Super Simple Sauerkraut

When I was volunteering with OBUGS in the garden this past summer, we were scheduled to help the kids make sauerkraut one morning for camp. I had never made kraut and had never thought of the process of making it as an easy process. I also didn’t realize just how important fermented foods, in moderation, are for us. Probiotics, baby! Probiotics!

Probiotics are the good bacteria we need to balance our gut, and to breakdown food and absorb nutrients properly. The more obsessed I get with nutrition, the more intrigued (and obsessed) I get with the gut and the liver. Without the proper maintenance and care of these two digestive super heroes, our bodies are in serious trouble. Basically, fermented food create a Frankenstein of living goodness, which we need to give our bodies to balance the gut. Many of us know probiotics in relationship to kombucha drinks and yogurt. Good quality yogurt should have the bacteria lactobacillus. This bacteria converts the lactose and other sugars in the yogurt to lactic acid, which in turn makes its environment acidic, inhibiting the growth of some harmful bacteria. The good, the bad…and hopefully the balance – gotta have them all. If you look at your yogurt container, it usually says what bacteria it hosts. Oh, and do yourself a favor: go for the good stuff with yogurt. Try to stay away from products like Activia. There’s just too much sugar and other weirdo’s lurking around in there (BTW, “weirdo’s” are what I am going to call non-food, chemical ingredients in food products from now on. I think it’s appropriate). St. Benoit is hella good – and super simple (sense a theme here?). Their honey flavor uses local honey from Marshall’s…and they themselves are a local company (to the Bay Area). I am lactose intolerant, and usually eat goat products, but found St. Benoit to be fine in moderation for me  (no more than 1/4 cup per day).

Fermented foods such as kraut have the same effect. Since the bacteria stimulates stomach acid, it’s best to eat a spoonful of a fermented food prior to or with a meal to aid in digestion. You can buy some great krauts at the store, although please read the label to make sure there are no weirdo’s in there . OR, you can make your own! Again…super simple. I made my first batch today and we will see how it turns out after it has gotten to stew for a while. All you need is:

Cabbage

Colored sea or mountain salt (preferably high quality, hasn’t been iodized, pink Himalayan or gray). I use a larger chunked pink Himalayan salt that I grind myself. A little bit should go a long way!

Large-mouthed mason jars or a crock (large ceramic jar for pickling and kraut)

A kitchen mallet, or meat tenderizer (I used a wood, non-handled rolling pin)

Take off two or three outer leaves and set aside. Cut cabbage into thin strips and then cut those strips in half so they aren’t too long. Put in a bowl, add one or two tablespoons of salt and start to crush and pound the cabbage with a tool like a meat tenderizer/mallet-type object, or with your fist. You want to crush the cabbage just until you see it glisten; water is being released and it is softening. This is fun for kids, if you have the cabbage in a large bowl. The cabbage can jump around a bit.  : )

Crushing away with the rolling pin.

Next add salt to the bottom of the jar (I added about 1/2 tsp). The amount of salt you add throughout packing the jar with cabbage is really up to you. I packed the jar about a third of the volume with cabbage. Then sprinkle another 1/2-1 tsp of salt on top of the layer, pounding down the cabbage. Keep layering (you will probably only have 3-4 layers) until you have about half an inch of room between the top of the cabbage and the top of the jar mouth, pounding down the cabbage after every layer.

All packed.

When you have filled the jar, with room at the top, start pouring some water into the jar slowly (filtered water if possible), making sure your cabbage is submerged. One trick I found, if you don’t have a weight to hold down the cabbage, is to use a full cabbage leaf to hold down stragglers of cabbage strips that want to float to the top. Let your kraut sit at room temp for about a week, or longer. Open it up and try it out! Refrigerate. Done and done.

Putting a plate or tray underneath your packed jars can help if they lids are looser than you think and water spills over.

DON’T FORGET! For all you fancy pants peeps out there, you can add all kinds of things to your kraut. Beet strips, grated carrots, chopped scallions, onions, garlic, fennel seeds, turnips, apples, caraway seeds, sea veggies or other herbs and spices, added to the cabbage. I’ve had beet and apple with fennel seed. Tasty stuff.