Homemade sauerkraut is more than just delicious, it’s actually enormously healthful. For lovers of homemade food everywhere, this basic recipe can be your guide to experimenting with kraut adventures. While kraut has the reputation of being a German food, it’s actually just the German name for the simple brine fermentation that is a common practice of preserving vegetables in cultures throughout the world. Pickles and kimchee are other examples, for instance.
If you love the crunchy, tangy taste of sauerkraut, you’re actually tapping into an ancient tastebud tradition. Fermented vegetables have been in the human diet for thousands of years! Our ancestors were working in harmony with the microbial environment to preserve food with fermentation, and without the aid of a refrigerator, probably even before the advent of fire.
And yet, in the past few generations (you can thank Louis Pasteur for this), we have erased the actual TRUE goodness of sauerkraut and its brethren from the modern American diet. You see, the sauerkraut and pickles you buy in the store have been heat processed, and so robbed of many of the valuable micro nutrients our bodies have thrived on for eons.
But the good news is, you can easily remedy this grave gastric injustice right in your very own kitchen. You can stage a silent coup of the industrial food monopoly in a jar or crock of your own design. So far, there are no food police, so you’re still allowed to enjoy delicious food of made in the privacy of your subversive culinary habitat. And it’s so easy.
Wild Fermentation – How fermented food can change the world
I have to give a shout out to my friend Mike Clark for turning me on to this wonderful book. Wild Fermentation not only tells you how to make kraut from scratch, it chronicles the makings of dozens of fermented culinary delights that anyone can master. This book is more than just a great DIY guide, it’s a manifesto for health, wellness, and whole food, free from industrial processing. Wild Fermentation encourages us to take control of our own diets and take back our culinary history from the powerful food industry that perpetuates our separation from the grounding, life-giving forces of nature
Everything I learned about sauerkraut I learned from this book by Sandor Ellis Katz. And, yes, I admit it freaked me out at first to be eating something that had been sitting at room temperature for several days. But overcoming my fear has paid off big time. Now there is not a day that a crock of kraut is not seasoning in some corner of my kitchen.
A pictoral step-by-step of kraut making.
In this recipe I used equal parts red and green cabbage, plus I added some lovely fresh, local beet greens.
Chop the cabbage and greens into bite-sized pieces.
After producing a thick layer of chopped veggies, sprinkle some sea salt. No need to measure. But err on the light side. A good rule of thumb is about one tablespoon per cabbage head.
Continue until all your vegetables are chopped. Then mix them up, distributing the salt throughout.
Pack the vegetables tightly into a jar or crock. I use a wooden spoon or mallet (intended for meat tenderizing). The crushing of the leaves helps the salt to penetrate the vegetables and draw out the water.
Choose a lid that will fit very snugly inside the crock or jar. A bit of space is allowable, but you want to be sure to keep ALL the vegetables submerged under the brine. You’ll also want to weigh down the lid with a heavy rock or another jar filled with water.
Use a snug fitting lid with a weight,
or use a tightly fitting jar filled with water
to weigh down the kraut below the brine level.
Here I use a tupperware lid,
and weigh it down with a
boiled rock from Lake Michigan!
Press down the weight every few hours or so until you you are assured that water has risen above the vegetables. It can take up to 24 hours for the salt to completely leech the water from the vegetables. If after 24 hours there’s still not enough water to cover the veggies, you’ll want to add a bit of brine. Use 1 tablespoon of salt, completely dissolved, per cup of water.
The brine should be over your lid,
and no veggies showing!
This can take up to 24 hours.
It is VERY IMPORTANT that your lid is snug enough that NO VEGETABLES are floating to the top. Vegetables MUST stay submerged, or you are going to invite the wrong kind of bacteria into your crock – and the result will just be putrid vegetables rather than fermented kraut. (You’ll know from the smell, trust me. And nothing is sadder than having to throw out your lovingly chopped cabbage that never got the chance to fulfill its nutritive potential.)
Leave your crock ajar, but cover it with a towel to keep out dust (or cat hair!)
So now you wait. Don’t seal the crock. Leave it open a crack. You will want to cover it with a clean dish towel to keep dust out, but allow air to circulate. Each day or so you may want to check your crock to be sure all is well. The water has a tendency to evaporate if your home is very dry or the weather is warm. After day four or five you can remove the weight and lid and sample your kraut. I’ve found that day ten to twelve (here in winter in Michigan) is when I find it “perfect” – I then take out a big handful to put it in the fridge to enjoy. I carefully repack the crock, submerging the cabbage and weighing it down, to let the remaining kraut season even further, creating new taste variations as it ages.
Kraut around my house never lasts past week three, as we eat it pretty quickly, but you can continue to store it under brine for many weeks in cool weather. Of course in hot weather the kraut will mature more quickly.
Finished purple kraut
So that’s it! Pretty simple! I like to add my kraut to a sandwich of steamed kale, mustard, and tahini on rye bread for a lovely vegetarian ruben. It’s also amazing on sausages. Or just straight out of the jar! My roommate and I love to just eat a bowl of it when it has finally reached maturity..sort of a little kraut celebration, an epicurean tribute to the wonders of home fermenting!
I’ve experimented with combinations of cabbages and greens – probably my favorite combo being a spicy pink kraut I accomplished by combing four heads of green cabbage, one head of red cabbage, two large bunches of mustard greens, and four tablespoons of mustard seeds.
Makings of spicier kraut
Feel free to experiment! Add garlic and peppercorns. Spinach and kale. Get creative! Enjoy!