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Fermenting Vegetables—Simple and Tasty Recipe for Better Health

Certain vegetables—like cabbage for sauerkraut—lend themselves to the art of fermentation, which utilizes natural microbial action to preserve these foods for the short term and fortify them with beneficial nutrients and boost intestinal microbe populations that facilitate proper digestion of our food. Fermentation is a natural process that transforms different types of foods, including dairy products to make yogurt and kefir, and fruits and grains for various alcoholic beverages, but it is also useful in the preservation of a number of our seasonal vegetable crops.

In addition to cabbage for kraut, there are other leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, which can easily be substituted for the cabbage. Also, root crops like beets, carrots, onions, turnips, parsnips, radishes and rutabagas work well in this fermentation recipe. Plan your seed orders and your seasonal garden rotation so that you have plenty of these vegetables to harvest, ferment and enjoy all throughout the year.

We love to make and eat our own sauerkraut at home, and the recipe is simple to follow. You just chop up your cabbage as if you were preparing coleslaw, but instead of salad dressing, add a tablespoon of sea salt (Never use Iodized Salt) per pound of chopped cabbage in a bowl and vigorously massage and squeeze the cabbage until the salt begins to remove the water from the cabbage. If we don’t want to bother with all the work by hand, sometimes we get out our plastic cutting mat, pile on the cabbage, add sea salt and use a rubber kitchen mallet or even a meat tenderizer to speed up the process.

Once the water begins to emerge you want to pack your cabbage into your storage container, be it a large antique ceramic crock (We have two, one complete with lid, won from a local auction house.) or just a half-gallon mason jar, which is what we use most often, since there are only two of us. Pack the cabbage in layers, continuing to press down firmly to force out more and more water out until the jar is filled to within an inch or so of the top with cabbage. If enough water is not released to cover the chopped cabbage, we add brine water (one tablespoon sea salt per quart of water), place a cabbage leaf on top and a pint zippered freezer bag filled with brine water on it to keep the cabbage submerged. Cover the mouth of the jar with cheesecloth and secure with a rubberband to keep out insects and debris.

Position your container on a kitchen counter with little activity where it will be undisturbed for the fermentation process to magically transform the cabbage into sauerkraut to be used as a personal touch for your homemade “Reuben” sandwich, or to be eaten right out of the jar on our favorite sausage dogs or just fresh along with roasted vegetables. You will likely see bubbles beginning to form within a week after starting, but most directions recommend 2-4 weeks at room temperature. We begin taste testing after about two weeks, and once the flavor intensity suits your fancy, move the “kraut” to the refrigerator which slows the process, and eat as often as you like. Once the jar is below half full, you can start another jar to be ready when the first one is empty.

If you would like to delve deeper into the magical and healthy world of fermentation, you might like to purchase a copy of the book, The Art of Fermentation: An In-depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World by Sandor Katz, who is one of the world’s best-known authorities on fermentation. Katz, who lives in an eco-village in the mountains of Tennessee, offers plenty of practical information on fermenting vegetables, fruits, grains, milk, beans, meats and more. This is our favorite of several books he has written about the benefits of fermentation.

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