Recently I made sauerkraut, breaking in my brand new polish pottery hermetic crock. I fit four heads of cabbage in there, and could have fit more. I’ve been anxiously/eagerly awaiting the point at which everything would have fermented long enough for it to be worth eating, and today was the day.
Sauerkraut is one of my favorite foods. It has probiotics, the fermentatin process maximazes the bioavailability of vitamin c in the cabbage, and the way the sourness melds with fatty food is one of the best flavor combinations I can imagine. I eat it on eggs, in soup, with meat and sausage, and tossed with bacon and caroway, in a kind of lazy (but more probiotic) choucroute garnie
You can add a lot of things to sauerkraut either before or after fermenting it- caraway is traditional, dill is good, grated root vegetables, chili peppers and onion are all also good.
But my favorite way to “spice up” sauerkrat is from the Koge Bog, published in 1616. The author says simply:
“Chop it finely, sprinkle it well each layer by itself in a container or barrel. Between each layer sprinkle salt, cumin and juniper berries and put a good weight on him, iiij. or v days. Thereafter pour vinegar over it.”
(It is important to note that when a medeival Dane writes about “kommen” they actually mean caraway seeds…”Danish cumin.” )
The blend of juniper and caraway in this kraut has always stricken me as particularly poetic- and the flavor lends itsself to culinary fantasy that fills the imagination with images of wild game sausages eaten by Grimm’s fairytale characters huddled around rough hewn tables deep in the Black Forest. It is sour and shocking and comforting all at once, pulling at some buried memory of ancestral gustatory experience.
My favorite application for this sauerkraut is in a Russian soup called shchi. I’m going to do a post about shchi in the future…it is by far my favorite soup, and the spices used here suit it very well.
I have already written a how to on the from scratch manufactury of sauerkraut in the home kitchen, as well as a discussion of the health benefits of probiotic foods with regard to the gut biome and mental health. (Now up on Ashen Path! ) So I won’t steal my own fire going over it again here, but I will show you how to take an unflavored, mostly fermented sauerkraut and add spices to do a secondary fermentation, which I do with big batches so that I dont have to commit to 5 liters or more of a specific flavor. This method could be used with everything from dill seed to chili flakes to grated ginger or black pepper.
One large canning jar
One steel or otherwise non reactive scooping implement
2 tablespoons of caraway seeds
1.5 tablespoons whole juniper berries, which you will roughly crush
When your sauerkraut is mostly fermented, that is, it smells sour and tastes slightly sour but is obviously still crisp and springy, that is a great time to remove some for the purpose of adding seasoning, allowing time for a secondary fermentation where the flavors will mature and meld.
Thoroughly clean your jar and steel fork, and your work space with soap and water to avoid contaminating the sauerkraut’s bacterial colonies.
Roughly grind the juniper berries either in mortar and pestle or using the bottom of a cup in a bowl.
Take out enough sauerkraut to get an inch in the bottom of your jar. Sprinkle it with caraway and juniper. Jiggle it around to settle the kraut and disperse the seeds.
Add another inch of kraut and do the same until the whole jar is full. Push down the cabbage until it is submerged in its own liquid, cover with a tight lid, and tuck away from sunlight for a week or so to finish up.
This one is great with spicy sausage, game meats and in shchi or choucroute garnie.