I love cabbage in all ways, from kim chee’d to slawed to concannon-ed to butter-braised. Sauerkraut is one of the finest incarnations. I learned how to make it from my New Mexico born-and-raised mother, who learned it from a German friend when she and my father were living in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Mom, an intrepid traveler and homemaker on any front, always enthusiastically taught her food ways to me and my three sisters, whether sukiyaki from Japan or enchiladas from her childhood. That’s how, by a somewhat circuitous route, homemade sauerkraut became a treasured family recipe of mine.
Sauerkraut is a probiotic food, meaning fermented and full of micro-organisms that succor you, especially your digestive health. Its culinary benefits are legion: It can be the star in the renowned French Alsatian choucroute garnie. It can be swirled into a cabbage soup to add zest to the milder fresh cabbage in a Russian s’chee. It can be layered with pastrami and Swiss cheese between slices of dark rye bread in one of the best sandwiches ever, the Reuben. Its tang and crunch can stand alone as a side pickle to top hot dogs or accompany beef stews, pork, duck, and game dishes. Most elementally, a couple of bites can serve to assuage a mild stomach upset.
To make sauerkraut, you need only salt and cabbage, a vessel to cure it in, and some mostly unattended time. The vessel can be a crock, a ceramic or glass dish, or even a heavy plastic container.
Makes about 5 cups
2 1/2- to 3-pound head green or red cabbage
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1. Wash a 3 quart crock with hot soapy water, rinse and dry it, and set it aside.
2. Pull off any discolored or wilted leaves from the cabbage. Cut the head lengthwise into quarters and cut away the cores. Slice the cabbage into long, thin shreds and place them in a large bowl. Add the salt, toss to mix, and knead vigorously with your (clean) hands to begin releasing the cabbage juices. Transfer the cabbage and juices to the prepared crock, tamping down on the top to compact the shreds and even the surface.
3. Fill a one gallon plastic food storage bag one third full with water, close with a twist tie, and set the bag on top of the cabbage in the crock. Set aside at room temperature overnight.
4. Next day, lift the plastic bag and check the liquid level in the crock. If the cabbage is not submerged, add a salt solution of 1 teaspoon kosher salt per 1 cup filtered water and pour it into the crock so the cabbage is just barely covered. Return the plastic bag to the crock and set aside at room temperature for 10 days or so, until the kraut is cured and sour as you like. Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate. Will keep for up to several months.