salt brine

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cabbage and carraway seeds ready for pickling

Awesome picklers, it’s time for sauerkraut with caraway seed and dill. Familiar and exotic at the same time, sauerkraut is like the pickle poster boy of fermentation’s current popularity. Packed with enough beneficial micro-organisms to make foodies and health nuts go nuts, it also smothers sausages with perfect working-class, old-school credibility. Plus it’s easy to make and hard to screw up.

sauerkraut cabbage ready for shredding

Ingredients

As much cabbage as you like. I usually make 5 or 10 pounds at a time, but I think a half-gallon mason jar is about right for 1 head of cabbage. Tell me if I’m wrong.
A bunch of dill (I used 1 for 5 pounds of cabbage)
1-2 Tbsp caraway seeds per 5 pounds of cabbage
3 Tbsp salt per 5 pounds of cabbage

shredding cabbage for sauerkraut on a mandoline

First, shred your cabbage into a big bowl or crock. If there’s one trick to good sauerkraut, it’s getting the shreds nice and thin and consistently sized. Thin strips will get crispy, crunchy, and pickled all the way through while thick slices risk getting mushy on the outside and staying raw on the inside.

I like to chop the heads in half, cut out the hearts, and then split the halves and shred them with a mandoline. That gets the strips much thinner than a knife does. Watch your fingers!

adding salt to cabbage for sauerkraut

To get a good distribution of salt, stop to add spoonfuls of it as you go along and mix it in with a spoon. You can use your hand but that stings after a while.

cabbage with caraway and dill, soon to be sauerkraut

Mix in the caraway seeds and chopped dill a bit at a time as well. Then punch or pack it all down to force out air bubbles.

glass lid to seal cabbage during fermentation

While it ferments, you want your cabbage pressed under a salt brine away from air to keep it from rotting. In my crock I use a glass lid that just happens to fit perfectly. A plate would work well, too. If you’re using a mason jar, you could use a smaller jar filled with water like at the bottom of this post.

closeup of the glass plate

Here’s a closeup of the lid on top of the cabbage.

cabbage weighted with jars of water

Depending on how wet your cabbage is, the salt you’ve added may draw out enough water to completely submerge your kraut. To help bring water out, add pressure by placing a jar or several jars full of water on top. Throw a towel over the whole thing and leave it overnight or for a day. If there still isn’t enough after that, make up a brine of 1 tablespoon salt per cup of water to completely cover the kraut. Especially when packed with extra panache the sauerkraut tends to expand a bit, so if you’re using a plate it’s a good idea to have about an extra inch of brine. If you’re using a jar you might want to store it on a plate, a towel, or something else to catch any overflows.

Cover your fermentation vessel with a towel to keep the dust out and put it in a dark place to begin its voyage. Check on it every few days. A sort of thin white scum often forms at the surface. You can scoop it out if you like, but it’s not dangerous. If mold begins to blossom on the surface in little islands or as a thicker skin, you should scoop it out. Your cabbage is safe, but you don’t want mold in there when you remove the kraut. And get rid of any cabbage bits that float to the surface.

Within two weeks you’ll have a bunch of kraut on your hands. Harvest what you want to eat and stick it in a jar in the fridge, which will slow the fermentation. The rest you can leave as it was—it just gets riper and more delicious. I wanted to take a picture of it for you once it was ready, but we ate it all so quickly I didn’t get a chance!

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Ingredients for pickled asparagus

It’s asparagus season and bunches of them keep appearing in our fridge. I could eat the spears with butter three meals a day but I managed to save a bunch for pickling after a friend’s recommendation. The recipe I used is simple:

Ingredients:
-1 bunch of asparagus
-1 or more carrots to fill jar
-4 radishes
-4 cloves garlic
-1 teaspoon coriander seeds
-1 teaspoon black peppercorns
-2 cups water mixed with 1.5 tablespoons salt
-1 wide-mouth, 1-quart mason jar

Note: you can substitute a second bunch of asparagus for the carrots and radishes, depending on space in your jar

Directions:
Wash the veggies. Snap off the woody bottoms of the asparagus and see how they fit into the jar, heads down. If they stick out from the mouth of the jar, cut more off the bottom until they do. You can toss these bits into the jar or compost them. Cut each carrot lengthwise and then cut each half lengthwise again. Cut each of these four carrot lengths in half. Cut the radishes into quarters. Slice the garlic cloves thinly. Add the carrots, garlic and radishes to the jar and spoon in the spices. Pour the thoroughly-mixed salt water into the jar. The water should cover the vegetables completely. If they don’t, you can either add more veggies or more salt water. I put in the carrot and the radishes because I still had space. If you prefer, start with two bunches of asparagus and forgo the root vegetables.

Here they are in the jar:
asparagus ready to pickle

To seal them from the air (which keeps them from molding and allows fermentation to occur), I used a different method than I described in my post on how to pickle anything. I took a smaller jar filled with water and placed it into the mouth of the one-quart jar like this:

Jar sealing pickles from the air

Cover the top with a towel to keep out dust and then put the jar in your cabinet. You might want to put a towel under it, too, in case the carbon dioxide released during fermentation makes some brine bubble over. After a week or two, they should be ready.

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You know how to pickle anything. Now know this: It’s hard to screw up your pickles. They are forgiving and they can take your abuse. Here’s an example from my current kimchi batch. (This isn’t a detailed kimchi recipe, but one is coming soon.)

Back in mid-January my housemates and I harvested more mustard greens, broccoli leaves, and radishes from our garden than we could stuff in the fridge, so I decided to make kimchi with some of them. I chopped them up along with some carrots, a daikon radish, and a head of cauliflower that also needed some attention. Not your usual kimchi combination, but hey, you can pickle anything.

I filled a 5 gallon crock about two-thirds full and covered the veggies with brine to soften them up for a few hours. Like this:

Kimchi veggies soaking

It looked like a lot, so I didn’t hold back on the spices:

Kimchi spices

In the food processor I blended up all the onions, most of the garlic, half the fresh ginger, and about 20 thai chili peppers. I poured off some of the brine and added the eye-watering mixture to the greens. To seal the spiced veggies from the air and keep them from getting moldy, I pressed them under the brine with a flat glass lid, then weighed the lid down with glass jars full of water.

Jars pressing kimchi under the brine

After it had spent two weeks in the pantry I tasted the kimchi. It was awful! It was way too strong, and the garlic especially was so powerful it made my mouth hurt. What to do? I added two large bunches of bok choi, another large chunk of fresh ginger, and a bunch of sweet paprika powder (because I wanted it to have a nice red color). After another week, the kimchi tasted much better and it’s still doing fine fermenting away in the pantry today, two months since it started.

kimchi fixed and ready to eat

The moral? Making pickles is kind of like making soup—you can always add something to make it better later on.

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