Looking for an easy sauerkraut recipe? Never made sauerkraut before and you’re a little nervous about the whole ‘fermented foods’ concept? I’ve been there.

I was very squeamish when I first started experimenting with sauerkraut recipes. I was! I found it a little scary to be honest. It is fermented food! How do you know if the ferment gets contaminated? Could I get sick?

What if I tasted it and – gasp! – it tasted yucky!

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Ok, seriously, that is what I was afraid of. Turns out I didn’t have anything to be afraid of after all. Sauerkraut is actually quite simple. I’ve found that it isn’t so much a recipe, it is more of a process. Once you have a couple batches under your belt, you will know what I am talking about.

Walking through the farmers market one Sunday afternoon last year,we came across the booth belonging to Oly Kraut and they were offering samples. I love samples! Who doesn’t love samples? I had never tried real sauerkraut. I didn’t think I was going to like it. But this was not the stuff that they serve in little cups at Costco to go with your polish sausage. You know the kind you can buy at the grocery store, in a jar, on the shelf, that can last forever. No, this was old-school sauerkraut. Living fermented cabbage – along with a few other goodies – that when it hit my mouth I was … I can actually say astounded. It was not what I expected. No. It was fresh! And crunchy! And sweet and complex and yummy! We bought a jar.

That jar did not last very long around our house. I dished it out to everybody that wandered into my kitchen. I just couldn’t get over how good it was. Like, seriously good. I was going to have to find out how to make this stuff. Turns out I had more cabbage in the garden and I had to figure out something else to do with it anyway. Win, win!

That’s where things got complicated. After doing quite a bit of research online, I was still thoroughly without a firm idea of exactly what I was supposed to do to pull off this edible science experiment. I requested the two books on the subject from my local library – Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz. That helped. {Those are the books I need to actually purchase and add to my permanent reference collection.}

I was still not exactly sure about how to actually make good sauerkraut. It just didn’t seem that straight forward. I was just going to have to go for it.

It took a little trial and error, a few ruined batches of ferments (always just too salty), and a brave ‘guinea pig’ – I love my husband, he will try anything I make. We now have the process down and… Oh. My. Goodness. This stuff is good.

Making your own sauerkraut is actually very easy and so worth it! I am not going to go into the science behind kraut. I will leave you in the capable hands of Mr Sandor Katz for that. {Really pick up his book, it is worth a read.} Let me share with you what I’ve learned. It doesn’t have to be scary!

Sauerkraut Made Simple

WHAT YOU WILL NEED

  • a large glass or plastic bowl with enough room to mix all the ingredients
  • food processor | mandolin | or good ol’ kitchen knife for the chopping and slicing
  • fermenting containers two half-gallon jars or one-gallon jar will work well for the ratios I give in the recipe below. You could also pack it seperatley into quart jars.
  • weights or extra cabbage leaves – you can buy weights specifically for this purpose, or you can do like I did and go out to the river and pick up a few nice smooth, flat stones. In the absence of either, you can use a few large cabbage leaves like I do below.
  • wooden spoon or other tool for packing the sauerkraut down into the container
  • stainless steel tongs for reaching into your fermenting jar to sample your goodies

STEP 1: Gather your ingredients. 

For this recipe, I am doing an Eastern European style sauerkraut inspired by the one we got at the market that day. There is nothing exact about the ratios of these ingredients. Your main ingredient for sauerkraut will always be cabbage. Everything else is optional (even the salt, but let’s not go there for now) and is really just a matter of what you have on hand and personal taste.

cabbage – 2 medium heads (a little over 4 pounds)

carrots – 6 to 8 medium. I have purple carrots in the garden this year, so those are going in and will probably give some color to the finished kraut

onion – one medium, or in my case, four small onions

scallions – a handful if you have them

one apple – to add a little sweetness

fennel seed – 1 to 2 tablespoons (optional)

sea salt – about 2 tablespoons

STEP 2: Get slicing! 

Core and slice the cabbage. How coarse or fine is up to you. If you happen to have a food processor (my BFF in the kitchen) then you are a lucky fermenter! I use the slicing blade which I think leaves the cabbage with some good texture in the finished product. No food processor? Try a mandolin.

Deciding how coarse or fine to prepare your ingredients is really just a matter of preference. I like to shred the carrot, onion, and apple. And slice the scallion.

STEP 3: Mix and salt your veggies

Everything is sliced and chopped to your satisfaction. Now it’s time to mix it all up and add the salt.

The salt’s job in this whole affair is to inhibit the growth of the harmful bacteria that would otherwise cause the food to spoil. The key is to get enough salt to prevent spoilage, but not so much that it is too salty and just doesn’t taste good.

I like to pre-measure the 2 tablespoons of salt into a small dish so that I know how much I have to work with. You may not want to use it all. You are going to salt to tasteThe mixture is going to be salty. But it should still taste good. That, right there, is the trick. Use enough salt, just not too much.

STEP 4: Release the juices!

The salt will start working right away to draw out the juices from the veggies. Massage and squeeze and bruise the vegetable mixture as you mix it up with your clean hands to help it along. You can go ahead and try a spoon, but I bet you will use your hands.

STEP 5: Pack your container

Once the mixture has released a good amount of its own juices, you can start packing your container. Start with a little at a time and using a wooden spoon or other tool, pack the kraut down really well to avoid any air pockets.

Keep packing the mixture into your container until you reach the desired level. The juices must completely cover the veggies. Leave a three to four-inch space so that as the mixture ferments, it has room to breathe and not spill its juices all over your counter.

I learned the hard way not to fill the container too full {like I did here, why did I not learn the first time?}

STEP 6: Weigh down the good stuff

Using the stones, weights or cabbage leaves, press the veggie mixture down so that it is held under the juice and not in contact with air.

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STEP 7: Cover & Wait

Loosely cover the container with a tea towel or a lid, but do not tighten it down. The jar needs to be able to breathe. Set it out of the way on the counter at room temperature where it can remain undisturbed for a few days. That is about it.

Now you just wait for microbial magic to happen as it ferments and becomes sauerkraut.

STEP 8: Taste your sauerkraut for readiness

After about three days you want to start tasting your sauerkraut. Use clean tongs to remove the weight or leaves onto a clean plate. Use a clean fork to take a little sample from under the juices and give it a taste!

It is so interesting to observe it as it changes and the effect that the fermentation has on the flavors!

How do you decide when your sauerkraut has fermented enough? That is completely up to you. I like it after just a few days. I wouldn’t say that it is fully ‘ripe’ at that point, but it does continue to ferment in the refrigerator, although at a much slower rate.

Want it to ferment a little more? Leave it on the counter and try it again in a day or two.

How do you know if a batch goes bad? It will taste bad. From what I hear, that doesn’t happen very often.

Step 9: Refrigerate & Enjoy!

When it gets to the stage that is right for you, pop it in the fridge where you can pull from it as needed and it will keep for months.

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Always press the sauerkraut back down and weigh it down again before putting it away.

Mold or ‘bloom’ may develop on the surface and that is completely normal. Also, the kraut at the top can become discolored if it isn’t completely covered with juices. Neither is harmful. Skim any unsavory bits and add them to your compost.

One last thing, I always try to take the time – and I would encourage you to do the same – to take good notes on each different batch just in case it turns out to be the most amazing concoction ever created! You may want to try to repeat it!

So what do you think? Will you give it a go?

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