Sauerkraut is a lost art, says Kristen Palmer, who is responsible for baking and making raw foods at Claudia s Natural Food market at the new location of 5644 Monroe St. in Sylvania.
She tries to keep fresh sauerkraut in the deli case each week as well as freshly made garlic pickles and fruit kim chee. Each are sold by the pound.
All are fermented using a natural method that she learned at culinary school at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York City.
Sauerkraut, which is German for sour cabbage, is thought of as German but it was standard fare for Chinese workers 2,000 years ago, according to the Food Lover s Companion. It was made from shredded cabbage fermented in rice wine. But when it found it s way to Europe, the Germans adapted it. Today it is made with shredded cabbage, salt, and spices.
Fermentation is a process by which food or drink goes through a chemical change caused by enzymes produced from bacteria, microorganisms, or yeast. It is the same principle to yield the flavor of foods and beverages such as wine, beer, vinegar, buttermilk, cheese, and yogurt. In wine, yeast enzymes convert grape-juice sugars into alcohol.
Ms. Palmer uses non iodized sea salt, celery seed, mustard seed, and black peppercorns to make the sauerkraut, which results in a crisp texture and salty condiment.
The cabbage is sliced, chopped or grated. In a large bowl the cabbage is tossed with the salt and seasonings. The salt is used to preserve the cabbage, she says. Then fermentation begins with lactic acid and carbon dioxide produced. The lactic acid preserves it.
There is no vinegar in her recipe. This is naturally fermented versus commercially fermented which uses vinegar and is pasteurized, she says. It s really the process that s the most interesting part. When she used orange peel and rosemary in a batch of sauerkraut, it turned out nice and had an herbal flavor. You let it sit and nature takes it s course and turns the cabbage into something else (sauerkraut).
She notes that too much salt will prevent fermentation. Too little, will make it rot (spoil), she says. If cabbage doesn t produce enough brine, add 1 cup distilled water mixed with 1 tablespoon salt.
She mixes the cabbage until it starts to sweat. The mixture should draw juice from the cabbage. She punches it down with her fist so it s packed into the crock. Once the crock is filled to an inch from the top, place a plate over the cabbage and press down to be sure the cabbage is tightly packed. Place a heavy jar or brick on top of the cabbage to force the water out of the cabbage and hold the cabbage under the brine. (Make sure the cabbage is not exposed to air.) Ms. Palmer uses 5 to 7 days for 2 pounds of cabbage. Then she transfers it to a jar and refrigerates it until it is sold.
Often the fresh sauerkraut is used to make a Reuben sandwich or as a crunchy condiment on a hot dog or sausage in the deli section of the store.
If the cabbage doesn t produce enough brine, she adds distilled water. Chlorine and chemicals can prevent fermentation, she says. Don t use salt with iodine. Use non-iodized salt.
According to information from Ohio State University Extension, store cabbage at 70 to 75 degrees for fermenting for about 3 to 4 weeks. (At 60 to 65 degrees, fermentation may take 5 to 6 weeks. At lower temperatures, kraut may not ferment.) Above 75 degrees, the kraut may be soft - you want it to be crisp. At this point, the sauerkraut can be canned by Hot Pack or Cold Pack methods if you don t want to store it in the refrigerator.
Kim chee is traditionally a Korean fermented food, says Ms. Palmer. It s usually cabbage, cucumbers, green onions, and hot chili peppers. In some traditions, it was actually buried in the ground for months. Ms. Palmer s fruit kim chee is a spin on that. Fruit is used instead of vegetables. It s still has fresh ginger, hot peppers, pineapple, grapes, peaches, and apples. It is fermented in a covered crock in the deli kitchen. She also added fresh basil and mint. It was good and sold very good. The flavor was fruity and sours a little with fermentation. It s zesty.
To pickle is to preserve or cure a food in salty, flavored brine or vinegar solution.
For Garlic Pickles, Ms. Palmer slices cucumbers in half. The brine results from the distilled water and salt, garlic, cloves, crushed red peppers, and fresh dill. There is no vinegr in her recipe.
It will preserve in the refrigerator for months, she says. The flavor gets better as it sits. But she notes that a shorter fermentation period will give a crisper pickle.
Crocks may be purchased at Target, K-mart, country stores. Use glass or ceramic. Do not use metal.
Ms. Palmer enjoys making these fermented foods and pickles. It s like a science lab, she says.
While sauerkraut is traditionally served with pork or on a Reuben sandwich, in appetizers such as sauerkraut balls, and in tangy salads, there are other uses for this vegetable.
Slow-Cooked Sauerkraut Soup made with potato, kielbasa, sauerkraut, cooked chicken, carrots, celery, and other ingredients was a runner-up recipe in the Ohio Farmers Union Ohio Flavors Recipe Contest. The recipe from Sandra Wise of Sandusky County was from a neighbor who raised her own chickens and made sauerkraut. Today Root s shredded chicken can be used for the cooked chicken.
Recipe tester Kay Lynne Schaller made the recipe for the Blade in the slow-cooker and said she was surprised at how good it was.
Some folks buy bagged or canned sauerkraut and add ingredients to make a typical German side dish. Sauerkraut from The Berghoff Family Cookbook by Carlyn Berghoff and Jan Berghoff with Nancy Ross Ryan (Andrews McMeel, $29.95) is flavored with applewood-smoked bacon, Berghoff Lager Beer, and caraway seeds.
In February 2006, the Berghoff Restaurant closed its doors after 107 years of serving family-style meals in its historic downtown Chicago location. This cookbook is a collection of those recipes and a piece of Chicago history.
Kathie Smith is The Blade s food editor. Contact her at email@example.com or 419-724-6155.