The following recipe is a basic sauerkraut using only cabbage and salt. You can add a variety of vegetables, fruits and spices to personalize your batches of sauerkraut. For example, some add beets or apples to this recipe. Others add dill, caraway or fresh garlic. You’re only limited by your imagination and your taste buds.
Ingredients: 3 large, dense heads of cabbage (these can be any color, but I prefer mixing 2 green to 1 red)
Non-iodized salt (for health reasons, I prefer the gray Celtic Salt or Redmond Real Salt)
1) Sterilize the jars you will be using by boiling.
(It is best to use wide mouth pint, quart or 1/2 gallon jars for the cabbage and 1/2 pint or 3/4 pint jars for the weighted insert jar)
2) Prep cabbage by washing and removing stem and core.
3) Remove and set aside 2-3 whole cabbage leaves for later.
4) Thinly slice remaining cabbage using a food processor, a mandolin or a knife.
5) For each full, packed down food processor bowl full of cabbage, add 1 tablespoon of salt. (Sandor Katz recommends 3 Tbs of salt per 5 lbs of cabbage). Mix by hand. (At this step and the next, taste the cabbage for saltiness. It should have a pleasant salty flavor but should not be too salty).
6) If possible, let the cabbage and salt mixture sit for approximately 30 minutes for the salt to wilt the cabbage by pulling the juices out of it. (Remember to taste again).
7) Pack tightly into a wide mouth jar. Really put some elbow grease into it! (You can use a dowel or some other device for pressing the cabbage into the jar but I prefer my fist. It works every time! This step is critical to the success of your sauerkraut. Tightly packing the cabbage removes air bubbles which can contribute to the growth of bad bacteria during fermentation).
8) Place the whole cabbage leaves you set aside earlier on top of the sliced cabbage.
9) Insert a small jar filled with water and closed with a plastic top to press the cabbage underneath the brine. If your cabbage is old you may have to add brine to have enough liquid to cover the cabbage. (I’ve never had to do this though).
10) cover the top of both jars with a plastic bag and put a rubber band around the mouth of the wide mouth jar.
11) Add a weight of some sort to apply continuous pressure. This will ensure that the air bubbles released during fermentation rise to the surface of the brine. (I prefer to use a large, thick rubber band to hold down the small jar. With two or more jars I use a board on top and bottom with rubber bands pressing them together).
12) The brine level will rise during fermentation and if the jar is very full liquid will get pushed out so I recommend that you place your jar in some sort of plastic container to catch any spillage.
Once the cabbage is packed in your jar it will take approximately 12 days for it to actually become sauerkraut. Over that time, if you’ve used green and red cabbage you will see the color turn from a mix of green and purple colors to solid bright pink. This is your best visual indicator that you cabbage has successfully transformed into sauerkraut. In addition to the bright pink color the sauerkraut will have a distinctively tart flavor. Both of these characteristics result from lactic acid created by lactobacilli bacteria which now fills your jar.
During that 12 day period of fermentation your jar will need daily attention. As fermentation occurs you will see white and or yellow rise to the surface of the brine. During this time it is critical that you perform the following 2 steps.
Once your sauerkraut is pleasantly tart, you can refrigerate it and enjoy. It should keep in your refrigerator for many months, but I don’t really know that from experience because we usually eat it up long before that. Once in the refrigerator your sauerkraut will continue to ferment at an even slower pace. We find that the flavor mellows a bit and develops a slight sweetness. Also the brine that was above your cabbage during the room temperature phase of fermentation will reincorporate into the sauerkraut. Make sure to get that juice along with the sauerkraut when you serve.