The fact that I am devoting an entire post to the wonders of sauerkraut amuses me to no end. As my younger self, I could not think of a more vile side dish. Growing up in an entirely German household, however, there was always a surplus of it haunting the house at all times. What I realized when I got older was that my aversion stemmed more from the aggressive qualities of the caraway seed than this nutritious, cruciferous cabbage. And, in its defense, I recall my earlier experiences with sauerkraut to be unfairly...bland.
Thankfully, pickled and fermented foods have enjoyed a well-deserved resurgence in popularity in our progressive culinary culture. Creative flavors, fusions and methods gave a new face to this once loathed family staple and finally got this girl's attention. Making things in mason jars simply sounded harmless, quirky and fun. It did not disappoint.
1 green cabbage
1 teaspoon fine, high-quality sea salt
1 Tablespoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1 bunch of fennel fronds
1 pint mason jar (or two smaller sized jars)
To prepare the cabbage, quarter, core, and slice into ribbons in a large bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of fine, good quality sea salt (I stand by this, as I've tried both and can taste the difference in the finished product). Massage it into the cabbage until it becomes very wilty and watery. This tension-relieving process takes about 5-10 minutes, so be patient as the ingredients engage with each other and do not be tempted to add more salt. It will come together, I promise. At this stage, I add the caraway seeds to the mix, as well as the other flavors I have chosen for the batch. This round, I've chosen mustard seed (a favorite), caraway, fennel, and celery. Add more or less to taste.
Load your mason jars (roughly 2 little or one pint sized jars per one head of cabbage, sometimes more), with the brine, and pack it very tightly, about 3/4 full. The brine should cover the cabbage. I set aside one large leaf of cabbage to cover the kraut and keep it immersed underneath the brine. Cover the jar with cheesecloth and a rubber band and store in a cool place (my mad scientist food lab is located in the garage). Check on the cabbage daily and gently press the contents down to keep it immersed. These micro batches will be ready in about 5 days or so. Trust your tastebuds and your crunch factor. I personally prefer more texture to my sauerkraut, but you may prefer a softer texture, so that will naturally ferment a while longer. Once complete, throw on a lid and transfer your masterpiece to the refrigerator. This particular batch yeilded two jars for this sized cabbage.
My biggest fear was less that I still wouldn't care for this dish, but more so that I wouldn't inadvertently poison myself in my initial attempt with fermented foods. The smaller batch method definitely makes the task seem less daunting, but also keeps quantity and fermentation well under control. It also took some experimentation to perfect how I was going to individuate my sauerkraut with my own favorite touches. Naturally, I scaled back on the caraway seed and introduced something a little more spicy and kicky...the mustard seed. Once I got the hang of it and exercising my creative license came more naturally to me, I substituted different spices and aromas as the seasons demanded. A red cabbage kraut, for example, is a very successful endeavor.
Enjoy alone or paired with your favorite plant-based burger (mine is the Beast Burger or the Beyond Burger from Beyond Meat):