Sandor Katz’ nickname and best-known fermentation habit (that would be SandorKraut and sauerkraut, for those still unfamiliar) inspired me to share my favorite sauerkraut du jour while the contest to win his book Wild Fermentation is on-going! I’m sharing my very favorite sauerkraut recipe. It isn’t the wackiest sauerkraut I’ve made and the ingredients are far from funky. It is, however, consistently delicious, pretty, and simple to make. If you’re looking for a pretty gift option, this would be a good one. Unfortunately it needs a month or more of fermentation, so you’d have to put a “best after” date on it, or perhaps start a tradition of giving the kind of gifts that are perfect for supporting those new year’s resolutions.
GINGER LEMON SAUERKRAUT
Yields one quart sauerkraut.
One of the best parts about this kraut is that at the end of fermentation, you have preserved lemon slices! Chop them up, peel and all, and throw them in just about anything from salads to grain dishes for an amazing flavor boost (or you can just eat them in your kraut, of course).
2 lbs cabbage
5 organic*, thin-skinned lemons (Meyer lemons are fine), unwaxed. (If you can only find waxed, scrub them before use).
5 inches of fresh ginger rhizome
1 tablespoon mustard seed (optional)
4-5 inch piece of kombu (optional)
6 teaspoons salt, divided
- Wash cabbage and remove the core and any outer leaves that are less than attractive. Set aside outer leaves. Grate or shred cabbage. I usually use the slicing blade on my food processor. Remember that the pieces will shrink during fermentation, since they’ll shed their water. Make them larger than you want them to be when you eat them.
- Place grated/sliced cabbage in a large bowl and thoroughly toss with 4 teaspoons of salt. Set aside.
- Grate ginger. I use the grating blade on my food processor.
- Remove the ends from your lemons then slice the lemons very thinly.
- Check on your cabbage. Is there liquid in the bottom of your bowl? Is the cabbage looking soft? Work the cabbage with your hands, until there is quite a bit of liquid in the bottom of the bowl, and the cabbage is looking and feeling pretty limp. If you knead it for a while and you aren’t achieving a softer texture, add the remaining salt, toss, and let it sit a bit longer before working it again.
- By the time you’re ready to pack your jar or crock, the cabbage should be fairly limp, and the bowl should have at least 1/2 cup of liquid in the bottom.
- Incorporate the grated ginger, mixing it in thoroughly. If you’re including mustard seeds and kombu, mix them in now.
- Get ready to pack your jar. If you’re doing this right, you should look at the contents of the bowl and think, “No WAY is all of this going to fit in there.” Get ready to pack! Grab a handful of kraut and push it into the bottom of your jar. Push it into the corners of the jar, press tightly. Make sure you see some liquid rise out of that layer.
- Grab a few lemon slices and place them inside the jar, completely covering the cabbage layer. I like to get the lemons as close to the jar sides as possible, so they’ll be a pretty little yellow layer once the jar is packed and viewed from the outside.
- Repeat this process, some kraut, some lemons, some kraut, some lemons, until your jar is completely full. Space it out so that the top layer is cabbage and not lemons, and pack tightly after placing each layer. When you’ve finished, the lemon slices should form just a thin line when viewed from outside the jar. You want this TIGHTLY packed. There should be a layer of liquid over the top of the cabbage. If there isn’t pour some of the brine from the bowl over the top.
- Leave one to two inches of headspace. The CO2 that is created during fermentation will push the liquid and the cabbage up, and could cause overflow. Fermentation is most vigorous during the first few days, so you might want to be a little vigilant about pushing things back down during that time. I keep mine on a plate, in case there is overflow.
- Use one of the reserved outer leaves as a kind of shelf for your weight.
- Let it sit, checking brine levels periodically, for four weeks. I usually push my top jar down a few times in the first week, then leave it alone for another week or two before I start regularly checking brine levels, to make sure that the cabbage is still submerged.
*It is very important to use organic citrus for this process. Lemons are very porous and they will be soaking in your kraut brine for a month. Also, since you’ll be eating the peel at the end of fermentation, you want lemons that are not loaded with toxic pesticides.