Ruby Sauerkraut (vegan)
OK, so there are as many recipes for Sauerkraut as there are German grandmothers in the world, and every single one of them believes their way is best. Never mind, unless you are in possession of a German grandmother, then you need a recipe. The basics of sauerkraut are simple – cut some firm cabbage up very finely, massage it with salt until the juices run, pack it into a jar so that it ferments and burps away happily, and when that’s over, you have sauerkraut. Most grandmothers add a couple of teaspoons of caraway seeds and no other seasoning. Teeming with beneficial microbes and packed full of cabbagey nutrition, this is a genuine home-made superfood. Fermented foods are proven to improve your gut microbiome. A healthy gut not only means you digest your food comfortably and thoroughly; it has effects on mental wellbeing. I’m not big on making or believing nutritional claims for any one sort of food; I believe in a good mixed diet and no supplements or pills for most of us. But in this case, I do believe the evidence – some sort of fermented food really does do you a lot of good.
And of course, home made is the best way. It’s extremely cost effective and means you can get the end result you want. I love making ruby sauerkraut with red cabbage instead of white, just for the beauty of it. I add some spices, turmeric and ginger for the tingle; if you’re being healthy you might as well go the whole hog. But please play around with the basic recipe and let me know if you come up with some delicious variations.
The only other thing to get right is the size of your jars. To keep the cabbage below the surface of the liquid, you need to press it down. I have a fermenting jar with a valve in the lid and quite a wide mouth. A standard jam jar fits inside this so when I screw the lid down, the jam jar presses inside on the cabbage. You can keep a whole cabbage leaf aside, to put under the little jar to hold the mixture down more efficiently. You don’t have to use a fermenting jar, it just helps to avoid accidents if you forget to check on your bubbling cabbage and the gas builds up, but you do need a fairly wide glass jar for the fermentation and another smaller one to fit inside. Play around with them before you start, as its quite annoying to have your salted cabbage ready to be packed away and you’re still fitting jars inside each other like a toddler in kindergarten. Might give rise to a toddler style tantrum and that would never do.
Makes 2 medium jars Timings: About an hour preparation, 30 minutes mixing and then 1 week fermenting.
Very finely chop the cabbage – as thin slivers as you can get. This does take quite a while but put the radio on and keep going. Grate the carrot and add that in, along with all the rest of the ingredients.
Sprinkle the salt over the mix.
With your hands, not a spoon (but you can wear plastic gloves if you have to) knead and massage the salt into the mixture for about 10 minutes. In this time you should see the liquid start to come out of the vegetables. Keep going and add a bit more salt if you think it needs it – the amount does depend on the firmness of the cabbage so it can be variable.
Let it rest for 10 minutes and then knead/massage again for another 10 minutes.
Clean your jars thoroughly with boiling water – the only microbes you want in this mixture are the ones already in the cabbage that can live through all that salting – those are the ones that will ferment and preserve the vegetables.
Pack the mixture into your fermentation jar, firming it down with a spoon. The liquid should be visible and will rise up over the next couple of days. If it doesn’t, you can top up the jar with some brine made from mixing water and salt together.
Press the cabbage down using your jar and inside-jar arrangement and leave the whole apparatus in the kitchen for a day or two to remind you to loosen the lid every now and then, and to check on the liquid level. You will see bubbles of carbon dioxide starting to form inside the cabbage mixture and a delightful smell of fermenting sauerkraut will start to fill your kitchen. If you don’t like the smell, put the jar somewhere cool but not cold and let it get on with it. Check on it and let the gas out every day or so.
After about a week you should have good tasty fermentation going on. At this stage you can choose how strong the taste should be: you can now jar it up into smaller pots and keep it in the fridge (or give it to your friends) for eating. Fridge temperatures will stop the fermentation. If you want it stronger, leave it for another few days – up to another week - out of the fridge, tasting every now and then until it reaches the desired level of pungency.
Jars keep about 1 month in the fridge. You can also freeze it, although I’ve never tried. In the old days, apparently sauerkraut was frozen through the winter by packing it into wooden barrels and burying them in the ground so they froze solid and could be thawed and eaten in the spring. The bacteria survive and will regenerate when de-frosted.
Eat it, just picking it out of the jar to put into sandwiches, or onto hot dogs. Mix it with mayonnaise for a fantastic sandwich/hot dog relish, have a little bowl of it with salads. It goes specially well with anything meaty or cheesy, but if you like with fish, then indulge yourself. Warm it up with apples and onions to go with sausages, add it to a pasta and ham casserole, have it as a side vegetable with a pork chop. Endless possibilities….
A Hug from the Kitchen
Healthy, hearty, happy food, for good times and bad. Cheer yourself up, or spread the cheer around your family and friends.