Here I was, all excited and proud of myself because I kicked off the month of February with a bang as far as posting frequency goes. And then the Super Bowl was over, and team Green Bay won Tomato Bowl 2011 by a landslide. Then, I had a week of eating up all those tomatoey leftovers, and my blog was neglected once again. *Sigh* But, I promise you that today’s post will almost make up for a week of nothingness.
I have always wanted to make my own sauerkraut. Ever since I started putting food by, the idea of sauerkraut appealed- plus it was one of the few ways I knew to preserve cabbage. The thing about cabbage is that in the fall we can buy these massive heads of fresh-from-the-field cabbage, and whack chunks off of it for a week and still have half a head left. By then we’re tired of cabbage, so what do we do with it other than chuck it in the compost? Enter sauerkraut. And enter Nourishing Traditions.
I’ve heard about this book for years, read about it on blogs and internet forums, but it wasn’t until last summer that I finally picked up a copy for myself. One part cookbook, and one part information, the information contained totally cemented for me the necessity to cook with real food. It’s definitely worth reading and formulating your own opinion. While I may not agree with quite everything (hey- I’m not running out and buying organ meat for my family) I agree with most of the principles, and I am glad I have this book in my library.
The recipe for sauerkraut is in the section on fermented foods, and you would think that normal except the method chosen for fermentation is different than what I was familiar with. In this case, and in most of the fermented recipes, you begin with whey- the liquid drained from yogurt. This begins a process called lacto-fermentation, and the end results are supposed to be incredible for your gut health. The day I decided to make this kraut, I’d planned ahead and bought a quart container of plain yogurt and drained it over coffee filters and a sieve for several hours until I had the four tablespoons necessary for the recipe. The leftover yogurt was thicker than normal, and incredibly delicious for a few days mixed with fresh fruit and a drizzle of honey.
I made a few minor changes to the recipe. The first one being that I used half a head of cabbage- I thought my head was on the large side, and half would be the equivalent of the medium head called for. My second change was the seeds. I cannot begin to describe how much I loathe caraway seed. It’s one of the few flavors in this world that makes my tongue and skin crawl, and I avoid it at all costs. Instead, I decided to use dill seed, thinking that would give the fermented kraut a nice touch.
I followed the directions to the letter, which were easy enough once I had my whey all ready to go. I combined the cabbage, dill seeds, sea salt and whey in a large bowl and began pounding it up with a wooden pestle from a chinois. I did this for 10 minutes- which, like kneading bread- seemed to take forever to do. When that was done, I began the process of stuffing this large bowl of shredded, macerated cabbage into a one-quart mason jar. I packed it in as tightly as possible, and still couldn’t get about 2 cups of the shreds into the jar. The lesser amount I put into a small pint jar, but ended up discarding that when I realized I didn’t have enough liquid in the second jar. Then I put the cover on the jar and set it on the counter for three days, and then I put it in the fridge after that.
About two weeks later, I cracked open the lid for the first taste. I don’t know how to describe what I tasted, but it was one part good, but one part of me thought I could taste the sour whey, doing it’s thing- kind of sulfuric in taste. I debated tossing it, but thought it might benefit from a longer aging time in the fridge. I put it in the back of the fridge and forgot about it. Oh, I’d see it from time to time, but didn’t really feel a desire to dip back into that jar for another taste.
So when it was a full five months later and Andy asked if we were ever going to try that sauerkraut in the back of the fridge, I was a little trepiditious about giving it a second go. But I pulled out the jar, cracked open the top and dipped in a fork. Delicious! The funky flavor I’d experienced months earlier was gone, and the sauerkraut had a pleasant sourness to it. The dill seeds added a light dill flavor which I think make the sauerkraut exceptional. It really is very good, and yet, I wonder where the magic moment was that it went from funky-flavored to delicious. I plan to get a second jar going here soon so I can find out. Right now cabbage is one of the very inexpensive veggies at the grocery store, so trying it out is easy to do.
Regardless of how long it actually takes to get to where I like to eat it, this is the best sauerkraut I’ve ever eaten. This was the first recipe I was brave enough to try out of Nourishing Traditions, and now I’m thinking I need to try a few more.
from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
makes 1 quart1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded 1 tablespoon caraway seeds (I used dill seed- celery or fennel seed are also on my radar) 1 tablespoon sea salt 4 tablespoons whey
In a bowl, mix the cabbage with the seeds, sea salt and whey. Pound with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer for about 10 minutes to release juices. Place in a quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jar and press down firmly with a pounder or meat hammer until juices come to the top of the cabbage. The top of the cabbage should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring to cold storage. The sauerkraut may be eaten immediately, but it improves with age.