Sauerkraut–you either like it or not. I was one of those who didn’t like it until I made my own; now, I love it. I mix it in salad, eat it by itself, use it on a sandwich in place of lettuce; I do anything with it except cook it. I don’t want to “kill” the natural bacteria formed in the kraut process because this is where the great health benefits lie. It was the great health benefits that convinced me I needed sauerkraut in my life. It is nature’s probiotic and what this does for you is to keep your whole digestive tract in working order. Sauerkraut juice has long been a treatment for ulcers and customers swear by it for acid reflux; it stops it cold. Any digestive problem such as gas, bloating, constipation, or acid reflux can be helped by sauerkraut.
When I tell people how to make sauerkraut, they ask when do you add the vinegar? Well, you don’t. The sourness comes from the natural fermentation of the vegetables. The great news: you don’t just use cabbage. You can use turnips, kale, carrots, garlic, celery, onions, chiles, as well as cabbage. My favorite combination is cabbage, turnips, celery, a little carrot for color and garlic.
If you are already a kraut lover or if you plan to make kraut long term (it makes a great and unusual food gift), using a Japanese pickle press makes the whole process a snap. This is an all plastic container with a screw down top that presses the kraut for you, easily drawing up the juices.
This method uses the Japanese pickle press. Select a medium large red or green cabbage. Remove outer damaged leaves. Halve, then quarter the cabbage; remove most of the core. (Leave some core attached as it helps hold the cabbage together while you’re slicing. Slice the cabbage to desired thickness and set aside in a large bowl. The cabbage gets “fluffy” when you slice it so select a bowl at least twice the size of your cabbage. If you want, you can add other vegetables to your kraut. Celery, onion, garlic, carrots, beets, turnips. Slice or grate these vegetables and mix with the sliced cabbage. You can also use a food processor that has slicing and grating attachments.
Weigh your kraut. For each 5 lbs. of vegetables use 3 TBL salt. This is a heaping 1 3/4 tsp. salt for each pound of vegetables. Use canning salt as this has no additives. Most grocery stores will carry canning salt.
After you’ve calculated how much salt you need, add it to the cut vegetables. The easiest way to do this is to grab a handful of vegetables and put in another bowl, sprinkle some salt over it. Continue until all the vegetables have been used and all the salt. Let sit for 15 or 20 minutes until the salt starts to draw juice out. Pack the kraut and juice into the press, tamping it down with your knuckles. Don’t worry, it will all fit. Clamp the lid on and screw the top down 2 or 3 turns. I like to screw the lid down gradually to give the juices a chance to mix well with the kraut. I’ll give 2 or 3 turns to the screw every hour or so. You are going to screw the lid down until the juices have risen above the kraut.
Your kraut is now ready to ferment. Set it aside. Fermentation depends on warmth and how soft or crunchy you like your kraut. It can take 1 to 3 weeks, or longer. You should see bubbles rising from the kraut as it ferments. I don’t think it builds up a lot of pressure but I like to release the lid once a day, smell the kraut, and then reseal it. Time’s up when it smells good and tastes good.
You don’t want to use metal utensils, so if you taste the kraut, use your clean fingers. When ready, pack the kraut in plastic containers or in glass with a plastic lid (no metal lid). You can refrigerate it or store it at room temperature where it will continue to ferment, slowly. You can also freeze it.