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A few weeks ago, Chow aired this instructional video for making sauerkraut with Mark Frauenfelder of MAKE magazine and boingboing.net that’s an easy intro to making kraut. The coolest part for me was learning about the picklemeister as a way to seal your kraut from the air while it ferments. You can see it in the photo in the lower left corner. If you get mold on the surface of your pickle brine or sauerkraut brine, and that mold grosses you out, this clever setup could help you get rid of surface mold.

It works just like a homebrewing airlock by sealing the jar of sauerkraut or pickles or homebrew with a bit of water. As the stuff in the jar ferments, it releases carbon dioxide, which builds up enough pressure to push out the tube and through the water. But air, which carries mold spores, can’t get back in through the water. Soon, you have only carbon dioxide inside and no air at all. Here’s one in action:

You can buy the jar and lid set online, but it would be easy to make one, too, with a wide-mouthed gallon jar, an airlock, and a plastic grommet or plug, plus a little glue. You can find those parts at a homebrewing store. For those who prefer not to put plastic in contact with their food when weighing the kraut to keep it under the brine, I bet you could find a glass food storage bowl that would fit inside the jar, as mentioned at the picklemeister link above.

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bratwurst and mustard seeds on sauerkraut

A classic combination. This weekend I helped my buddy Bill cook and serve a snout-to-tail pig dinner. The two of us are part of a group of homebrewing chefs called Eating About Beer that concerns itself with making and pairing good beer and good food. You can read what Bill had to say about our debut dinner last November here. All the photos on this page are the work of the photographer and gourmand Phil.

Anyway, when you’re wondering how to eat sauerkraut, or what to eat with sauerkraut, bratwurst is quick to come to mind. For the dinner, Bill stuffed his own with a mix of ground pork shoulder, eggs, a bit of cream, and traditional spices. He set slices on fresh, drained kraut that had fermented for two weeks, and topped them with yellow and black mustard seeds that had simmered for 45 minutes in a mix of water, sugar, and vinegar. The creamy mustard you see on the plate is a mix of Dijon and marzen beer from Gordon Biersch, which we also served with the dish.

pouring beer

This beer has a good story. In German, “marzen” means “March”, which, before refrigeration in Germany and Austria, was the last month before the summer in which it was cool enough to brew beer. To survive the hot months, marzens would be sealed in caves and cellars with blocks of ice. The brewers would also preserve the brew by adding extra malt to boost its alcohol content. The brown beer that resulted was richer and stronger than your usual lager and would be consumed until Oktoberfest, where it is still drunk between bites of (you guessed it) bratwurst. Its malty, biscuit-like flavor cuts through the fatty sausage without overwhelming its flavor.

Here’s one more pic, just for fun.

bratwurst and mustard seeds on sauerkraut

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shiitake-burdock kraut2

I wanted to spice up my sauerkraut, so I made a batch with burdock root and shiitake mushrooms. Not only do these additions give the kraut a nice nutty flavor, they also boost its health benefits. Like sauerkraut, burdock has natural antimicrobial properties and promotes healthy digestion (in other words, it keeps you regular). Shiitake mushrooms help fight cancer and boost the immune system.

burdock and shiitake

Here they are on the chopping block. Burdock, also called gobo, often comes with a little dirt still on it. It’s a good idea to give it a gentle but thorough brushing under running water before you prepare it. I’ve also found that the organic variety has a much more complex and pleasing flavor than the conventional root, which tends to grow large and woody.

burdock and shiitake chopped

Chop those babies up! Thin slices are best and I like to cut the root at an angle.

cabbage, burdock, and shiitake mixed

Mix them with your shredded cabbage, adding 3 tablespoons of salt per 5 pounds of cabbage. For more details on sauerkraut preparation, look back to the extra good kraut recipe. I tried to use a good amount of mushroom and root without overwhelming the cabbage, but there’s no perfect ratio between them. Use as much or as little as you like. Once you’ve got the veggies coated with salt, press them and then pack them in a jar or crock with a weight on top (see the kraut recipe for details and read the post on safely storing your pickle during fermentation for even more tips.

shiitake-burdock kraut3

Here it is, a few weeks later and ready to eat.

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