The Pennsylvania Dutch eat sauerkraut (with pork, of course) on New Year’s Day for good luck. However, when prepared the old-fashioned way, this pungent side dish packs health benefits that surpass superstition.
Now, we’re not talking about the sauerkraut you find in the plastic pouch at the grocery store. That stuff probably isn’t raw and may contain vinegar to mimic the acid that raw sauerkraut develops naturally. We’re talking about the simple combination of shredded cabbage and salt that, when packed tightly and fermented, kept our ancestors strong and regular throughout history.
Raw sauerkraut is a superfood packed with probiotics, or live cultures that are good for the body. When cabbage ferments, its sugars form lactic acid bacteria that help keep the digestive system in full working order. Furthermore, sauerkraut is high in vitamin C and cancer-fighting agents. And what do you get when you add up all these valuable nutrients? A plain, old head of cabbage transformed into a tangy and exciting complement to your meat and potato-driven winter menu.
Because raw sauerkraut may be difficult to come by at your local store, why not try making it yourself? Ok, before you sigh heavily and shut your laptop, read this—making sauerkraut is as easy as making a salad. Simply shred the cabbage and go take a week’s vacation while it does the rest of the work. Obviously, if you’re looking for instant gratification, this isn’t the recipe for you. But if you like a delicious payoff for little work, you might want to add this one to your repertoire.
You will need a few pieces of equipment to get started: a 1-gallon pitcher or bucket, a clean plate that fits inside the pitcher, a heavy object to weigh down the plate, and a dishtowel to cover it while it rests. Or you can get all this in one (minus the dishtowel) with a Japanese pickle press.
Now, you’re ready to keep those New Year’s resolutions to stay healthy and to try something new. Thank you, sauerkraut.
For more information on sauerkraut than you ever thought you needed, visit www.wildfermentation.com.
Sauerkraut (Yields 4-6 cups)
- 2 medium heads of cabbage (about 3 ½ pounds), cored and shredded
- 2 carrots, peeled and grated
- 1 T juniperberries
- 2 T kosher salt
Toss the first three ingredients together in a large bowl. Massage the salt lightly into the mixture.
Pack the mixture tightly into a bucket or pickle press, pressing down on each new addition to start forcing out the water.
Cover the mixture with the plate and top with the heavy object. The weight of the object will force out the water, which preserves the mixture once submerged. Cover the bucket with a dishtowel and store in a cool, dry place. Push on the weight periodically throughout the day until the water rises above the plate. If the water doesn’t rise above the plate after a day or so, add salt water (1 teaspoon salt dissolved in 1 cup water) until the plate is submerged.
Check the sauerkraut every day or two. If mold develops on the water, skim it off with a spoon. Test the flavor after about 5-7 days. When the flavor has developed to your liking, scoop out the desired portion as needed. The kraut will keep in the vessel for weeks.