I Eat Plants: Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut

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Lacto-fermented foods have been a popular topic in the blogosphere lately.

Wait, “Lacto?”  But isn’t I Eat Plants a vegan column?

Of course it is!

“Lacto” refers to lactobacillus – a genus of bacteria that has a whole lot of different species (like a category with a bunch of sub-categories).  I think a lot of people are familiar with the idea of there being lactobacilli in yogurt.  In a nutshell, the bacteria eats the sugar (milk sugar, in the case of yogurt), leaving behind lactic acid, which gives food a sour flavor.  It’s the same principle with vegetables.  You get a sour flavor, and your veggies will last much longer!

This time of year it’s getting harder and harder to find local veggies.  With spring around the corner, there will be more choices coming soon, but for now, we’re left with things like potatoes, onions, lettuces and cabbage (yes, I know there are more choices, but these seem to be the common and consistent ones).  I picked up red cabbage at the White Plains Indoor Farmer’s Market a few weeks ago, so I know you can definitely find that locally!

The batch of Sauerkraut I’m eating right now I made back in October- and it’s still going strong.  It’s added flavor and nutrition to my salads, it gives me an extra veggie to eat when I’m running low on other things, and since it’s all prepared, all I have to do is add it to my plate, and instant veggie side dish!

Raw fermented foods like this Sauerkraut and the Kimchi I shared a few months back have the added benefit of probiotics.  There’s all kinds of claims out there about probiotics from supporting digestion to anti-caner properties in mice.   While I’ll let you decide where you stand on the benefits of probiotics, if you want to reap them from lacto-fermented Sauerkraut, you have to eat it raw rather than cooked (cooking kills off the probiotics.  It will still taste fine, and if you like your Sauerkraut hot, by all means cook it, just know you won’t be getting that particular benefit).

The best thing about this recipe is that you can adapt it to most other vegetables. You can also add spices like bay leaves, juniper berries, chiles, peppercorns or anything else you like (how about a little coriander and cumin?). This is totally flexible!

You basically need two things for this: cabbage and salt. If you’re doing vegetables with less water in them (like carrots) you’ll also need water (here’s a tutorial of fermenting with a brine). I used a one-gallon fermentation crock for mine (and five pounds of cabbage, hence why I’m eating it waaaay into the winter), but you can make a smaller batch if you prefer. I like red/purple cabbage, but you can use green if you prefer.

Although this recipe uses a lot of salt, you can absolutely rinse the Sauerkraut before serving if you’re worried about sodium.

I Eat Plants: Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut

I Eat Plants: Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs cabbage, outer leaves removed and cored (reserve the outer leaves)
  • 3 tbs kosher salt
  • water as needed
  • optional: bay leaves, peppercorns, juniper berries, chiles, or other whole spices

Instructions

  1. Shred the cabbage; make sure it is washed, but not dried.
  2. Add a layer of shredded cabbage to the bottom of your fermenting jar/crock.
  3. Sprinkle with salt. Rub salt into the cabbage/and keep mashing the cabbage to release its juices.
  4. Repeat with remaining cabbage and salt. The key is to make sure that all the cabbage gets really mashed down and the salt gets rubbed in. If using, layer the whole spices/bay leaves as you go as well.
  5. Leave it loosely covered for an hour or so- if the juices aren't covering the cabbage at this point, add enough filtered water to cover. If you'll be using more than a 1/2 cup or so, add in another teaspoon of salt per cup (stir to dissolve before adding to cabbage).
  6. Cover with one or two of the (washed) outer leaves.
  7. Leave in a warm room to ferment for 3 days to a week. If you are not using a fermenting jar with an airlock, make sure to "burp" the container several times a day.
  8. Put in the fridge when it is to your sourness liking!
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I Eat Plants columnist Jodie Deignan went vegetarian in 2004 and fully committed to veganism in 2007. By day she’s a psychiatric nurse practitioner and by night she spends a lot of time cooking delicious vegan food for herself and her friends. She’s a bit of a picky eater, with a special distaste for mushrooms, seaweed, raw tomatoes, and eggplant, though she’s discovered along the way she’s a little more open-minded than she once thought. She blogs at The Picky Vegan. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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I Eat Plants columnist Jodie Deignan went vegetarian in 2004 and fully committed to veganism in 2007. By day she’s a psychiatric nurse practitioner and by night she spends a lot of time cooking delicious vegan food for herself and her friends. She’s a bit of a picky eater, with a special distaste for mushrooms, seaweed, raw tomatoes, and eggplant, though she’s discovered along the way she’s a little more open-minded than she once thought. She blogs at The Picky Vegan.

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