Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut

For those of you reading this, thanks for not giving up on me. I am sorry for the lack of posts. I haven't been in the kitchen much this summer. We don't have central AC, so we only turn on our window unit in the bedroom at night for when we sleep, and it is just too dang hot during the day to feel like cooking anything. But I miss writing, and I have so many things to tell you. I will post tomorrow about my garden. I harvested my first brandywine tomato today and it is a beauty! 

I have been on a fermenting kick lately. My journey started by reading about all the benefits of fermented food. The process of lacto-fermentation is where veggies and a simple brine of salt, water, and naturally occurring vegetable juices are left to sit out at room temperature. As the food ferments. lactic acid is created which preserves the food in place of using large amounts of vinegar. The finished product will keep for months in the fridge (if it is not eaten up right away), and will develop flavor as it ages. It is full of probiotics and enzymes, and the fermenting makes the nutrients in the food more available and easier for your body to digest. So, not only does it taste great, but it is also good for your gut. Definitely good news :).

My very first experience with fermenting was last fall with a modified version of kimchi. It had cabbage, onion, carrot, ginger, garlic, and red pepper flake. Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean condiment, similar to our sauerkraut. I admit that the sour taste of fermented vegetables is a somewhat acquired one. Especially for those of you who didn't grow up eating that sort of thing. When I made my first batch I could only eat it in small amounts mixed in with other stuff. It took me a long time to get through to the end. 

It took me a while to try again, but I knew that fermented foods were very good for me and I wanted to like them. So I tried making a ferment chili paste with five different kinds of spicy peppers, garlic, and salt. It turned out great, and I used it to spice up everything from my breakfast omelette, to my evening bowl of chicken soup. Then I started making a fermented beverage called kefir. I have started drinking that every day, but I will wait and write a whole post on it later once I get some good pictures. 

Then a couple of weeks ago my friend gave me a cabbage and I decided to try again and make sauerkraut this time. I put in cabbage, carrot, red onion, and salt. Once it had soured to my liking I put it in the fridge , and then tried to figure out how I was going to eat it. I just started trying it with different foods and realized to my amazement and joy that it tasted good on everything! 

I started eating it every day, and before I knew it, this jar that was 2/3 full was gone. 

So I made another batch, this time with more carrot (the natural juices from the carrot is what makes the brine so orange). The basic recipe is to thinly slice one medium size head of cabbage and whatever veggies you have on hand, I used several carrots and some red onion. Then add 1 to 2 Tablespoons of salt, and pound the veggies until they release enough natural juices to create the brine. 

Then you pack it in jars as tight as possible, and if there is not enough brine to cover the cabbage then you can mix together a little bit of salt and water and pour in just enough to cover. Place something on top to weigh down the cabbage and keep it under the brine. If the cabbage is exposed to the air it might start to mold, and we don't want that. What I do to keep the cabbage submerged is put a plastic bag in the opening of the jar and push the bag in as far as I can to make sure the cabbage is really well packed, and then just fill the bag with water. You could get a lot of fancy fermenting equipment, but this technique works really well for me.Then let it sit in an out-of-the-way place in your kitchen covered with a towel to keep all the fruit flies away, and let it ferment anywhere from 1 to 10 days depending on the temperature. The hotter it is in your kitchen the faster it will ferment. My kitchen is around 85-90 degrees F and it only took two days to get to the desired sourness, but when it is cooler it will take longer. 
Once it is to your liking, store in the fridge and enjoy it on all your favorite foods. Just make sure that when you dish some out, pack down the jar again to keep the rest of it under the brine so it stays nice and crisp. 

Here is my sauerkraut, tomato, pickled jalapeno, and mustard sandwich. I thought this was so good.

Besides that I have eaten it on a savory pancake, on burgers, in a sushi roll, in an omelette, on a sandwich, in a taco, in salsa, with beans and rice. It really goes with anything, and one day I literally ate it with breakfast lunch and dinner.  

For dinner tonight I enjoyed some kraut with diced tomatoes, pickled jalapenos, and raw corn eaten with tortilla chips. I have eaten this combination for at least four meals in the last week and it is such a good blend of sour, salty, spicy, soft, and crunchy. You should try it :).

So there you have it. My new favorite condiment. I am so glad I didn't stop when my first experience with fermented food wasn't what I thought it was going to be. Now I love it and it goes to show that it is always good to try something at least twice. 

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