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Sauerkraut is a fermented cabbage dish. In its simplest form, it is just cabbage and salt. But you can add other vegetables (or fruits) as well as your own seasonings. A traditional German preparation uses caraway seeds and juniper berries.
The dish is traditionally prepared in the autumn and then fermented at “earth temperature” (55°F/13°C) all winter long! If you make enough, you can draw from the mother batch while the rest ferments. If you don’t have a root cellar, or you just don’t want to wait that long, it will ferment in as little as 1 week.
We like adding fresh fennel bulb and ginger or a tart apple, which give the finished dish some sweetness. Go ahead– play with your fermented food!
- 5-6 lbs. red or green cabbage (2 medium to large heads)
- 3 Tablespoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
- ½ teaspoon juniper berries
- (Optional) 1 medium fennel bulb or 1 medium tart apple (like Granny Smith)
- (Optional) 4-inch piece of fresh ginger
- Slice cabbage in half lengthwise, so that stem keeps each half together. Shred each half into ¼” ribbons using v-slicer, mandoline, or chef’s knife.
- As you shred, add to a large mixing bowl, and add ¼ of the salt (about 2 teaspoons). Let sit while shredding the next half. Brine will form as salt draws water from cabbage. Repeat until all cabbage has been shredded.
- If adding fennel bulb, slice the lower (white) part thinly (using a chef's knife or on mandoline) and add to bowl. Discard or compost the green stems.
- If adding apple, remove core, then slice thinly (using a chef's knife or on mandoline) and add to bowl.
- If adding ginger, first peel skin using a spoon, then slice/julienne (to create matchstick-sized pieces) and add to bowl.
- Add spices to cabbage. Mix thoroughly with tongs or clean hands.
- Add veg to a gallon-sized or larger glass jar or ceramic crock, or about 2 quart-sized wide mouth mason or other canning jars. Make sure to get every last drop of brine that formed in bowl into the container(s)!
- Pack down contents so that surface is even and flat.
- Place a lid or plate that fits into the container on top of the surface. Add a weight like a sterilized rock, a jar or glass bottle filled with water. OR, if using a small batch fermentation kit, add the weight(s) to the jar.
- There should be enough brine to completely cover the contents when weighed down.
- Cover container with a dish towel or tea towel to keep out flies and dust. Secure with a rubber band, twist ties or elastic strap. Stash it in a cool, dark place– a cellar, under the stairs, or under the sink in the kitchen.
- Check on it every few days. Mold and/or yeasts may form on the surface. THIS IS NORMAL. Remove weight and lid, and wash them with warm soapy water. Scoop out any surface mold, getting as much as you can. Don’t worry if you don’t get it all. Then stir the contents and re-pack the surface. Any residual mold will quickly be killed in the acidic environment of the brine. The contents are safe under the brine.
- Cabbage will start to ferment within a few days. It’s up to you how long you want to keep it fermenting. Fermentation time varies with the seasons and the climate. Four to 8 weeks in the winter and 2 to 4 weeks in warmer months are typical fermentation times.
Sauerkraut, like all fermented vegetables, should be enjoyed like a condiment. Eat a little before each meal, and eat it often!