Have you heard the news on fermented foods? They are the latest health food trend…for a good reason. Filled with probiotics, they replenish the beneficial intestinal bacteria needed for proper digestion, a robust immunity, and a body in balance. The lactic acid fermented foods produce aids in the absorption of protein and minerals. The good bacteria restores the intestinal flora that was plentiful in “the old days” when people regularly ate traditional, whole foods diets and exposed themselves to bacteria on a regular basis. In our modern, antiseptic world, consumption of antibiotics and our decreased natural exposure to bacteria has left our gastrointestinal systems depleted. Restoring probiotics can have long-term benefits including the prevention or reduction of colon cancer, lactose intolerance and rotavirus diarrhea, dental cavities, and inflammatory bowel disease. Foods with probiotics include some yogurts, kefir, raw milk and cheese, sauerkraut, kim chee, pickled veggies (including pickles), miso, and even sourdough bread.
Some of these foods found in the supermarket are actually not fermented, but rather inferior imitations. Steer clear of sauerkraut made with vinegar to get that sour, fermented taste and “yogurt” that is really a sugary pudding. To speed the healing of my gluten-intolerant gastrointestinal system, I’m eating daily doses of probiotic foods including kefir in breakfast smoothies, raw cheese (from unpasteurized milk), and sauerkraut which I’m loving in salads, with meats, on turkey Reuben sandwiches, even on GF crackers with hummus or healthy dip. I’ve just learned that sauerkraut, which has become a high-priced gourmet item, is easy to make. I’ve been buying it, but this week I decided to try my own versions of several classic sauerkraut recipes I found on the web. They’re fermenting as we speak. I’ll let you know in two weeks how they turn out. Meanwhile, you can experiment yourself if you are so inspired.
Whichever recipe and container set up you choose, the key is to keep the veggies submerged under the brine so that it is never exposed to air. That protects it from growing mold and bad bacteria. Here’s the classic:
Old Fashioned Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut
5 Pounds Cabbage (about two heads, organic preferable)
3 1/2 tablespoons coarse sea salt (unrefined)
First make sure that all dishes used for this project are very clean. You will need a crock or a large non-reactive bowl, such as the glass or ceramic, a plate that fits snugly inside and something to weigh the plate down such as a bowl or glass filled with water.
Shred cabbage in a food processor or slice thinly with a knife and place in the bowl or crock you will be fermenting in. Toss with the salt and cover with some kitchen towels. Leave for 15 minutes to an hour to allow the salt to draw out the juices of the cabbage.
Using your hands, firmly massage the cabbage to help break it down as you make it tight-fitting in the bowl. Place the clean plate on top and weigh it down with whatever you are using. Press down gently, but firmly. The liquid from the cabbage should rise to the top. You will want the liquid to cover the plate with room to spare within in 12-24 hours. If it hasn’t risen above the plate by that point, make up some salt water my mixing one cup of filtered water with one teaspoon of sea salt and use as much as you need. Cover with kitchen towels to protect it from flies and dust.
Each day you will remove the plate, and rinse it. If there is any “scum” on the surface of the water, remove as you much of it as you can with a spoon. Start tasting the sauerkraut after a few days. It will start to sour within a few days and will continue to “ripen” as the days go on. How quickly it ferments will depend on the temperature of your house. We like it after about ten days. Before that point, we just think it lack the depth of flavor we want. You can stop the fermentation process when it tastes good to you.
When it’s fermented enough for your taste, Bottle it up in clean mason jars, and place in the refrigerator where it will keep for a long time.
Here are my twists on the classic in smaller batches:
1. Apple Dill Kraut Following the recipe above, I cut it down to 1/4 of the amount using 1/2 head of red cabbage and 1 T sea salt. I added 1 T chopped fresh dill and 1/2 of an apple peeled and chopped. Look below left to see how I set up the container using a German glass jar with rubber rim and a small glass inside to push the kraut down and keep it submerged:
2. Radicchio Apple I shredded a large head of radicchio, and 1 T sea salt. I added 1/2 of an apple, peeled and chopped. I set up this one using a Ball jar with a shot glass inside to push the kraut down and keep it submerged. See below right for this contraption: