04 Sep // Totally addicted to 'kraut

If you read about food and food trends regularly, you will have inevitably seen something about fermentation, and fermented foods. I knew vaguely what they meant, and have watched with interest as menus increasingly feature kimchi and pickles. But it wasn't until this year I was seeing more and more people I know fermenting their own stuff, and making it look easy. 

Sauerkraut is lacto-fermented cabbage, and you might be used to seeing shredded rather than cut into chunks, or made with white cabbage rather than red. It's also a crucial element in the famous Reuben sandwich. My friend Jesse had been harping on about making kombucha and pickling things, but it wasn't until he posted step-by-step 'kraut making instructions on his twitter page that I sat up and took notice. I think it was the picture of the cabbage, an onion, and some salt with the caption: 'these are the only ingredients you need' that really got me over the line. 

Jesse linked to this article, which explains a raft of good reasons why we should eat fermented foods, not least because they are really good for your gut, and help digestion. I'm no wellness blogger, but I'm all for aiding digestion in a simple and easy way. Plus it tastes amazing! 

Anyway I gave it a go, and it was as easy as he said, and the results were as delicious. There was also an incredibly smug sense of satisfaction that came with my first jar. The cayenne pepper gives it a kick, which I love, and it gets as tangy as you leave it out for, before keeping it in the fridge, which arrests the ferment. It's pretty good after a week, and probably good up to about two weeks, but you can start taste-testing from about day three. Each day for the first few days you should press down at the top to ensure it stays under the liquid, too. 

I estimate one small-ish red cabbage will do about 1.5-2 litres (going by jar size) but if you're anything like me you've got a few empty jars lying around (otherwise they start at $1.50 at the Warehouse) because whatever sized jar you use, you'll need to fill it to the top. I've been getting 1 big jar and one small one out of each batch lately.  

All lunch-making decisions in my life have been reduced to 'How conducive is this lunch to sauerkraut?' I am utterly addicted and I'm putting it on everything. With avocado on toast, with fish and greens for dinner, on noodles with a crispy fried egg, or straight from the jar with chopsticks. I cannot recommend it enough, and if you've ever been curious about fermenting but have not given it a go, now is the time! Grab a cabbage and get some 'kraut in your life.      

Basic Sauerkraut

This kraut recipe was taken and adapted slightly from food writer Jesse Mulligan's twitter account. Similar instructions can be found on The Kitchn.

Ingredients: 

1 red cabbage

1 red onion

1 tbsp good quality sea salt 

1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper

1. Remove tough outer leaves frm the cabbage. Chop into bite size chunks, throwing away the core, and rinse thoroughly under running water. Dry off in a salad spinner or with a tea towel. Place in a large bowl. 

2. Chop onion into small chunks and add the the bowl. 

3. Add salt and cayenne and massage it into the cabbage. Take a good 5-10 minutes to do this. The liquid will start to come out of the cabbage. Make sure you massage the salt well into the mix. 

4. Set aside for at least 5 minutes to rest, but ideally up to an hour. This will allow the liquid to start coming out. 

5. Take your clean jar, and transfer the cabbage mixture into the jar with tongs. Press down with a muddler or rolling pin or similar, and squash it hard so there are no air bubbles. Liquid will start to come up the jar as you press. Keep filling and pushing and filling and pushing unti your jar is full. Liquid should have come up most of the way. 

6. Put the lid loosely on top (it doesn't need to be sealed, it just needs to keep bugs away) and keep in a cool, dark place. Taste it after about 3 days, and then leave it fermenting until you like the taste (for me it's a little over a week) and then refrigerate, as this will arrest the ferment and keep it about that level of flavour and tang.

A few notes: 

- the liquid might drip over the top if you pack it a little high - I just keep a tea towel under the jar and keep an eye on it. 

- you might get a few white mould-like spots on top, just scrape them off and keep going. 

- the liquid in the bottom at the end of your batch can be used to kickstart the next. 

How to eat:

- with chopsticks, straight from the jar.

-  on noodles, with a crispy fried egg, some sauteed greens, and plenty of hot sauce and sesame oil.

- with matjes or pickled herrings or smoked fish on a platter.

- on any #plattergram worth its weight.

- on top of noodle soup/ramen. 

- on toast with avocado.

- for breakfast with eggs and salmon.

- with cream cheese or homemade labne on rye or crackers.