The Sauerkraut Challenge

Pretty much everything I know about sauerkraut I’ve learned from Sandor Katz.  Through his book, that is.  And what I’ve learned is that lacto-fermenting foods is actually quite easy.  I’ve found I have all this preceding worry:  What if I screw it up?  I don’t know how to do this.  It’s high maintenance, seems involved, etc., etc., etc.  Like so many things once you actually do it, it’s fine.

Not sure if this makes it look good or not, but it sure is!

Because it is so easy, and because we are halfway through the season and I don’t know about you, but I have got a bunch of reserves going on; I’m posing a challenge this week.  Accept it, or don’t.  I’ll never know;)  Here’s the deal:

1.  Take whatever veggies you like:  greens, cabbage, peppers, fennel, garlic, onions, eggplant, carrots, zucchini, beans.  Literally, take whatever you like or think might sound good together and chop and/or shred to a consistency that seems interesting to you.  (Sometimes I shred everything like a slaw, sometimes I shred and chop.  Different sorts of shredding might be neat if you have the mandoline capabilities.)

2.  Take whatever spices you like:  peppercorn, fennel, juniper berries, crushed red pepper, cumin, curry, bay leaves (my neighbor just gave me a bag of fresh bay leaves from St. Lucia–amazing!  Citrus meets savory meets cinnamon), caraway seeds, coriander, turmeric.  Literally, gather whatever spices you like or think might sound good together.  And sea salt, you need lots of good sea salt.  Many fermenters recommend Celtic, my personal favorite is Himalayan.  There are also smoked sea salts that could be really interesting.  (As a sidenote, I once asked a chef what he thought the most underappreciated spice to be.  “Salt” said he.  So I splurged on a salt sampler thinking “How different can they be?”  My world was forever changed.  For the better.)

3.  Take a big non metallic pan/bowl/crock (bacteria that causes the fermenting doesn’t get along with metal).  I use one we found in a trash barrel one day at South Mountain Conservancy (an amazing place to spend an afternoon and really made me reconsider New Jersey), it’s a big ceramic bowl, big like 2.5 of my heads could fit in it.  It’s important to have something that fits inside the bowl to put pressure on the veggie/spice mix.  I use a dinner plate and place jugs of water on top for pressure, but we’ll get to this.

4.  In your mega-bowl, pour some veggie mix, then sea salt (be generous here), then your spices (use less spices than sea salt), then veggies, sea salt, spices, veggies, sea salt, spices. . . . you see where this is going.  When you are out of ingredients toss it around a bit and then press everything down.

5.  Now comes the plate or whatever non-metallic object fits on top of the mega-bowl thingy of your choosing.  Push the plate down and add something heavy on top to encourage water extraction of your veggies (this is how the brine happens and the sauerkraut ferments in this; more on the science of it here).  Cover the whole schebang with a towel or big piece of fabric (I use a table cloth).  Place your science-experiment-soon-to-be-delicacy in an out of the way place (I put mine on top of our cabinets).

6.  Check it after a couple days and if the water hasn’t extracted from the veggies enough to cover the whole mix a bit, add some filtered water.  Press, recover.  If mold forms at any time, I just press it under and the brine takes care of it.  If any parts of it freak you out, just toss ’em.

7.  Leave it be for as long as you like.  I taste mine occasionally.  Sometimes it goes 2 weeks, sometimes more or less.  Depends on your tastes and how long you can bear the anticipation!  Don’t worry about forgetting about it, your nose will remind you.

8.  When it’s “ready” I place it in jars (usually Mason or Ball) and store one in the fridge and the rest in the cabinets.  They are fine for months.

Let me know how it goes!

In case you have other reserves around, here are some more of my favorites:
tomatoes (the recipe calls for golden tomatoes, but I use whatever I can find.  I also can this and it’s a boon in the middle of winter!)
eggplant – slice them at varying thicknesses (or thinnesses, why don’t we  use this as a word?) and dip them in very hot oil essentially frying them into little chips and sprinkle with sea salt.  If you don’t think you can eat 2 full eggplant in a sitting, think again.

Recently, we blanched and froze a bunch of Farmer John’s exquisite beans following these directions.  And I’m about to freeze a bunch of tomatoes by chopping them up, putting them in freezer bags (I admit it, I have a thing for ziploc bags . . . . and oxyclean . . . . sigh) and then in the freezer.  I do about 2-3 c. in each bag b/c that’s usually how much I need when cooking something; makes it super convenient.

My quest to save enough of this season’s goodies to last through the winter and early spring is on!

I’m thinking next we honor the potato, but I’m open for suggestions . . . anything lying around or piling up you’d like to request we cover?

ps–thank you to CSA Newark member Sabilla who mentioned how much she enjoys reading the blog which got me to do it again:)

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