Thursday 13 November 2014

Creating my own kraut

The beautiful kraut crock, or ‘Keulse Pot’ (Pot from Cologne) that I inherited from my grandmother earlier this year, and painstakingly wrapped in an old jumper before packing it in my suitcase and flying it to its new home in Singapore, has been eyeing me for a few moths. So when I read that one serving of homemade sauerkraut contains more probiotics than a whole jar of pills, I knew the time had come: I was going to make my own ‘zuurkool’, or sauerkraut.

I was not sure whether the hot and humid Singapore weather was going to be a blessing or a threat when it comes to home fermenting, but I assumed there was only one way to find out: I bought a large head of cabbage. 

Some research online taught me the basics, and I went about it in the way I do with most things: tackle it head on, without too much of a plan. Indah shredded the cabbage for me very nicely, and very finely, in a way I would not have been able to manage myself. I added 2 smallish spoons of unrefined sea salt to the cabbage and mixed well. 

The amount of salt you need to add to cabbage to create sauerkraut is no exact science, as every cabbage size and type is different, and the same goes for salt. Try to use a fine natural salt with no additions, I like sea salt best. Generally speaking you want around 2% salt, or roughly 1-2 teaspoons per pound of shredded cabbage. 

The best thing to do is start on the lower end and add more when you don't get enough brine, but be careful not to over-salt, the end result should not be too salty. If you add a lot too much, the beneficial bacteria can't grow. This experimental way working of suits me well as I am not too exact myself (and that is someone with a MSc in chemistry speaking, go figure), but if you find it difficult to deal with, just taste your salted cabbage. It needs to be quite salty, without being overwhelmingly so. 

Now comes the fun, and hard part: you need to massage, knead, squash, push and work the cabbage until the brine comes out. Yes, with your (cleanly washed) hands. The salt will set off the process of osmosis (that’s the chemistry degree talking), and water will leak from the cells of the cabbage to the outside, mixing with the salt to make brine. The kneading breaks cell walls to assist this. The salty brine that is formed will stop the bad bacteria from growing, whilst encouraging the nice, healthy lactobacillus that will help ferment the cabbage and improve your gut health. You need to create enough brine for the cabbage to be fully submerged, as any bits sticking out risk going mouldy. If you don’t have enough brine, you might need to add more salt, but before you do that, leave it to stand for a bit and work it some more, you don’t want to oversalt, as this will ruin the batch. You can push the cabbage (which will wilt down to a lot less volume) down firmly to get the brine to the top. If you really can't get enough brine you can top up the kraut with a 2% saline solution, but this is really a last resort when nothing else works. 

Now the kraut is ready to go into your pot, and don’t worry if you have not inherited a nice vintage crock, any jar will do. You need to weigh down the cabbage so it stays down under the brine, if you don't have fermentation you can use a plate, large stone, or a ziplock bag filled with pebbles (which I did) or 2% salted water (don't use unsalted water, if your bag leaks that will ruin your kraut). If you want you can put in an additional layer underneath he weight, consisting of some whole cabbage leaves to keep the shredded kraut from floating up. Don’t put a tightly closed lid on the jar, the CO2 formed in the process needs to escape. You can cover it with a clean cloth instead, or if you do cover, make sure to burp regularly to let the gas out. If you want to go very professional you can buy a jar with an air lock: that way gas can escape and no air can get in. If you struggle with mould on your kraut this is a good way to prevent that. 

But don't worry too much about getting mould, traditionally this was just scraped off. As long as the cabbage underneath is not affected, this is safe to do. 

Then you wait. Check your kraut every day to make sure it is still submerged, as this will prevent unwanted bacteria and moulds to grow, Depending on the circumstances fermentation will take one to several weeks. Mine was delicious after just one week in the hot Singapore weather, after which I transferred it to a Tupperware jar, and put it in the fridge for safekeeping. If you want to know whether it is ready, the best way is the simplest: taste it. If you want to be more technical, you can measure pH, it needs to be below 4.5. But the best measure is you, if your kraut tastes great, it is great!

Mine was, but it still took copious amounts of applemoes (applesauce) to convince the kids of the edibility of Mama’s newest project. 

You can cook all your favourite dishes but I love to eat it raw, that way preserving all those hearty probiotics. Mix it with some (dried) fruits and nuts for a quick side salad or lunchtime treat. 

However I eat it, I'm loving it, and have already started on my next project: a more spicy, oriental version of this traditional Dutch recipe: Korean Kimchi, ladled with chili. Something tells me no amount of appelmoes will convince the kids to eat that one…

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