Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 to 2 weeks, or longer
This recipe is based on Sandor Katz’s version of sauerkraut, or “kraut-chi,” though it is more like a template for cabbage-based ferments than a formal recipe. For spices, you can add juniper berries, caraway seeds, and coriander for a more Old World kraut, or add ginger, garlic, and hot peppers for something more like kimchi. But do use some spice—they inhibit mold from forming.
4 pounds cabbage (or a mixture of mostly cabbage, plus fruits and vegetables, such as apples, onions, daikon radish, carrots)
6–8 teaspoons fine sea salt Spices (1½ teaspoons juniper berries, 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, or 1 tablespoon caraway seeds for Old World kraut, or whatever spices and quantities you like)
One (½- to 1-gallon) wide-mouthed glass or ceramic container fitted with a lid, or two to three 1-quart containers, or a sauerkraut crock.
Thinly chop or shred the cabbage into roughly ¼-inch thick slices and place in a very large bowl or tub. Shredding the cabbage on a mandoline gives the best result. If using other fruits and vegetables, slice them to about the same thickness as the cabbage and add to the bowl. For odd-shaped vegetables like carrots, using a thick box grater is easiest. The rougher the cut, the better as more surface area is exposed to the salt.
Add the salt (1½ to 2 teaspoons per pound of cabbage mixture) to the cabbage mixture, mixing it into the shredded leaves with your hands, squeezing the cabbage and pounding on the mixture as you go. (It’s best to start by adding 1 teaspoon of fine sea salt per pound and then adding another half or whole teaspoon extra per pound if needed.) Within several minutes, the salt will begin drawing water from the cabbage leaves. Continue to squeeze, bruise, or pound the cabbage to speed up the process. You can also place a weight on the mixture to drive out liquid.
Wait until the vegetables are dripping wet, like a sopping sponge. Taste the cabbage. It should taste salted but not salty. If it’s too salty, add more shredded cabbage or briefly rinse with water to remove. If it’s not salty enough, or not wet enough, add a little more salt. Add the spices, if using, and toss. Pack the mixture tightly in a glass jar or crock fitted with a lid that can hold at least 8 cups, making sure all the air is squeezed out and the vegetables are completely submerged in their liquid. (If you don’t have a large container, use two or three smaller containers, about 1 quart each in volume.) There should be at least 3 inches between the packed cabbage and the top of the jar. Push the vegetables down tightly using your fist. They should be covered in their liquid. Before sealing the jar, either weight the vegetables down with a small ceramic or glass jar or insert something nonreactive between the lid and the vegetables to keep them submerged in the liquid: a plastic bag filled with stones or PingPong balls works well or lay a large cabbage, fig, or grape leaf over the shredded cabbage and weight that down with clean stones or other heavy nonreactive objects. There should be enough liquid to cover, but if not add a little water. (Cabbages can lose cell water depending on growing and storage conditions.) Any vegetables exposed to the air will rot. If surface molds form, scrape them away and remove discolored sauerkraut. The kraut may smell funky, like a gym locker, but it shouldn’t smell rotten.
For the first few days, store at room temperature, ideally between 65°F and 75°F, then move to a cooler location, such as a basement. That’s it: The mixture will ferment on its own; the necessary microbes are already present on the leaves. If you’re making kraut in a sealed glass container, make sure to release the pressure every few days, especially the fi rst couple of days, when bubbling will be most active. In a mason jar, you’ll know pressure is building when the metal top begins to bulge; open just enough to release the gas and reseal. Those old-timey glass crocks with the hinged tops held in place by a metal clasp work well since they will release pressure along their rubber gasket. Easiest of all is a ceramic crock designed for making sauerkraut. Available online in various sizes, these crocks have a water lock that releases bubbles of gas while keeping air out. If at any point water seeps out of the jar during fermentation and the cabbage mixture is not fully submerged in liquid, dissolve ½ teaspoon of fine sea salt in a cup of water. Add enough brine to keep the sauerkraut submerged in liquid.
How long before the kraut is ready? It depends—on the ambient temperature, the amount of salt used, and the local population of microbes. Taste it after a week, then two weeks, and then weekly after that. When the level of sourness and crunchiness is to your liking, move your kraut to the refrigerator to put the breaks on the fermentation.
VARIATION: To make a version of kimchi, replace the cabbage with Napa cabbage and Daikon radish; the cabbage can be sliced into half-inch rounds, and the daikon into quarter-inch rounds. Replace the sauerkraut spice mixture with:
4 cloves minced or crushed garlic (or more, to taste)
4-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced (or more, to taste)
2 tablespoons powdered red pepper (or more, to taste)
2 tablespoons coriander seeds (or half a bunch of fresh cilantro,
4 green onions
The rest of the process is the same as for sauerkraut.