But why ferment? you may ask...
Well, if you think of our ancestors, before they had fridges and freezers, and ask yourself how they preserved foods, you will find the answer not only in canning and preserving, but also in fermenting. The lactic acid in the fermented food "is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. Starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria. These lactobacilli are ubiquitous, present on the surface of all living things and especially numerous on leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground. Man needs only to learn the techniques for controlling and encouraging their proliferation to put them to his own use, just as he has learned to put certain yeasts to use in converting the sugars in grape juice to alcohol of wine" (Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions).
What are the advantages and benefits of fermentation? You must have heard of probiotics... You know that when you take a dose of antibiotics, it is like dropping a bomb in your gut and destroying the flora in there. And you have been told to either eat a lot of yogurt or take probiotics in the form of pills. Well, there is A LOT of lactobacilli (a probiotic) in fermented vegetables. These lactobacilli enhance the vegetables' digestibility and increase their vitamin levels. They also produce helpful enzymes, antibiotic and anticarcinogenic (anti-cancer) substances, and help restore the flora in your gut.
Sauerkraut is one of the easiest fermented vegetables to make. As a kid, my mom would buy it from the store and cook it for hours on low, with bacon and sausages in it. It took me a while to learn to appreciate it, but now I absolutely love it! However, this was the first time I ate raw and cold sauerkraut, after I attended a workshop at the real food symposium.
I immediately made my own and it turned out delicious.
So, are you ready to try? Here we go! You will need:
A head of cabbage, preferably organic
2 tbsp sea salt
a pounder and/or your hands
Shred the cabbage thinly (I use my food processor) and place it in a glass bowl. Spread the salt on top, and start pounding the cabbage, to release the juices. I don't have a pounder, so I use the bottom of a jar. After 30 seconds to 1 minute of pounding, start kneading the cabbage between your fingers, as you would when making bread.
Squeeze the kraut in your hands, until it starts getting wilted and juicy. You want it to release as much juice as possible, so keep squeezing for about 5-10 minutes.
Then place the kraut in your jars, squeezing tight, and adding the juice to cover the cabbage. You want the cabbage to be immersed in its own juice. The saying is "below the brine is fine".
I usually add a cabbage leaf to cover the top, then close the lid tight. Place your jar of sauerkraut in a cool dark place for at least two weeks, before opening and eating it. Once open, keep it in the fridge.
Some recipes call for 4 tbsp of whey, which is the liquid you see in your yogurt after you have taken a few tbsp and placed it back in the fridge. But be mindful that not all whey is equal. Do not put whey from your strawberry yogurt that was sweetened with high fructose corn syrup! Don't even eat that yogurt to begin with. But if you are making your own yogurt, you can use some of that whey to add to your cultured vegetables. You will only need 1 tbsp of salt if you use whey. I personally prefer to make sauerkraut without whey.
You can also add peppercorns, caraway seeds, garlic, herbs, shredded carrots and other herbs. The possibilities are endless and you can be creative and adventurous. It's fun! And it's OK if a batch doesn't taste good. Not a big loss.
You can keep your sauerkraut in the jar for months before opening it. As you open it, it might make a fizzy sound. It's normal! It's the fermentation gases being released, and I personally love it! It tells me my food is alive :)
I eat sauerkraut as a condiment, to accompany salads or other dishes. We're talking a few tablespoons here, not a whole plate!
So go ahead, try it, and let me know how it turns out! And stay tuned for some kombucha stories pretty soon!