Getting creative in the kitchen can be something a lot of us find intimidating. Between time, financial situations and reliance on convenience foods, we forget that a lot of those jars or bags of “this and that” can be made simply at home at a minimal cost.
I’ve always been one to experiment in the kitchen. Living with Celiac disease along side other food intolerance’s, I’ve learned that food isn’t just about fixing that initial hunger feeling but finding sustainable energy sources depending on what point of the day I’m eating, what the weather is like, how busy my work week is or the more enjoyable aspect of what I feel like eating.
Lately I have been experimenting with sauerkraut—a fermented cabbage condiment that most of us use along-side sausages, hot dogs or pierogies. As the weeks pass, I have learned sauerkraut can easily adapted into most dishes or at least used as a side dish or as a simple appetizer salad topping to kick-start our digestion before larger meals. It’s easy to make, delicious in flavor and holds many incredible health benefits.
When we read the ingredients list on a jar of sauerkraut, it should be a very short list: salt, cabbage and maybe a little bit of this or that for some added flair. But why do we find ourselves intimidated by this simple jar?
Because it is pure science that many of us have been lead to believe we shouldn’t try at home. Leave it to the pros. Well let me tell you, it is MUCH easier than it seems and most definitely not scary. Most of the time, a fermentation crock is used to create the kraut but I have been using jars in a moderately cool room.
So let’s begin to understand the how’s and why’s of making cabbage go from a crunchy ball to a sour, flavorful nutritional powerhouse condiment.
Sauerkraut is made by a process called lacto-fermentation. This is when the good bacteria present on a fruit or vegetable called lactobacillus bacteria converts sugar into lactic acid. This acid is important because it is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of bad bacteria yet leaves all the healthy nutrients that our bodies need(it also gives the fermented foods their tangy flavor).
Most of us have heard these lacto terms being used when we talk about probiotics or foods like yogurt and that’s exactly right! Since lactobacillus is already present in our mouths, our gastrointestinal tract, and our vaginas (to name a few important places) we use these healthy gut bugs to boost our abilities to digest and optimize nutritional intake with a bacteria our body already knows and loves.
So how do we do it?
When we make sauerkraut, we slice the cabbage and then sprinkle and massage with salt to draw out the liquid and gases from the leaves. This creates brine that, in turn, creates an anaerobic fermenting environment.
Whoa whoa, big word big word.
In simple terms, when we massage the liquid out of the leaves, anything that is within the brine is in a “healthy growth zone.”
Anaerobic fermentation means no oxygen. This is the environment we need to ferment the cabbage because the bad bacteria that most of us are afraid of creating needs air to grow. If we minimize the products exposure to air, we minimize the bad bugs.
So how can we do this?
When I make the kraut and press it into the jar, I use a portion of the cabbage leaf to create a barrier that holds the loose cabbage down and allows the brine to cover all aspects of my creation. This cuts out the chances of my batch being exposed to air. Then I wrap the top of the jar with cheese cloth or a piece of paper towel and an elastic band for a number of days—usually 7-12. This allows air flow to the brine but keeps any dust or other bacteria’s out.
At the end of these days, I take the cloth off, remove the top piece of cabbage and any other pieces of cabbage that may have defied the barrier I created and entered air territory (it is okay if there is a bit of mold on top, just scoop it off and let the processes continue) and cap a lid on the jar.. After a few bites of course.
Sounds intimidating? I also thought so.. at first.
But then I started reading, called my best friend (who is the most amazing mentor and chef I have in my life), and dove in hands first.. Literally.
I started with very small mason jar batches to ensure my cost would stay low if I made a mistake but as the fermentation days passed, I realized my confidence was the only thing holding me back and quickly started experimenting with flavors. Each batch came out more magnificent than the next: I figured out flavor profiles that I liked for specific cuisines, protein choices or vegetables, incorporated lots of spices, played with the amount of days and salt added, and had delicious results.
I also recognized my skin clearing up, my bloating and discomfort after meals going down and my energy levels improving.
So I looked it up and this food medicine holds so many more benefits that I had imagined:
– high in dietary fiber(which is good for both your digestive and cardiovascular health)
– high in vitamin A, C, K, B.
– high in iron, magnesium, manganese, calcium, copper.
– boosts immunity
– increases digestive enzymes
– reduces inflammation
– high in antioxidants
Plus any other health benefits from added ingredients you may desire!
So, I dare you to give it a shot. Test out your confidence, grow some bugs. It’s much easier than keeping a house plant alive and you’ll feel the results within the consumption of your first batch!
(beet ginger kraut on zucchini noodles with almond sweet potato black bean meatless balls)
Jars of Sauerkraut:
1 head of cabbage- red or green
about 1 tablespoon of salt
* the amount of salt you need is dependent on any other grated vegetables or spices you would like to use. You may have to create a quick brine with water and salt to completely cover your vegetable creation if you do not massage enough liquid out.
- Peel off the first few outer layers of cabbage and set aside. Finely slice the cabbage and vegetables and place into a bowl. Sprinkle with salt and begin to massage and squeeze the chopped leaves for 5-10 minutes. Let the leaves sit for a few minutes to see the water draw itself out. If you feel the need to massage the leaves for a bit longer, do so.
2. Pack the wilted leaves tightly into a jar—pressing them down with your hands. The brine should begin to rise to the top of the jar. When you reach the neck of the jar, take a portion of the cabbage leaf you initially set aside and press it into the top of the jar. The brine should raise above the leaf—this is a good thing!
3. Wrap the top of the jar with a piece of cheese cloth or piece of paper towel and secure in place with an elastic band. Put the jars onto a tray and set in a room for 7-12 days. At the end of these days, take off the cloth and remove the top leaf. If there are any bubbles or mold, scrape it off as the material underneath will be okay. If you are concerned or your end result smells rancid, use your best judgement around consuming or discarding.
4. Put the lid on the jar, refrigerate, and use your kraut lovingly in many dishes!
With Love, from Ficus.