Monday, July 15, 2013

Homemade Sauerkraut

It's grilling season and my family loves a good steak or burger, but research tells us that cooking meat at high temperatures creates compounds that have been linked to cancer.  One way to clear your body quickly of those cancer-causing compounds is to make sure you eat some type of cruciferous veggie with your grilled meat.  These veggies contain sulforaphane, a molecule that helps fight cancer and microbes.

This makes sense, right?!  This is why a grilled bratwurst tastes so good slathered in sauerkraut.  It's the perfect combo for your health.

Sauerkraut is one of my husband's favorites.  I'm not a huge fan, but I tolerate the taste because I know it's good for you.  Besides being the perfect compliment for grilled meat, sauerkraut is great for digestion in general.  This is because of the lacto-fermentation process the cabbage goes through.

Many times, the sauerkraut you buy in the store has gone through a pasteurization process, which kills the good bacteria and negates these benefits to your digestive system.  To avoid this, why not make your own?  Sauerkraut is one of the easiest things to make and is really cheap.  You can get a fresh head of cabbage from the Farmer's Market for next to nothing, whereas a can of quality kraut at the store can cost you around $5.

To make my sauerkraut, I use nothing but sea salt and cabbage.  Many recipes call for homemade whey to give a little boost of Lactobacilli, but since we have a child with dairy allergies in the house that we want to share the sauerkraut with, we skip it.  Our kraut turns out just fine without it.

Here is how I make sauerkraut without a special crock.  Start with your cabbage.

Core and shred it.  Then add three tablespoons of sea salt (if you're using whey you use less salt - 1T salt/4T whey).

Now you start pounding.  I use a meat hammer and just beat and beat and beat at the cabbage until all of the juices are out of it.  It takes 10-15 minutes.  It's a good arm workout, which I guess is another health benefit of homemade kraut ;)

If you get tired, find some little helpers to beat it for you for a while.  It makes for a good science lesson. :)

Once you're done beating the cabbage, pack it into your canning jars.  For one medium head of cabbage I can usually get one quart plus one pint.  You want at least one inch of headspace and make sure all of the cabbage juice covers the cabbage in the jar.  In order to pack it in that way I use a large wooden spoon and press it down.

Make sure you completely seal your jars and place them on your counter to ferment for at least 3 days.  Once they are sealed, don't open the lid or you'll ruin the process. 

Here is my sauerkraut next to my sourdough starter.  That's a whole lot of fermentation going on!

After your three days you want to make sure to store your kraut somewhere cool.  You can use the fridge if you want.  I just put mine down in my basement food storage area with the rest of my canned goods.  You could technically eat your kraut after three days and you would get the benefit of the bacteria, however, sauerkraut is one of those things, like wine, that gets better with age, not just in terms of flavor. 

Remember that you don't need to use a water bath or pressure cooker to can your kraut.  In fact, the heat would kill the good bacteria.  The lactic acid preserves the cabbage, so you don't need to worry about bad bacteria until you open the lid.  Once it's open, make sure to store it in the fridge, where it will last for months.  And as with all home-canned items, check for signs of spoilage before you consume it.  If it looks like there is anything growing on your kraut or inside the jar on the top of the lid, if you see pink, or if there is seepage of some sort on the outside of the lid, it's better to be safe than sorry - don't eat it.

It is normal for your cabbage to lose it's bright green color with time.  That does not mean it is spoiling.  You'll notice that most krauts you buy in the store are more of a yellowish color than green.  Here is a batch of sauerkraut my husband made four years ago.  We will still eat it if it doesn't smell when we open it.

Cabbage is really cheap at this time of the year, so make sure to buy a few heads and start your own sauerkraut stockpile to get you through the winter.  Just make sure you buy organic cabbage that hasn't been sprayed!