When I was growing up, my family spent two three year stints in Germany, and while overseas ate as the Germans ate. Back in the 60’s and 70’s today’s fast food was nonexistent in Europe. If we were out and about and wanted fast, it was from a street vendor – bratwurst over kraut with an Orangina to drink. I can still taste those flavors, the hot, salty, greasy sausages combined with the pungent sourness of the kraut, washed down with that orange sweetness. It was delicious, and even now as I radically changed the way I eat, those flavors are ingrained in my memory banks as something I relished. Perhaps it’s why I still seek out “healthy” versions of sausage even though I realize true healthiness would mean skipping sausage all together.

Until recently the sauerkraut was pretty much thrown out with the sausage. My husband has an aversion to sour foods, and it didn’t really bother me, mostly because I prefer fresh to processed. Then fate intervened when my friend Melissa (http://www.swapmeat.ca/) posted about her lunch that consisted of rice cakes topped with almond butter, avocado, and sauerkraut. I’m not going to lie, the combo sounded more than a little odd, but then I read this: “The health benefits of sauerkraut are endless.   Sauerkraut is one of the few foods that contain the bacterium Lactobacilli plantarum. L. planatarum is a very dominant strain of healthful bacteria which helps your digestive system in the following ways: boost the immune system by increasing antibodies that fight infectious disease help inhibit pathogenic organisms including E.coli, salmonella and unhealthy overgrowth of candida (yeast) create antioxidants that scavenge free radicals which are a cancer precursor transforms hard-to-digest lactose from milk to the more easily digested lactic acid. It neutralizes the antinutrients found in many foods including the phytic acid found in all grains and the trypsin-inhibitors in soy generates new nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, digestive aids and the trace mineral GTF chromium.  Crazy no?  I buy the unpasteurized brand shown below to make sure I’m getting all these amazing health benefits.  It’s not hard to make your own kraut either!”

Talk about a light bulb moment! I had seen fresh kraut at Whole Foods, but it costs $10 for a little jar, and another friend had just gifted me with a huge head of cabbage straight from his garden. I turned to the internet and read multiple recipes/techniques for fermenting homemade kraut. All of the methods had 2 similarities, the basic ingredients (cabbage & salt) and the basic method (fermentation). Beyond that, the possibilities were numerous.

My version includes red beets only because I had them on hand. From research I learned that nearly any hard vegetable can be added to the cabbage, such as shredded carrots, brussels sprouts, onion, celery, etc. I thought the beets would be healthful and turn it a rich color. Unfortunately the photos of the actual process have disappeared into the depths of my hard drive, but I do have the finished product. This is a brown rice cake topped with sundried tomato hummus, avocado and kraut (I haven’t tried it with almond butter!)

To make the kraut, shred desired amount of cabbage – I used one head which yielded about 2 quarts of kraut. Using a large bowl, add about 1 tablespoon of salt and massage it into the cabbage for several minutes, until the juices are released and the cabbage is reduced in bulk by about half. Next add any vegetables desired. I added 3 medium beets, peeled and shredded. Mix thoroughly. Pack the mixture into a crock. Just about anything works – online I saw people using bowls, buckets, and clay crocks. I had my counter top composting crock clean and empty, so I used it. The key is to use a container that you can cover, weighted down on the kraut, that will let gasses escape but keep oxygen out. For this I used tripled up ziplock bags filled with water. It worked beautifully, filling in all the spaces to keep the oxygen out, while providing the needed weight. Next, place it in a cool (65-75 degrees F) corner out of the way. Each week remove the “lid,” stir the kraut, taste and continue fermenting until the desired “sourness” is reached. I read to leave it for anywhere between a week and five weeks, based on taste. I left mine for four, which ended up with a mildly sour, yet earthy flavor. I did read that it may be necessary to skim off the “scum” that forms at the top of the kraut, but I never experienced that problem. It doesn’t taste anything like the canned (pasteurized) version in the store and keeps for weeks in the fridge – mine was harvested over two weeks ago and still tastes great.

Now for the reviews – I loved it, as did my dad (the real Germans), my sister ate it because I told her it was good for her. My husband, out of politeness, tasted a tiny bite and promptly spit it in his napkin. Ah well…

It is my new favorite lunch with the brown rice cakes, hummus and avocado. Here I served it with sweet potato/venison sausage hash (with edamame and pablano) and another fermented dish – Korean Cucumber Salad over greens. I will be making this again, probably with carrots next time!