Friday, May 18, 2012
I have always been a little suspicious of sauerkraut. When I was young it simply looked like a mass of greyish slimy disgusting. Therefore I avoided it, much to my parents delight who got all misty eyed and lyrical whenever a can of sauerkraut was opened and hoarded it jealously to themselves. Later on in life I risked a wee nibble and was entranced, sauerkraut was sour, tangy, salty and delicious. Perfect for hot dogs, sausages, stews or as an accompaniment to a cooked breakfast.
Sauerkraut is also a powerful probiotic, one of the top superfoods that can help promote good health via the gut. It is high in vitamin C and digestive enzymes. It’s a good source of natural lactic acid bacteria such as lactobacillus and pediococcus. It is also rich in a phytonutrient, glucosinolate which in small amounts is supposed to enable detoxification and is known as an anti cancer agent. The phytonutrients are also known for protecting mucous membranes, especially in the lungs and digestive tract. To get the benefits of probiotic goodness you need to buy organic unpasteurized sauerkraut or ferment your own, canned kraut has been pasteurised and is no good.
Sauerkraut is most commonly made with cabbage but can be used with any cruciferous vegetable (Brassicaceae), it is created by a process of lacto-fermentation, which helps to preserve the nutrients but also makes the vegetables more digestible and creates the probiotic component. Lacto-fermentation also gives it the signature sauerkraut flavor. This process produces a wide range of beneficial live lactic acid bacteria which assist in the digestive process. It also synthesises a variety of vitamins and other nutrients as well as keeping harmful micro-organisms at bay.
True sauerkraut aficionados use a special airtight crock pot to ferment their vegetables because the pickling process is anaerobic which means no air is involved. These crockpots have a tight seal created by a rim of water or an airtight lid. For the beginner you can use mason jars but just be aware that light and contact with metal are detrimental to the process. Weck canning jars or hinge topped fido jars would be ideal but in a pinch a normal metal lid mason jar or springtop lidded jar with some clingfilm in between would work. Other options are to use a bucket with a heavy plate compressing the mix and keeping air out.
Back in the day using lacto fermentation was a great way of preserving the goodness in seasonal vegetables for year round nutrition. Sauerkraut is an excellent recipe for people aiming towards self sufficiency as it maximises nutrition and keeping time. As such I decided it was time to take the plunge into the weird and wonderful world of lacto fermentation.
On the weekend at the local farmers market I found a seller with delicious looking Chinese barrel cabbages and snapped one up for $2.
This is the recipe I used. It’s a combination of two different recipes I had obtained and I took the best of both recipes and combined them.
1 large firm headed cabbage (any equivalent brassica will do)
1 tablespoons of uniodised salt - (iodine inhibits fermentation). I used Himalayan rock salt which has trace amounts of iodine. Celtic sea salt is also good.
8 Juniper berries
2 tsp caraway seeds
Enough water to cover the cabbage – filtered or spring is best as chlorinated water will also inhibit fermentation.
Juice of one lemon
The technique of how you make the sauerkraut is important, if you get it wrong it could all get terribly unpleasant.
1. First off slice the base off of your cabbage and set aside (you’ll be using this later), pull off any damaged outer leaves.
2. Core your cabbage and then slice finely, as finely as possible.
3. Place your cabbage in a large non reactive bowl, glass or plastic is best, then sprinkle your salt over the top
4. Toss and rub the cabbage to get the salt drawing the juices out. You can use a potato masher or pulveriser to crush it if you like.
5. Leave the cabbage for an hour to sweat, it should look a little translucent.
6. Sprinkle the juniper berries and caraway seeds over the cabbage
7. In a blender blitz 1 cup of water and the juice of the lemon with any leftover cabbage debris or a handful of cabbage from your batch of sauerkraut.
8. Firmly pack your cabbage into mason jars, using a mortar or wooden spoon to get it packed as tightly as possible. The idea is to exclude any air bubbles as they can make the mixture turn bad.
9. As you pack the cabbage in top up with your blended water. Ideally all of the cabbage will be submerged by the time you have finished. Leave about an inch at the top of the jar. You can use extra plain water if you don’t have enough brine.
10. Find the base that you set aside and trim it to fit your jar and then slide onto your cabbage like a plug. If you used more than one jar then you can use rolled up outer leaves to be your ‘plug’. You can squeeze a little lemon juice over the kraut
11. Put your jars somewhere warm and dark, the kraut should take between 4 days to 2 weeks. You can check it from time to time for sourness and intensity. Once it has reached the flavor you prefer you can refrigerate it and it should last indefinitely if well stored.
Sauerkraut is a great addition to meals, you can use it as a pickle or relish with vegetables and meats or as a topping for stews. My personal favourite is with bratwurst, but it is equally delectable in sandwiches or on crackers. I spied this recipe for pink ginger sauerkraut the other day and cannot wait to try it but I may wait and see if this batch works first!