Fermented foods are gaining popularity - and rightly so. Laden with probiotics, beneficial enzymes and vitamins - they are great for our digestion and health. They are also easy to make and extremely frugal.
Most organic food stores stock a range of fermented vegetables. They are convenient and delicious - but at $15 a jar I quickly learnt to make my own. An equivalent amount of home made sauerkraut can cost less than $1.
You don't need fancy ingredients to make sauerkraut.
At its most basic you combine only cabbage and salt.
Nor do you need special equipment.
I've made many batches using a large wide-mouth glass jar and a bottle that fits neatly inside.
I've only recently invested in an air lock. For less than $10, an air lock and stopper from a brewery supply store converts a large jar and lid into a safe fermenting vessel.
You can also get beautiful ceramic fermenting crocks - but it's easy to make do without.
How to make Sauerkraut.
1. Thoroughly clean your hands and equipment.
Rinse well, especially if your detergent is antibacterial as it will kill the good bugs you want to encourage (primarily lactobacilli).
2. Shred cabbage and weigh.
Save a nice big outer leaf. You'll use this later.
3. Sprinkle salt over shredded cabbage.
Use a good quality unrefined salt such as sea salt or rock salt.
The salt inhibits the growth of bad bacteria until the lactobacilli increase and produce sufficient lactic acid to preserve the cabbage.
The recommended amount of salt varies considerably. I add 1 - 2 tablespoons of salt for every kg of cabbage.
You can also add additional flavors (e.g caraway seeds, oregano, garlic, ginger or chilli) or vegetables (e.g grated carrots or sliced radish). Although I suggest it's probably best to keep it simple for your first few batches.
Whey can be added to speed up fermentation. The whey inoculates the cabbage with additional lactobacilli. You can safely decrease the amount of salt used if you add whey.
Whey can be obtained by straining good quality yoghurt through muslin (or a fine old curtain as I'm doing above). The leftover strained yoghurt makes a delicious cheese (labneh) spread. I add around 1 tablespoon of whey per kg of cabbage.
4. Massage the salted cabbage with your hands for up to ten minutes to release juices.
I can only manage to massage around 1 kg at a time so I do it batches. I massage the first kg for a few minutes and then let it sit for a while and go on to shredding the second kg. Letting it sit for a few minutes helps to release the juices.
5. Pack the cabbage and juices into your jar or fermenting crock.
Press down firmly with your hands until the juices entirely submerge the cabbage.
The outer leaf you set aside can be pressed on top and used to hold the shredded cabbage below the surface.
6. Exclude oxygen.
Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process and the presence of oxygen during fermentation will spoil the sauerkraut. Using an air-lock or fermentation crock will provide the right environment. You can also use a bottle filled with water (or any other clean weight) to weigh down the cabbage and keep it submerged.
If using an open jar, cover with a fine cloth to keep out insects.
Keep your jar at room temperature. Start tasting after 4 days. You can leave you sauerkraut at room temperature for anywhere from 4 days to 4 weeks.
8. Once you are happy with the degree of fermentation, move your sauerkraut into the fridge where it will keep for many months.
Having a jar of sauerkraut in the fridge means a simple healthy meal can be made in minutes. A generous scoop of sauerkraut, a couple of boiled eggs and a handful of carrot sticks. Done. Simple, frugal healthy food.
Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 4th May 2015.