- 2 medium-large heads of Cabbage
- About 1/3 cup whey (optional)
- About 1 tbsp sea salt
- Herbs & spices (mustard seed, dill, caraway, pepper, bay leaf, juniper berries) (find it here)
1. Chop the cabbage into quarters.
2. Slice it into as long, fine strips as you can.
Tip: The lid you see in the background of Step 1 is from our food processor; we tried to use it initially, but we found that it just diced the cabbage into bits. For this task, your hands and a sharp knife are probably the best tools around.
3. Place chopped cabbage in a large bowl.
4. Mix it up with whatever herbs and spices you like. Our favorite combination is mustard seed, dill, caraway, salt, and pepper. Juniper berry and bay leaf are traditional options.
Tip: Only add as much salt as you’d like to taste in the end product. I have read and re-read Nourishing Traditions’ sauerkraut recipe, trying to correct whatever I thought I had done wrong, and consequently ruined several batches of cabbage; Sally Fallon’s method is just plain flawed. While I love her insightful book, the amount of salt she prescribes for fermenting in general is usually off, as in too much. Use about half of what she says, i.e. about 1/2 tbsp per medium-large head of cabbage.
5. Throw in the salt, other herbs & spices, and whey. Let it sit and wilt for about 5 minutes. Then, vigorously pound, squeeze, grind, and do whatever else you have to, to break down the cellular structure of the cabbage strands and release their fluids. By the time you’re done, they should be floppy, darker, and sitting in a small pool of juice.
Tip: You can catalyze the lacto-fermentation with either whey or salt. Because of the micro-organisms naturally occurring on the surface of cabbage, just a pinch of salt can do the trick. Whey will aid the speed of the fermentation process, but it is not necessary unless you are pickling fruit. We’re impatient, so we usually opt for whey. To make whey yourself, place some high-quality (or homemade) unsweetened yogurt in a cheesecloth and leave it to drain over night. In the morning you’ll have a ball of cream cheese and some fresh whey. A cup of yogurt will yield plenty of whey to ferment two heads of cabbage. Another option is to simply use 1/3 cup of liquid from Bubbies Sauerkraut instead of whey.
6. Pack the freshly smashed cabbage firmly into sterilized mason jars. Fill it up only to the threads; you want a little breathing room. You’ll know its packed tightly enough when the juices rise up above the cabbage. If you can’t get this to happen, fill it with a little purified water (or whey, if you have it) until it is just covered with liquid.
Tip: Make sure that all the products are of high quality. I do not recommend lacto-fermenting pesticide-laden, genetically modified vegetables. Unhealthy bacteria can kill the sensitive Lactobacilli or turn it into pathogenic bacteria. Likewise, table salt is too highly processed; use sea salt.
7. Let it sit at room temperature for about 5 weeks, after which time it should be adequately fermented, depending on the temperature of your store-room. Transfer to the fridge to slow the fermenting process, if you wish. In the fridge, it will just keep getting better and better for about 6 months. After that, it should still be perfectly healthy, but it’ll be quite an acquired taste.
Tip: It’s normal for it to smell unappealing at first, and sometimes to develop mold on top. If either of these things happen, you’re still fine. In the event of mold, just remove the offending layers, and submerge in purified water or brine. If it becomes infected throughout, or if your instincts tell you the smell is dangerous, toss it. This should be a rare occurrence though, as the whey/salt/cabbage environment is actually not altogether hospitable to many pathogens.
Update: Many of you asked me if I buy sauerkraut. Yes I do especially when I am between batches.
This is our favorite brand.