One of the best things I eat for my health right now is fermented foods. Things like kombucha and kefir have become very popular. But for some reason, other lacto-fermented products have remained obscure. To read more about the lacto-fermentation process and the benefits of consuming fermented foods, check back next week on The Blackboard.
For now, we'll be focusing on sauerkraut and why it's much tastier than the stuff you've eaten on a hot dog (or hopefully you haven't had the misfortune of that experience). Most store-bought sauerkraut is packed in a vinegar-based solution. The strength of the vinegar will preserve the cabbage but will not create live cultures like a homemade lacto-fermenting solution. And I've found that the vinegar degrades the cabbage much more than I'd like. Plus, why eat something as off-putting as store-bought sauerkrat when you're not getting much nutritional benefit from it? You can find jarred sauerkraut with live cultures made in an authentic way but it's generally just specialty markets or small-batch companies (aka, pricey).
Homemade sauerkrat has a distinctly different taste than most store-bought versions. You get the crunch (probably more-so) and the tangy edge. But it's a milder edge and you can control the strength of the tang. You can also flavor your sauerkraut with any spices you like. It's a very diverse food.
My favorite recipe is listed below. Garlic, cumin, and celery seed add a flavorful, savory profile. Warming the fermenting solution before pouring over the cabbage will bring out the flavors of the spices. This sauerkraut goes well with steak, chicken, eggs, or in salads. You can see an Instagram shot below from a recent breakfast. Kraut and eggs is one of my favorite combos! Plus it starts the day with beneficial gut bacteria right from the get-go.
Read more about the benefits of lacto-fermentation on the gut in my recent post on The Blackboard.
Garlic Cumin Sauerkraut
Yields: 5 quarts
2 heads organic green cabbage
10 garlic cloves, peeled
2 T. whole cumin seeds
2 T. whole celery seeds
1 t. ground black pepper
2/3 c. sea salt (I use hawaiian pink)
13-15 c. filtered water (will vary depending on size of your cabbage)
dry goods: 5 quart jars, coffee filters (optional) and rubber bands
Peel the outer leaves of the cabbage and rinse well with a veggie wash. After cleaning, peel 2 large leaves from each head of cabbage and set them aside. Chop the remaining cabbage into managable bite-size pieces (I like to use the blade attachment on my food processor, saves A LOT of time). Pack the chopped cabbage very tightly into 5 sanitized glass quart jars. 2 heads of cabbage should fill 5 jars, give or take.
In a large saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients. Heat over medium heat until water just begins to simmer, whisking occasionally to help dissolve the salt. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Move two garlic cloves into each of the jars. Then portion the fermenting solution between the 5 jars, tapping the jars once or twice to make the jars are filled. Tear a section from the reserved outer leaves (you'll need to make sure you have 5 pieces total) and press into a jar, allowing it to submerge the chopped cabbage completely. Using your fingers, press the large piece down on the chopped cabbage until it's submerged and you see bubbles rise to the surface. Do this once or twice until you no longer see bubbles rising. Repeat with remaining 4 jars.
Cover each jar with a coffee filter and seal with a rubber band, as shown above. Leave at room temperature for 5-7 days to ferment. Test for taste at 3 or 4 days and press the top cabbage layer to remove bubbles that have formed from the fermentation process. The longer the jars are left out, the stronger the soured taste will be. Once it's fermented to your liking, seal well with regular quart lids and move to the refrigerator. Fermented veggies keep for 3-6 months (sometimes longer!) when refrigerated because the cold halts the fermentation process right where it's at.
1. A thick layer of cheesecloth can be substituted for the coffee filters but coffee filters are cheaper! You can also seal them with the regular jar lids instead but you'll need to make sure the lids are not screwed on tight. Fermenting foods creates natural gases from the chemical reaction happening within the jar. These gases need room to escape and I've found that a coffee filter works best, while still keeping critters out. Also-using jar lids makes it hard to tell how much room there is for the gases to escape, occasionally resulting in too much pressure build-up and a consequent leak in the solution. AKA, a wet mess on your counter!
2. The amount of salt looks very high but trust it, it's necessary for the fermentation process. The resulting sauerkraut will barely taste salty at all, as much of it is used up in the fermentation.