Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kraut!



I made another batch of Kraut earlier this week and took some photos for sharing.

Kraut is super nutritious because its full of probiotics and enzymes...So I basically feel like a bazillion bucks when I eat a little bit with every meal. All of the enzymes are especially helpful for promoting digestion when you're prone to acid reflux (especially during pregnancy), if your liver tends to be sluggish, or if your eating a meal that is mostly or exclusively cooked foods and/or a lot of (cooked) meat.


Kraut is easy to make. You basically take cabbage, slice it thinly, mash it into a food-grade non-metal container with some salt until the juices flow (reaching a higher level than the vegetable content), then cover it and let it rot until it smells sour and delicious. You can use whatever vegetables you like to eat and especially whatever veggies are in excess at the time you're conjuring up your batch of rotten veggies (er...kraut).


So let's look at some fancy photos of my kraut making operation and I'll try to break this down a bit more step-by-step with some more details.


You'll Need some stuff like:

veggies (cabbage, collard greens, broccoli, kale, beets, carrots, turnips, onion, anything really...) salt and/or savory seeds and/or seaweed

cutting board
a knife or one of those special cabbage shredders

a mashing device of some kind (there are special utensils made for this purpose. i don't have one)

a plate

a ziplock bag (optional)





0. make sure you begin with a squeaky clean cutting board, knives, fermenting vessel, masher, spoon for your salt, etc. and don't forget to wash your hands!





1. First you take the veggies and you slice them! you slice them! You're going for thin slices here. Bite-sized ish is also nice for the length, but the veggies will also get a bit smaller as they ferment. I'd say about 70% as small as if you were cooking them.






I like to arrange my vegetables in little dishes by type so I can add them into the crock in roughly the same proportions, but really with all the pounding and mashing that happens, things get mixed up pretty well.




2. Once everything is cut up, add a layer of cabbage (and other veggies if you have more) that's about 4-5" thick, sprinkle some salt (I like the fancy celtic sea salt for its mineral content) on it, then take your masher (I used an empty glass bottle) and (carefully if your using my method of a glass masher) pound the veggies until they look good and bruised. Repeat until your crock is full.






Usually I put about 1/4 to 1/2 a tsp. of salt in each layer of veggie. I like a lot of salt in my food, you might like a bit less. The saltier the concoction, the longer it will take to ferment. It is important to add enough salt because it favors the beneficial microbes that will make your rotten veggies rot correctly--and by correct I mean that they will rot in a way that will make them edible and nutritious to you, a human (I assume) and not just nutritious for your compost heap. You can also supposedly use savory seeds (dill seed, caraway, celery seed...) or hijiki instead of salt. I've never tried this exclusively, but I do find that those items can be tasty additions.






When you're mashing the veggies, you're creating the liquid brine (veggie juice mixed with salt) that will allow your vegetables to ferment (rot in a fancy way) rather than just plain rot. So it's important than the liquid you mash out of your veggies ends up covering them by the time you get to the top of your crock (or jar or bucket). I've found that for this first few layers of veggies I mash, there really is not appreciable liquid content in my crock. So if this happens to you, don't be discouraged! Usually by the time the crock is half full I'm seeing some liquid. By the time I'm doing the last couple of layers, I'm getting splashed in the face with the juices that come shooting out as I pound the veggies.






3. Covering up the crock is the last thing you need to do with your crock...today that is. You can use a plate or a similar flat object (that is clean of course!) to press your cabbage down below the level of the liquid. Often you'll need a weight to keep enough pressure on the plate. A clean jar full of water or a clean rock works well for this purpose. There is also this clever idea out there about just using a ziplock bag full of brine (aka saltwater) to weigh and press the veggies down. Its filled with brine so if your plastic springs a leak, it won't interfere with the fermentation process.


As your schlopp ferments keep an eye on it to make sure the liquid level stays high enough, or that it hasn't overflowed (usually this happens only in the first couple days) and is in need of cleanup. If the liquid gets to low, the veggies exposed to air will start to mold (especially if you live here in the NW). If this happens, don't despair, just remove the moldies (and a safety layer of unmoldies below that, according to your own comfort level...about an inch is good enough for me), clean any mold off your fermentation vessel, add some brine, promise yourself to be a more vigilant fermentor and keep it fermenting! It takes anywhere between 4 days (according to the literature on fermentation, though I've never seen it go down this fast) to several weeks to completely ferment. Keep checking it as you it ferments. When it smells good and sour then taste it. Don't taste it if it smells bad. Though, its important to note that the fermentation involved is a series of two different kinds of critters, the first is a bacteria so it's possible that your kraut will smell less than tasty early on in the process. If this is the case, consider giving it some more time. If you're kraut it more than a couple weeks old, you probably have missed the golden level of deliciousness for this batch. You can try to salvage anything that may still be tasty from the bottom of your crock, but you may have to start a new batch.


For anyone who isn't already familiar, Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz is a good book on the topic of fermenting foods, though he (the author) is fond of digressing from the topic of ferments and giving lengthy personal anecdotes which may or may not be an interesting read for you. I find it frustrating sometimes when I'm just trying to look up a quick fact or two and I have to wade through several paragraphs about his housemate to find it.

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