Simple Wild Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is often thought of as a German dish, but the first sauerkraut was probably created in China. Before refrigeration, it was a great way to preserve fresh vegetables for traveling workers and armies. The technique is easy and lends itself to a variety of different vegetables. Once you’ve made this a fewtimes, you’ll want to experiment with different vegetables and embellishments. On the ’kraut continuum, on one end, there’s just cabbage and salt. On the other end, you’ll see many other types of vegetables (and sometimes fruits), including whole cabbages, turnips, or beets (I’ve even seen people ferment mashed potatoes). In the middle, you have something like this: mostly cabbage, a fewdifferent vegetables to add interest, and some whole spices or aromatics. I like to play with garlic, ginger, or other types of whole spices. In the winter, when the kale and daikon radish are at their best, I will add them instead of carrots and turnips. Think of this as a nice basic ’kraut to help you build skills and confidence.
- Prep Time: 15 min
- Total Time: 5 days
- Yield: 1 quart 1x
- Category: German
- 1 medium head green cabbage (about 1½ pounds), quartered, cored, and sliced as thinly as possible 2 to 3 carrots, grated on the large holes of a box grater
- 3 to 4 red turnips, grated on the large holes of a box grater 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon mustard seeds or fennel seeds, lightly crushed
Put all the vegetables in a large bowl along with the salt and mustard seeds. With clean hands, toss and squeeze the vegetables until they start to soften and release their liquid (about 5 minutes). Pack them tightly into a 1-quart, wide-mouthed, glass mason jar, pushing down on them with a wooden spoon or your fingertips with as much force as you can until the level of liquid rises above the vegetables. Put a smaller jar inside the glass jar and push down on it to keep the vegetables submerged. Cover with a clean towel and secure with a rubber band. This is to allow the ’kraut to breathe while keeping bugs out.
Leave out at room temperature for about 5 days. Check once daily to be sure the vegetables stay submerged, pushing down on them if needed. If you see a foamy scum, simply skim it off. Taste daily, starting on the third day. The sauerkraut is ready when it tastes good to you. This could be anywhere from 3 to 10 days. When it’s to your liking, fasten the lid and transfer it to the refrigerator.
Sauerkraut will last for months in the refrigerator. It doesn’t really go bad, but older ’kraut can become unpalatable soft, almost mushy. Some people like to cook it when it gets to that point—in a bean soup or with sausages and potatoes.