation. Last but not least fermenting veggies and fruit helps extend their lifespan. Once they are fully cultured they will keep in the refrigerator for months.
Day 1-making sauerkraut
I think sauerkraut is my favorite cultured vegetable and the simpler the better. Here are the ingredients you will need:
- One head of cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
- 3-4 carrots shredded
- 1 tablespoon Celtic sea salt
- 1-2 tablespoons whey or follow directions on a package of culture starter
- One quart canning jar with lid
Put your sliced cabbage and shredded carrots in a large bowl. To that add the Celtic Sea Salt, about 1 tablespoon and began to massage the salt in to the cabbage with your fingers, squeezing it and turning it until moisture is pouring off the now nearly mutilated shreds of lovely cruciferous vegetable.
Now add 1-2 tablespoons of whey (from a batch of raw milk kefir) and massage some more until the liquid is visibly sitting in the bottom of the bowl. You can also pound the cabbage if you have a good cook’s mallet or even a pestle.
Using a funnel pour the contents in to the clean quart jar, packing it down until the liquid floats above the veggies completely covering them. Top with a clean lid and screw on tightly. If your house is warm place in your pantry. At my house it is cool, so I put mine in the fermenting garage otherwise known as microwave (it isn’t used for cooking only keeping things warm). Now it is ready to sit for 5 days until I want to slow the fermentation by putting it in the refrigerator.
Watching the bubbles rise
Today, Day 2 and already I see signs of active fermentation. When I unscrewed the cap there was that lovely hiss that is a sign that the mixture is already actively altering the state of the fresh cabbage to softer, and more sour, kraut. The smell is slightly sour as well but pleasantly so, there should be nothing that smells bad or offensive.
Day three and things are getting lively
This morning when I opened the lid to release pent-up gas I could smell the sour smell of fermenting cabbage. The action in the jar is increasing and the gases that escaped were more forceful and the bubbling more persistent.
It is good to release the gases every day, so probably when you make sauerkraut you should know you are going to be around for the 5 days it ferments outside the refrigerator. After day 4 or 5 you can place your jar in the refrigerator for long-term storage.
After making cultured vegetables for several years I return time and again to this plain and simple recipe. Sandor Katz has a great book on fermenting everything from hops (beer) to your immature garden veggies, so it is a great investment but it isn’t necessary to just make sauerkraut and have the gut healthy juice that is a by-product.
There are several online sites you can refer to but after making my own cultured veggies for several years I realize some people are too hung up on the details like providing a completely sterile environment. You do need to watch for mold and if you see any discoloration that appears to be mold it might be better to throw it out and start over again. In many cases, Sandor Katz says to wipe the mold off and eat the contents but do so with caution.
In my opinion, when fermenting veggies you do not have to sterilize everything but you do not want to expose the fermenting veggies to chemicals like chlorine. I always use an environmentally friendly dishwasher soap like Bio-Kleen, so my jars come out of the dishwasher ready to use. If you use a name brand soap they have bleach in them, so before you use the jars wash them with plain hot water and a natural soap like castile soap to assure no chemical residue.
If you like spicy fermented veggies like kimchi, you can simply add spices like hot peppers, or hot pepper flakes before you put it in the jar. If you want something milder you could still spice it up with dill or fennel seed. You can make cultured veggies with cauliflower or really mix it up and make a batch with red cabbage and apples.
I find myself liking the plain cabbage and carrot more than anything else. Having tried several varieties I return to plain and simple every time. I like making one quart at a time. If you want to make a large batch the method is basically the same but you will need larger equipment and more refrigerator capacity than I currently have.
Next week I am going to share my latest ideas for making raw milk kefir, from making it with coconut cream to double fermentation.