As I’ve recently discovered, fermenting vegetables is a whole lot of fun! The process is suprisingly easy, the end result is delicious, and you can give yourself a pat on the back for creating something that is great for your gut health. If you’re new to fermenting, sauerkraut is an ideal place to start. Once you’ve done it a couple of times, you can mix things up by adding flavours and spices like red chili, garlic and carraway seeds, but today let’s keep it easy and I’ll share with you the most basic recipe for this popular side dish. All you’ll need is raw cabbage and salt! Plus a willingness to give your arms a bit of a workout…
I chose to mix red and green cabbage in this batch, simply because I think it looks so pretty and vibrant. Feel free to just stick with one or the other though as the taste won’t vary that much. In terms of health benefits, red cabbage may have a slight nutritional edge due to its concentration of anthocyanin polyphenols, reflected in its rich purple colour. Anthocyanins are a type of flavanoid, which function as antioxidants in the body. They are the same compound responsible for giving blueberries their beautiful skin colour. If the science of this intrigues you, check out this article for a more in depth look.
If you haven’t tried sauerkraut before, keep in mind that it may be a bit of an acquired taste. It retains a slight crunch, and a salty, slightly vinegary flavour. Sounds yum right?! Joking aside, when paired with the right flavours sauerkraut can be a delicious addition to your breakfast, lunch or dinner. I love it with poached eggs and avocado on toast, and with good quality herb sausages in a bun. Mmmm!
There is a long tradition throughout history of fermenting food as a method of preservation. In recent years there is a visible surge in popularity due to the health benefits associated with fermented products such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and kefir. Gut health is a fascinating and constantly evolving area of research, which is exciting stuff. If you happened to have missed it, Catalyst did an interesting two part documentary a few months back called ‘Gut Reaction‘, which is definitely worth a watch. From a scientific point of view, there is good evidence to back up the health claims of some fermented foods, like sauerkraut, which is a great source of probiotics. Other products, such as kombucha, are a little lagging. Tim Crowe (an Accredited Practising Dietitian & Associate Professor of Nutrition who writes a great blog called Thinking Nutrition) shares his two cents on whether the science stacks up for fermented foods here.
Easy Homemade Sauerkraut
Makes 1 large jar, or 2 smaller jars
approx. 800g raw green cabbage, finely shredded
approx. 200g raw red cabbage, finely shredded
1 tablespoon sea salt (I use this lovely pink one from the Murray River)
1. Finely slice, shred or grate the cabbage.
2. In a large glass bowl, combine cabbage and salt.
3. For a good 15 minutes, give your arms a workout by massaging the cabbage. Eventually you will notice water coming out of the cabbage, and this is exactly what you want! When combined with the salt, this creates the brine in which the cabbage will ferment.
4. Use a wooden spoon to scoop the cabbage into one large, or two smaller, clean glass jars (do not use plastic or metal!). Add a few spoons, then use the end of the wooden spoon to really press down the cabbage into the jar, stamping out any air pockets.
5. Once all the cabbage is tightly pressed into your jar/s, pour in the brine.
6. Take care to ensure that the brine covers all of the cabbage. You really don’t want any bits of cabbage to float to the top and become exposed to the air, as these will grow mouldy.
7. If you didn’t massage the cabbage for long enough, you may find you don’t have enough brine to cover the cabbage. Don’t despair, you can make extra brine by combining 2 cups of water with 2 teaspoons of sea salt, and using this to top up your jars. Try not to overfill your jars, leave about half an inch from the top so that pressure doesn’t build up during the fermentation process, causing an explosion!
8. To ensure the cabbage won’t float to the top and grow mouldy, use a small glass weight to put inside the jar, weighing down the cabbage and keeping it submerged. I use the glass lid of another smaller jar and it works a treat.
9. Seal jar/s with an airtight lid, and store in a cool, dark place such as the bottom of your pantry, for 7 – 10 days depending on your taste preference.
10. Move sauerkraut to the fridge and enjoy a couple of spoonfuls each day! It will last for a couple of months when made and stored correctly.
Eat sauerkraut anyway you see fit! I personally love it with eggs, so my ideal breakfast would be sourdough toast topped with avocado, lemon juice, chili, sauerkraut, and poached organic eggs. If you’re in WA and looking for ethical, organic, free-range eggs, you must try Cackleberries, which you can buy from Absolutely Organic. They are a pricier choice, but well worth it.