Traditional sauerkraut is less of a recipe, and more of a history lesson and a process.
The ingredients are sparse: cabbage, salt, time.
The entire process from cabbage to jar will take you under an hour (depending on volume, of course).
What is traditional sauerkraut?
Fermentation is an ancient food preservation technique. The process utilizes bacteria found in the environment to create a product that is shelf stable without refrigeration, freezing, or pressure canning.
Sauerkraut is preserved through lactic acid fermentation–meaning that the naturally occurring bacteria lactobacilli is responsible for the culture and also for that characteristic sour flavor.
Sauerkraut was the first fermentation recipe I ever tried. And honestly–I blew it the first time. Several years, and multiple sauerkraut batches later, I can tell you that the mistake I made that first time is the only way I’ve found to ruin your sauerkraut, and that is: using iodized salt. Do NOT use iodized salt. Use sea salt, and you’re virtually guaranteed success.
Why do I bother making my own, lacto-fermented sauerkraut?
Three reasons: It’s fun, it’s like creating a mini chemistry lab in your kitchen; It tastes better than what you can buy at the store; and it’s healthy.
When you ferment vegetables, such as cabbage, you increase the bioavailability of the vitamins and nutrients.
Sauerkraut is a good source of Vitamins K, B and C. It is also a good source of fiber and magnesium.
Beyond that, the living lactobacilli and probiotics are really good for your digestion. Having a bit of sauerkraut with your meal can aid a sour stomach.
So, how do you make it?
Cabbage (the number of heads depends on how much sauerkraut you want to make. One head of cabbage yields about one and a half 800 ml ball jars of sauerkraut)
Salt (one and a half tablespoons per head of cabbage)
(You can also use a crock. But please note that your fermentation time will be a great deal longer than if you are using jars)
Cut the cabbage in half and discard the core.
Slice the cabbage thinly and place it in a large bowl.
Then, add the salt.
Next, massage the salt into the cabbage with your hands, squeezing to break down the cellular structure of the cabbage and release as much moisture as possible. This will take you around ten minutes or so. You are not finished until there is a fair amount of liquid in the bottom of the bowl.
After about ten minutes the cabbage should be ready to put in jars.
Pack the cabbage into the jars, pressing down with your hand, or a wooden spoon so that the liquid always sits above the cabbage. Place the lids on the jars.
Let the sauerkraut ferment in a cool, dark place for about one week. The length of the fermentation time will depend on the temperature in your kitchen and your personal tastes. Feel free to start taste-testing after about four days. It’s common for your jars to “pop” and bubble when you open them once they are ready.
When the sauerkraut is to your liking, place it in the refrigerator.
Once refrigerated, your sauerkraut can be kept for a LONG time, up to a year even.
Feel free to comment with questions, trials, and your own experience.