AFTER HEADING OFF to Smoothie Club earlier this week (as seen here), I’ve been fully fired up about getting some fermented foods into my diet in addition to the kombucha and water kefir that are already there. Time to crank up that probiotic goodness so that my body can really make use of the great food that I try to eat.
So I rushed off to buy a big stainless steel mixing bowl and some glass mason jars, along with a nice pile of organic ingredients from one of the local organic shops. As Nicola from Forever Fit TV pointed out on the night, you really do want to use the best quality produce that you can. Organic food is just plain better for you than the supermarket stuff, and it tastes nicer too. Also, it’s not coated in various toxins and pesticides, which is pretty important when you’re fermenting because the process involves billions of minuscule bacteria, and they’re generally not all that comfortable in the presence of poisons, so you don’t always get the best results with non-organic food. Even if you did, organic is better, end of story.
Those bacteria are found on the surface of the cabbage leaves, and once they get to work, they start changing the cabbage into a delicious and extra-healthy food, full of beneficial nutrients including lashings of vitamin C and massive levels of the probiotics that are so good for the digestive system. Remember, strong gut health means you absorb more of the nutrients in the food that you eat.
For this initial batch, I picked up two cabbage halves, a couple of red onions, a big red capsicum and two gorgeous golden beetroots, a kind I’d never seen before but just couldn’t resist. Only the cabbage goes into the sauerkraut, the rest is for the kimchi that I made at the same time.
The process to get the sauerkraut ready to go is so simple:
1. Wash your mixing bowl and the glass jars very carefully with hot soapy water and rinse them until there’s zero trace of soap residue. Clean is very, very good when it comes to fermentation.
2. Tear off the outer leaves of the cabbage and set a few aside. Then slice that sucker thinly. Me being me, I went with slices around 5-10mm thick but you might be better off slicing down the face of the cabbage with 3-5mm as a guide. You can rinse the sliced cabbage in filtered water if you like.
3. Pop the cabbage into the mixing bowl along with a tablespoon and a half of rock salt, preferably the good pink Himalayan stuff, and then crunch it all up with your hands by squeezing it as if you’re trying to squash the juice right out of it.
As above, cleanliness is important, and Nicola reckons you should use a set of sterile gloves for this (without any powder if you’re using the latex type) because you don’t want to introduce any foreign bacteria to the mix but I’m quite happy to just wash my hands exceedingly carefully. Your call…
4. Keep crunching and crushing the cabbage until it’s severely beaten and bashed down to a shadow of its former self. This will take a good five minutes unless you spend a lot of time at the gym or have to wring out sodden yoga towels and clothes every night like I do – my hand strength is going through the roof.
When the cabbage becomes soft and loads of liquid is being released every time you squeeze, you’re there. You’ll end up with less than half of the original amount of cabbage because it’s been so compressed.
5. Pop the squashed cabbage into the glass jars (or jar if you’re using a big one) being careful to pack it down firmly and then to press it right down until the liquid is covering the cabbage. Don’t use anything except glass for fermentation.
Don’t be shy with the pressing down, you want the cabbage totally covered with liquid. Fermenting is an anaerobic process, which means it happens without oxygen. Expose the cabbage to air and you might end up with mould and other nasties.
There’s sure to be some liquid left over in the mixing bowl, so pour this in so there’s a nice thick layer of liquid on top. Then take a couple of the cabbage leaves that you set aside earlier and press them down firmly on top to keep the cabbage bits from rising up. Some folk suggest weighing down the cabbage leaf with a smaller jar full of marbles and you can do this but as long as you keep an eye on the liquid levels, you should be fine.
If there’s simply not enough liquid to cover the cabbage, you might not have squashed the cabbage enough but you can sort this out by using a bit of filtered water and salt. Don’t use tap water because you don’t want to add chlorine to your mix. A teaspoon of salt dissolved in a cup of water is fine, then just add as much as you need to the top till the cabbage is well and truly covered.
6. Pop the lid on tightly and ferment out of the sun in a dry spot at room temperature for anything between six days to two weeks, or even longer depending on how strong you prefer your sauerkraut to taste. It’s easy to taste test by using a very clean fork (don’t double dip!). Note that you don’t want the jars in a particularly hot room though.
You’ll want to park your jar or jars on a tray or on a plate because the liquid can bubble up if the fermentation activity is particularly powerful, or if there just wasn’t much space at the top of the jar. It’s worth checking the liquid level every so often.
Once it’s ready, just pop it in the fridge. Refrigeration stops the fermentation process, and sauerkraut in the fridge can last for months. It won’t though because this stuff is dangerously addictive – I bought a jar of organic sauerkraut yesterday when I picked up my ingredients and it’s half gone – I eat it with just about everything – sandwiches, salads and stir-fries, but not with my breakfast muesli, at least not yet (ew!).
I’ll post again once I’ve got the finished product ready to eat, and will pop up the recipe for kimchi in the near future (right here actually). If you think good homemade sauerkraut is addictive, wait till you try kimchi! ASHLEY KRAMER