One of the most spectacular aspects of travel: trying all kinds of new food. In fact, a trip abroad doesn’t feel complete without taste-testing a variety of specialty meals. Culture, as presented through a destination’s food, is a fantastic way to introduce travelers to new spaces. Beyond the vacation preparation we can do, those of us looking to immerse ourselves in new culture before booking a plane ticket can always hop into the kitchen. This week, we’d like to focus on a staple side-dish from my homeland of Germany: some simple sauerkraut.
Though my family hasn’t lived in Germany for many generations (immigrating to the United States back in the 1910s), my mom’s side made it a point to keep a small bit of the culture going through food. Before you say it; I’m aware (*hyper* aware) that German food, especially when compared to other European cuisines, isn’t universally loved. My Opa (“Grandpa” in German) used to refer to traditional dishes with the phrase “boil it ‘til it’s tasteless, then add mustard.” Not super appetizing, right? Well, as a picky child, I didn’t think the description sounded too great. Over time, however, Oma and Opa began cooking things with German side dishes—slowly introducing us to the flavors. A big favorite of the family’s was the sauerkraut he’d add onto sausages. For those unfamiliar, sauerkraut is a raw cabbage side dish (or topping) that’s been fermented in lactic acid. Or, as my mom puts it, “coleslaw with a kick.” It may sound peculiar, but it’s actually a great way to add some greens (along with flavor) to a hot dog, hamburger, sandwich, and beyond. Best of all: it’s super easy to make.
- 4 pounds of thinly-sliced green cabbage (can be shredded)
- 1 apple (peeled, cored, and thinly sliced)
- 2 ½ tablespoons of sea salt
- 1 teaspoon of yellow mustard seeds
- One large bowl
- A heavy plate (that can fit inside the bowl)
The chopping/slicing process could take around 15-20 minutes—depending on your knife skills (or your access to advanced kitchen appliances!)
Combine & Press
Throw all of your ingredients into the large bowl and let it stand for a bout five minutes to soften. This is where things get a little messy: with your (thoroughly washed) hands, begin to press down repeatedly on the mixture, allowing the juices to squeeze out. After a while, the juice will start to overtake the mixture and cover it. Once there’s enough liquid to cover the mixture, place the heavy plate on top of the mixture and press down. You want to make sure the sauerkraut is packed in pretty tight to prevent it from going bad. If you can, weigh the plate down even further with a few water-filled jars.
This is the time-consuming part (but also, it’s the part where you don’t do *anything!*); cover the bowl with a towel or a sheet to prevent bugs from getting in and let it stand (ahem, let it ferment) at room temperature for about 10-15 days (the hotter the temperature of the room, the shorter you ferment). You can check in on it throughout the process, just don’t lift up the dish! At some point, you’ll see bubbles forming—totally natural. If you see what appears to be “gunk,” no worries, just skim it off the top. Once the bubbling has stopped, it’s a good indicator that the fermenting process is complete. Small warning: your kitchen (or wherever you choose to store your sauerkraut) might retain a bit of the sauerkraut smell. Choose your room wisely!
Store & Eat
Once you’re sure it’s done, you can put your ‘kraut in a jar or can and store it in your fridge for late use! For some, sauerkraut is *perfect* in its raw state, but if you’d like to soften the kick a bit, fry it up with some extra onions. If you want to be particularly German, add a few bratwurst links to that fry pan, pour in some white wine, and drizzle your meal in caraway seeds. Honestly, it’s heaven.