Fermenting food is a lost art, but gaining momentum recently. It is one of the original ways of preserving food. Yet most do not realize that we already eat some fermented foods. Coffee, olives, and soy sauce to name a few.
Vegetables though, are fantastic when they are fermented. Why? The nutrition within that vegetable is kept, enhanced, and preserved by the fermentation process. It allows some of the nutrients to become digestible when they would not be raw.
Natural bacteria produces vitamins and enzymes that are very beneficial for digestion and a variety of other things. But I am not a doctor or a fermentation expert, so I cannot tell you all it can do, but I can tell you this…PROBIOTICS! The best natural bacteria ever. It is found in supplements and more commonly within yogurt, but eating naturally fermented and or cultured foods, gives the highest level of probiotics and is more beneficial than store bought remedies because of the natural process. Everything is better homemade!
Basic fermentation is nothing more than a brine of filtered water and salt. We know that salt draws out moisture, but it also aids in the development of lactic acid, the main component of fermentation. One of the easiest foods to get started with is sauerkraut. It is tangy, vinegary, cabbage goodness that you can put on hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches like hot reubens, or eat on the side. In my opinion, the homemade version tastes nothing like the stuff in a jar.
Making sauerkraut is ridiculously easy! Trust me! It takes less than 10 minutes to start and 4 weeks to finish. What is easier than that? This recipe is tailored for a quart jar. A rule of thumb is for every 5lbs of vegetable, you would use 3 tablespoons of salt. So adjust it according to the vessel you are using.
Step 1: Take a head of cabbage, any will do, and shred it into bite size pieces.
Step 2: Take 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of kosher or sea salt and sprinkle over the shredded cabbage.
Step 3: Smoosh, squeeze, squish the cabbage and the salt together. This releases a lot of the natural water within the cabbage itself creating its own brine.
Step 4: When the cabbage is wilted enough (not smooshed so much that it looks like overcooked cabbage) transfer into a quart glass mason jar.
Step 5: With the back of a wooden spoon, pack in the cabbage as tightly as you can! Keep pushing! Pack it some more. As you pack the cabbage you are eliminating air bubbles and pushing out all of the water still left within the cabbage.
Step 6: Get a sandwich size ziplock bag and fill a quarter of it with water. Zip it tight and push into the opening of the mason jar pushing it down over the cabbage. You should have enough brine on top of the cabbage to completely submerge the cabbage. Push the baggie into the brine creating a barrier. This will keep the cabbage submerged so oxygen cannot get in causing it to spoil. Oxygen is the enemy in some fermented foods, sauerkraut is anaerobic. Meaning without oxygen.
Step 7: Leave the cabbage out of the sun and in dark corner somewhere. As it ferments, more water will be released possibly overflowing your jar, so be sure to check on it frequently. The process takes about 4 weeks, but if you like the flavor stronger, you can ferment it longer. Taste as you go and as it ferments because you may like it at 2 weeks. Some like it at over a month or two. The longer it sits, the stronger it will be.
After a few days you will start to see bubbles forming and rising to the top of the jar. The bubbles are releasing carbon dioxide. This is completely normal and proof that it is working. When the mixture starts getting a little cloudy, this is what is called lactic acid. It is the main component in this type of fermentation.
Note: Watch out for any mold on the surface as that is caused from oxygen. Scoop it off and rinse the baggy, and reposition over the cabbage. If a little mold is on top and you can’t get it all, do not worry. It is safe, just mix in the sauerkraut as once it is below the surface it cannot live. It will die from lack of oxygen. Too much mold, throw the batch away and start again. This means you didn’t completely submerge the cabbage and mold developed or you went too long before checking it.
Total Cost: $.89 for a head of cabbage.