How to Make Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is a traditional fermented food with just two basic ingredients: cabbage and salt. Homemade fermented sauerkraut has a delicious tangy flavor and a slight crunch, and it is an amazing source of probiotics (beneficial microorganisms).
Eating fermented foods increases the amount of beneficial bacteria in your gut, which is good for digestion and overall health. These friendly bacteria are what cause the food to ferment, and they flourish in the right environment. We create the right environment for sauerkraut by keeping the cabbage submerged in salty liquid. The liquid comes entirely from the cabbage itself; the salt helps to extract water from the cabbage and keep the sauerkraut crunchy.
Equipment: A crock or wide-mouth Mason jar, a weight (like a smaller Mason jar filled with water, that fits inside the bigger one), bowl, knife and cutting board.
Ingredients: Cabbage and salt. Other herbs are optional; caraway seed adds a great flavor.
How to do it:
Chop up the cabbage. I like to chop mine into very thin pieces, and I try to use as much of the cabbage as I can, including the center part. Peel off and discard the very outer leaves first, though. Fresh cabbage releases more juice. Try to find some at a farmers’ market, and don’t let it sit in the fridge for too long before using it.
As you chop, toss the cabbage into a big bowl, making sure to leave extra space in the bowl. Sprinkle salt on the cabbage as you go. I don't measure, but I would guess that I use about 1.5 Tbsp. for every head of cabbage. I use pink Himalayan salt or sea salt. If you let the salted cabbage sit for about 10 minutes, it will start to release juice on its own. The goal is to get as much liquid out as possible.
Next is the fun part—squeezing the cabbage with your hands.
Squeeze and press down on the cabbage until you start to see some liquid at the bottom of the bowl. It takes some muscle! Keep doing this for about 10 minutes, or more if needed. The goal is to have the liquid completely cover the cabbage when you stuff it into your crock or jar. If you are using other herbs, such as caraway seed, you can mix those in at this point.
Next, put the cabbage into your container (crock or mason jar).
A crock will sometimes come with ceramic weights that hold down the kraut. If you don’t have these, a smaller container filled with water works well, or several plates stacked on top of each other. If you are using a jar, you can set the lid on loosely, but don’t shut it completely. If the lid is shut tightly, too much pressure can build up, causing the jar to explode. If fruit flies are a problem in your kitchen, keep the whole thing covered with a towel or cheesecloth to keep them out.
The kraut should be completely submerged under the liquid. Keep checking every day to make sure it is still submerged. If it’s not, push it down and add more weight on top.
Finally, let the kraut sit out on the counter for at least three days. Leave it out longer for a more flavorful, sour-tasting kraut. Fermentation happens faster in a warmer environment, so you may need more time in the winter and less in the summer. Test your sauerkraut throughout the process, and store it in the fridge when it tastes good to you. I usually leave mine out for about two weeks, and then put it in jars in the fridge. It will stay good for months when refrigerated, but tastes best within about two months.
Some of the best resources on fermented foods, including sauerkraut, are Sandor Katz's books The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation. Check these out for even more in-depth information on sauerkraut and fermentation in general!