Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Homemade Sauerkraut

I realize not all of you are going to try this at home, but I wanted to share how super easy it is to make your own sauerkraut. I made it a few weeks ago and have been wanting to tell you about it!

Sauerkraut directly translated from the German is “sour cabbage” and consists of finely cut cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a long shelf life and distinct sour flavor, both of which result from the lactic acid that forms when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage.

As I’ve previously written, fermented foods have a long history in many cultures with sauerkraut being one of the most well-known. The Romans mentioned preserving cabbages and turnips with salt but it is believed to have been introduced to Europe in its present form 1,000 years later by Genghis Khan after invading China. The Tatars took it in their saddlebags to Europe. There it took root mostly in Eastern Europe and Germanic cuisines, but also in countries like France.

Ok, that worked for people back then, but why eat it now?

The health benefits of sauerkraut are numerous. It is a source of vitamins B, C and K. Get this: the fermentation process increases the bioavailability of nutrients, rendering sauerkraut even more nutritious than the original cabbage! It is also low in calories and high in calcium and magnesium and is a very good source of dietary fiber, folate, iron, potassium, copper and manganese.

Sauerkraut contains live lactobacilli and beneficial microbes and is rich in enzymes. The fiber and probiotics improve digestion and promote the growth of healthy bowel flora, protecting against many diseases of the digestive tract. It soothes the digestive tract and is effective against stomach ulcers.

Sauerkraut can even save your eyesight! That’s because it is high in lutein and zeaxanthin, both associated with preserving ocular health.

And perhaps most important of all, for this affects everyone, not just those of us with digestive issues: fermented foods, including sauerkraut, bolster the immune system.  Dr. Oz tells us how and why this is so important.

Anyway, now that I’ve (hopefully) sold you on the importance of eating this stuff not just once a year at Oktoberfest, let’s discuss how to make it. Here’s what I gathered to make mine:

1 head of green cabbage
4 peeled carrots
1 peeled daikon radish
1/2 bunch cilantro
a rather large wide mouth glass canning jar with a gasket and hinged lid (see photo below)

A Note:
While sauerkraut can and usually is as basic as just cabbage and salt for the brine, you can experiment as I did with adding additional vegetables such as carrots or cucumbers, raw ginger or daikon, herbs, and spices such as caraway seeds (very yummy - they will appear in my next batch). Makes things a little more interesting.

Pulse everything in batches in your food processor using the shredding disk. As the processing bowl fills, dump its contents into another larger bowl. Keep working until everything is shredded. When everything is in the larger bowl, sprinkle 6-7 tsp of good quality sea salt over it all and then get your hands into the kraut and start squeezing it.

Really work the salt into the veggies. Do this for about 10 minutes until you extract a good amount of liquid from the vegetables. This is an important step because by doing so you are creating the all-important brine that will begin the fermentation process. Now, spoon the kraut mix into a container large enough to fit it all in there and cover. You’ll want a container that looks something like this:

Ok, so you’re done......for now. Let it do its thing.

The fermentation process:
Every day you’ll need to open the lid and let it burp. Gasses will be forming that need to escape. I let mine sit on the counter like this for 10 days, burping it daily (there was less gas on those final days), until the 10th day when I moved the container to the refrigerator. I didn’t get around to eating it right away because I was going out of town for the weekend, so it sat in the fridge another 3-4 days resting. Sauerkraut, believe it or not, actually improves the longer it sits, so don’t be afraid you have to eat it right away.

The tasting:
So the day finally came about 2 weeks after having started the process when I actually got around to opening up the sauerkraut and trying some. I was pleasantly surprised to find, like the cauliflower I had previously made, that the vegetables were not mushy at all but crunchy even, and that tangy flavor from the fermentation was there, but not overly so. My husband was leery about eating my “science experiment” as he called it, but was also surprised at how good it was.

Sauerkraut, as long as it remains raw and uncooked such as this one, is a tremendous addition to anyone’s health. Make some and enjoy it for lunch, alongside a sandwich or some lovely gourmet sausages with mustard.

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