This post comes to us courtesy of writer and Williams-Sonoma creative consultant Laura Martin Bacon.
A post-truffle-hunt picnic was the last place I’d expect to encounter a certain fermented favorite from my childhood. But there it was: the familiar mingling aromas of tangy salted cabbage and carrots.
It brought back happy memories of my grandmother’s kitchen in what we used to call “the old neighborhood.” Which meant: the food-crazy Slovenian/Italian/Austrian section of Cleveland, where everything somehow seemed to taste more real than other places.
This was true of the homemade pastas and garlicky sausages, the golden breads and buttery strudels – even the basement-crafted wines. And when it came to sauerkraut, you couldn’t doubt the reality. The scent alone was powerful proof of its existence.
Homemade sauerkraut is slow food at its colorful, crunchy best. It’s a long way from the slippery, pale yellow strands inside the jars and cans you find on grocery store shelves. Maurine’s rainbow version combines shredded cabbage with golden beets, green apples and anything-goes carrots (pick your favorite colors – from deep red and orange to vibrant violet). She’s nicknamed it “Cavewoman Sauerkraut” because she insists this primal recipe expresses her inner Neanderthal.
She describes it much better than I ever could, so without further ado: here’s Cavewoman Maurine!
“Predictably, my first batch of sauerkraut was a moldy mess and I felt like I was a Flintstone again. I even met with Sandor Katz, contemporary guru of fermentation, but it wasn’t until my crafty neighbor (Wilma?) showed me a trick that I started turning out delicious (and dare I say sweet?) sauerkraut!
“The trick? A dowel. At Living Light Institute, I was taught to salt and vigorously massage the cabbage. Yes, that will work eventually, but I am a lazy Neanderthal. Pounding the kraut with a dowel is an easier way to squeeze out the natural juices – and juice is the key to successful kraut. You absolutely must have enough liquid to adequately cover the kraut, or you will indeed, as I did in prehistoric times, create primordial ooze.
“Here’s my recipe for Rainbow Kraut – but maybe I should call it Cavewoman Kraut. Now you know what the club in caveman days was really used for.”
Maurine’s Rainbow Kraut
1 head cabbage, shredded on mandoline using the flat blade (reserve four cabbage leaves whole)
1 bunch raw golden beets, peeled and grated
1 apple, grated (I like green apple)
2 carrots, grated
1 to 2 Tbs. salt
Optional: 1 Tbs. ginger, grated using a Microplane grater (add this after fermentation)
Mix everything together in a large pot or vessel that won’t break or splash when you begin to mash the kraut. (If you aren’t using the “dowel” method, any large bowl will do).
Massage with your fingers to distribute the salt. Let rest for a while (a few minutes to a half hour) to allow salt to absorb in and begin to draw out moisture.
Pound the kraut with a dowel for 10 to 15 minutes until you can see a pool of liquid forming. If you don’t have a dowel, vigorously massage with your fingers in a big bowl until liquids release. You are done when your kraut is very juicy because you will need enough juice to cover it when it’s mashed down.
Transfer to a large jar, crock or open-mouthed water pitcher (I use a water pitcher). Cover with the leftover cabbage leaves and mash down until the liquid rises above the kraut.
Find another vessel that is narrow and heavy that you can fill with water or weigh down in some way. I use a tall, narrow glass container filled with water. If you use a crock, you may want to place a saucer on top and the weighted object on top of that. Press down until liquid seeps above the veggies.
I put mine on top of a cabinet, but just put it out of the way somewhere.
Check it in about 5 to 7 days. Remove any yuck around the edges. Taste the center. If it is still crunchy and not very sour, let it go longer. Most people go two weeks or more, but I only go 7 to 10 days. The more days you ferment it the more it breaks down, becoming softer and more sour.
When your sauerkraut arrives at your desired taste, you can jar it – if you like your kraut with spices, stir in 1 to 2 Tbs. microplaned fresh ginger.
Store in a mason jar and again punch it down to let liquid seep above the cabbage. Refrigerate. And serve your Cavewoman Sauerkraut with primal pride! Makes approximately 1 quart (a wide-mouth Ball jar filled to the brim).
About the author: Laura is a longtime writer and creative consultant for Williams-Sonoma and other well-known entities. She’s also the Culinary Creative Director of DooF (“food” backwards), an organization that uses multi-media entertainment, education and live events to help kids and families discover the magic of food. DooF explores every aspect of food – from flavors, history, science and cultural traditions to the exciting journey from source-to-table. Laura’s mission: to make good food fun – at home, in the classroom and beyond.