Until recently, whenever I thought about cabbage I would remember the unwelcome smell that permeated the hallway of my grandmother’s building in Far Rockaway, NY. It would make my nose wrinkle and I couldn’t wait to get into her apartment which always seemed to smell like fresh baked dinner rolls or something equally delicious.
So, I quite surprised myself when I picked up a head of cabbage at the farmer’s market. I did it for two reasons: 1. I know how nutritious it is. 2. It was only $2. WIN, WIN!
I pondered what to do with it on the way home. Then I surprised myself again by slapping the steering wheel and declaring out loud, “I am going to make sauerkraut!” I have no idea where the thought came from since I never made it before and quite frankly… I never even really thought about sauerkraut being comprised of cabbage. The same goes for coleslaw (which I also decided to make.)
How hard could it be? It turns out, not hard at all. It became clear after some quick research that sauerkraut is merely cabbage+salt+time. I chopped the cabbage as thin as I could by hand, threw in a few tablespoons of kosher salt and began to massage it. I found myself wondering how many of my German ancestors must have done the very thing I was doing at that moment. It felt so natural working the salt into the cabbage until the juices flowed out. After about 10 minutes, I decided I created enough of a brine to jar it up. You want there to be enough liquid to fully submerge the kraut. I used an onion* half to weigh it down in the jar. After that, I topped the jar with a coffee filter and rubber band. I found this set-up very effective for keeping the oxygen out while allowing the carbon dioxide to escape. Then I set the jar in a dark cabinet in the basement, the only place that might come close to maintaining the ideal temperature range of 65 to 75 degrees.
How does this make sauerkraut? The short answer is that cabbage naturally carries bacteria like lactobacilli which helps kick off lactic acid fermentation. The salt preserves the cabbage to keep it from rotting while fermentation takes place. There is a lot of debate about the proper amount of time to allow sauerkraut to ferment, anywhere from three days to six months. I found the most consensus that around three weeks is enough time. The idea is to allow the sauerkraut to ferment long enough to produce a goodly amount of probiotic bacteria. Then after that it’s just about taste.
However, if you are like me and you can’t wait that long or if the average temp is above 75 degrees then two weeks is long enough. Also, keep in mind, the sauerkraut will continue to ferment in the fridge. It will just happen much more slowly below 65 degrees.
I have to tell you that homemade sauerkraut is DELICIOUS! It is so much better than store-bought. I am not sure I could eat the canned stuff ever again. Give it a try if you like sauerkraut. You have nothing to lose. I paid two dollars for a head of cabbage at the farmer’s market. (I noticed they are $1.29 at the supermarket.) That one head netted me 16 ounces of sauerkraut and eight cups of coleslaw. I call that VERY budget-friendly!
I will get more into the nutritional and weight loss benefits of cabbage in my next post, as well as share the coleslaw recipe I concocted.
*I got the onion as a weight idea from the Dr Axe website: https://draxe.com/recipe/sauerkraut-recipe/