Fermenting your food is one of the healthiest ways to preserve your produce and what better way to start your fermenting journey than with a classic sauerkraut. It literally means ‘sour cabbage’ and after cabbage sits in its own salty water, this is exactly what it becomes. Traditionally made with green cabbage, purple cabbage adds extra benefits with its antioxidant power. It’s tart, sour, crunchy and delicious, teeming with probiotics.
You want to start with an organic or homegrown cabbage. Non-organic cabbages will have been sprayed with pesticides which will slow down your ferment and pesticides are obviously also not good for you. An organic cabbage will bring a whole bunch of good-fermenting-activating bacteria to the party!
Then once you have your cabbage, strip off the outer leaves and put these on the side for later.
Then remove the cabbage hearts (the hard white bit in the middle) and chop up your cabbage. As fine or as chunky as you like, bearing in mind that the finer you chop it the faster it will ferment.
In winter, for every 1kg of cabbage, I add in 1 tablespoon of salt. If I make this in summer, I add 1 and 1/4 tablespoon of salt.
Why different salt amounts depending on the season?
The hotter the temperature, the faster the cabbage will ferment and sometimes spoil. Adding a little extra salt in summer will help inhibit that. In winter, the cooler temperature slows down the ferment so a little less salt will counteract that. This is according to temperatures in New Zealand. If you live in a hot country, adding 1 and 1/4 tablespoon of salt per kg is a good idea.
If your cabbage does start to grow mould or scum on the top, you can skim it off as long as it hasn’t been on there for more than 24 hours as then it could affect your sauerkraut taste. Mould growing on salt fermented vegetables is unlikely to be dangerous.
When you have added the salt it’s time to massage it into the cabbage. about 10-15 of minutes of working the salt into the cabbage.* The salt draws out the water from the cabbage and it’s this water that will act as the ‘brine’.
*If you have no time to massage the cabbage, mix the salt and cabbage together briefly then place a plate over the top of the cabbage and salt in the bowl with a weight on it and let it sit for about 30-40 minutes. This will also draw the moisture out of the cabbage.
Now you can add extra flavorings such as fennel seeds, caraway seeds, mustard seeds, celery seeds or whatever spices you like. If you’re using green cabbage, some fresh or dried turmeric is great too.
It’s now time to add your cabbage to sterilised jars. Squish it right down into the jar, to squeeze as much in is you can and force the liquid to come up above the cabbage. Cover with any remaining cabbage juice. It’s now important to keep that cabbage submerged as this fermenting is an anaerobic process (meaning without oxygen.) You can use a couple of the large outer cabbage leaves you initially saved to hold the cabbage under.
If it’s not staying submerged enough you can add a weight on top such as a steralised jar or ziplock bag filled with water. Cover loosely with a lid, so that the gases made in the ferment can escape. If you choose to seal your jar, ‘burp’ it daily to release built up gases.
Keep the sauerkraut sitting on your bench or in a cupboard out of direct sunlight for 1-3 weeks, tasting after 1 to see if it is fermented to your liking. Once it’s how you like it, you can rinse the sauerkraut first to get rid of any excess salt, then store in a sealed jar in the refrigerator and use within a month. If you’re not rinsing it, it can store in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
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