Real, homemade sauerkraut is lactofermented, probiotic, and will keep (especially in the fridge) for pretty much eternity. Since plain cabbage on its own is pretty unpalatable, and also gives most people terrible, noxious gas, my personal feeling is that every last shred of it should be pickled. Now, when I say pickled, I mean lactofermented — that is, fermented at room temperature by strains of lactobacillus bacteria.
I suppose when I first heard about this ancient, effective, health-promoting practice I was grossed out, but, the trick is so old-hat to me now that I can’t imagine doing anything else. I ferment, like, everything. I started doing it mainly because I was trying to maintain a metabolic state of nutritional ketosis while still consuming high sugar/carbohydrate vegetables. The first things I fermented were beets and carrots.
During fermentation, the carbohydrates in the vegetables are broken down by the lactobacillus producing lactic acid and CO2 as byproducts. The lactic acid imparts a distinct sour flavor, and the whole process preserves and tenderizes the vegetables. A gas exchanging lid is needed to allow CO2 to vent without sucking in potentially contaminated air on the backflow. It is possible to do a successful fermentation without such a lid, and indeed people have been doing it for thousands of years, but, I’m covering my ass and trying to keep you from getting sick.
That said, ferment at your own risk.
- Salt (sea, preferably)
- Water (dechlorinated, preferably)
- Pickling lid / airlock
- Whole coriander
- Fresh dill
- Shredded carrot, radish, beet, onion, etc.
- Lacto starter (see below)
Botulism is a very terrible thing, and you don’t want it. Please read up on it before doing any kind of food preservation. With a ferment like this, your risk is extremely low, but there is no guarantee. To make this recipe botulism proof you’d also have to make it very undesirable to eat. To minimize risk, remove any cabbage leaves that have had direct contact with soil, then wash the head well.
Weigh your cabbage (and other ingredients, if you’re adding to it). Halve it, then slice each into quarter-inch strips. This will effectively “shred” it. In a mixing bowl, combine your cabbage with at least 1 tsp per half-lb of cabbage.
Using clean hands, mix and squeeze the cabbage for several minutes until it becomes limp and soggy.
Scoop the mixture, with brine, into a jar, filling it no higher than 3/4 of the way. Weigh down the cabbage so that the brine is over the top of it. You can add a little water if you have to, or maybe just beat up that cabbage a bit more.
If you have a previous lacto ferment, perhaps from a friend, you can add a little brine from it to jump-start your fermentation.
Seal jar with an ‘airlock’ fermentation lid, and place in a dark area at room temperature for 20 to 28 days. This allows for maximum probiotic development. However, if you’re just going for flavor, it’s pretty tasty after only 5 days. During fermentation, check your sauerkraut often. If it forms a milky scum, mold, or smells like yeast, discard it and start again (maybe with more salt). Make sure that all of the vegetable stays below the brine at all times.
With any luck, after a few weeks, you’ll be enjoying delicious sauerkraut.