Ferment Nation: It’s Sauerkraut Time!

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Summer’s winding down and the first hints of cooler weather are in the air.  That means I’m getting antsy to stew and braise and make big, bubbling pots of goodness that fill the house with their savory aroma all day long. Unfortunately it’s only slightly less hot than the Hinges of Hell here, which is not quite cool enough for standing next to a steamy meat cauldron all day.  What does one do then, to prepare for fall cooking? Ferment. That’s what.

With just a little bit of prep and a whole lot of waiting, barely chewable raw cabbage is turned into that salty, sour delight we call sauerkraut.  Setting out jars on the counter now will allow for braised pork steaks with sauerkraut, apples, and onions in about a month. Or a mound of sauerkraut, boiled potatoes, kielbasa sausage, and a little German mustard.  Or pork belly (or braised ham hock or pork neck) and sauerkraut mashed potatoes.  It also goes well on a sharp cheddar cheese grilled sandwich.  So much sauerkraut, so little time!

Here we go (for 3 16 ounce jars):

  • 3 sterilized, quart-sized, wide mouth canning jars
  • 1 wooden spoon
  • 2 medium heads of cabbage
  • quality sea salt
  • Caraway seeds to taste (I used about 1 tsp)
  • Juniper berries to taste (I used about 2 tsp)
  • Coconut oil, about 6 TBSP, gently melted (olive oil may be substituted)
  • Sterilize canning jars by submerging in boiling water for 10 minutes. Or, cheat like I do and put them in the bottom of the dishwasher and run the sanitize cycle.
  • Thoroughly clean cabbage.  Remove about 3-4 outer leaves from each head of cabbage.
  • Fill a pot large enough to fit one outer leaf of cabbage at a time half way with water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, blanch each outer cabbage leaf for a minute or two or until soft enough to manipulate without tearing.  These will serve to hold the shredded bits of cabbage under the brine. Set blanched leaves aside. Discard water.
  • Finely shred each head of cabbage using a cabbage shredder, mandolin, food processor, or chef’s knife.  I really do seem to like the rustic feel when done by hand—big pieces, little pieces, and varying textures.
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A sharp knife makes easy work of hand-shredding cabbage

  • Sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon of salt in the bottom of a large bowl. Place a layer of shredded cabbage on top of the salt. Sprinkle that layer with salt, caraway seeds, and juniper berries and add another layer of cabbage. Continue until all of the cabbage is layered with salt, caraway seeds, and juniper berries. Mix thoroughly with very clean hands. Press firmly with the wooden spoon to encourage the cabbage to release more liquid (or squeeze firmly with those very clean hands). Allow to sit for one hour.  The salt will continue to draw liquid out of the cabbage to form a brine. Do not discard this liquid as it will serve to cover the cabbage and create an oxygen-deprived state for the microorganisms to do their job.
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You can start to see little beads of water forming on the cabbage: This is your cabbagy brine starting to form.

  • After the cabbage has wilted for an hour, stuff into sterilized quart jars and pack tightly (do so every few handfuls and the task is easier). After all jars are packed, tuck a blanched cabbage leaf or two over the top of the shredded cabbage. Now pour the remaining brine over the cabbage in the jars equally. If there is not enough brine to cover, add more brine made of 1 tsp. sea salt to 1 cup of non-chlorinated water (I use filtered).  Make sure no cabbage is peeking above the brine level. If it is, it will serve to encourage undesirable yeasts and molds.
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cabbage packed neatly into the jar and covered in brine (I’ll take care of that little piece trying to escape a bit later)

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The blanched whole cabbage leaves work to hold all the bits and shredded cabbage under the brine

  • Cover each jar with two layers of cheesecloth or butter muslin and tie with kitchen twine.
  • Place the jars in a warm spot (I’ve read everything from 68-73 degrees; my house stays an even 72 in summer and fall here in the South) on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a kitchen towel. The mixture may produce more brine over the next day or two and spill over (hence the tray and towel).
  • When the jars stop producing more liquid (1-3 days depending on temperature), I make sure everything is tucked in and cap with coconut oil by gently melting enough coconut oil to form a 1/4 inch layer on top of each jar’s brine. Over several hours the coconut oil will harden and form a close-fitting cap. It is easily removed later and I can easily ‘smell the progress’ through the cap.  I’ve also used a layer of olive oil (it can be mixed in prior to eating).
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Note how the color changed from bright green to yellow and slightly translucent–this is normal

  • Sit back and enjoy the show for the next 3-4 weeks (mine usually seems to hit the spot at about 2.5 weeks with the house at 72).
  • Do watch for mold, browned cabbage, pink cabbage, or fuzz. This indicates you need to throw it away. Apparently a bit of white sludge in the bottom or on top is normal. Mine have never produced that, so I can’t say how it affects taste.
  • When it reaches the desired taste and texture (anywhere from 1 week to 6 weeks or longer), make sure all parts are still covered in brine, remove the coconut oil cover, put a lid on the jar, and place it in the fridge. It will keep for months (if you can keep it around that long!).

I don’t know if I’ll ever learn all there is to know about fermentation. It’s part science, part art, part instinct.  If you’re brave, read up on the internet posts and get going–that’s how I started. Looking back, I’d have done a little more reading first. That being said, two great resources I now own and highly recommend are Wild Fermentation:  The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods (found here http://www.wildfermentation.com/wild-fermentation/) and The Art of Fermentation (found here http://www.wildfermentation.com/the-art-of-fermentation/).

An Obsession: Tomato Pie (Paleo Crust)

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Everyone who knows me, knows I live for tomato season.  In fact, I just dragged my sad, half-dead tomato bush into a sunnier spot in hopes it might produce a few more jewels.  I love the smell of ripe tomatoes and I adore them sliced thick, with salt, right out of the garden.  I keep them stacked up in my kitchen window sill all summer and I’ll eat them until my mouth is just about raw.  One of my absolute favorite  treats is tomato pie.  It can be simple with just a bit of cheese and herbs or thick and gooey, layered with loads of cheese and bacon.  You can use a barely there crust, a thick and toothy crust, a gluten-free crust, or no crust at all.  With a crust it can be paired with a salad for a light lunch or dinner, or without a crust it can function as a side dish.  There are so many variations on this dish, you’ll never get tired of it!  This particular recipe is a paleo/gluten-free version that I use most often.

Try switching up your herbs and cheeses:  Asiago and chervil, goat cheese and basil, cheddar with bacon and green onions, or Gruyère and thyme as a few suggestions. you can also play with the thickness of the tomato, whether you keep skins on or off, and whether you remove the seeds or not.  I like to leave the skins and seeds intact and I prefer mine sliced fairly thick.

Tomato Pie with Paleo Crust

For Crust:

  • 3/4 cup almond flour plus 1 TBSP almond flour
  • 2 TBSP coconut flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 TBSP coconut oil
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • cracked black pepper to taste

For Pie Filling:

  • 3 medium ripe tomatoes (the better the tomato, the better the result); cored and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup Asiago cheese, grated
  • 2 TBSP fresh, chopped basil (can use 2TBSP Garden Gourmet Basil Paste mixed into mayo in a pinch–see pics)
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (homemade is best)
  • 1 teaspoon coconut flour
  • Cracked black pepper

1.  Slice the tomatoes about 1/4 inch thick. Place tomato slices on a double layer of paper towels and salt the top-facing side with 1/4 or so teaspoon salt. Let sit for 10 minutes.  While tomatoes rest, prepare crust.

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Look at those beauties!

2.  While tomatoes rest, add almond flour, coconut flour, salt, and pepper to food processor.  Pulse 5 or so times to combine.  Add coconut oil and egg. Pulse about 10 times until ingredients are thoroughly mixed and dough resembles cookie dough.

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Crumbly paleo crust

3.  Press dough into a 9 inch well-greased pie plate, slightly wetting fingers or spatula if necessary. Dough should be extremely thin. Place dough on the middle rack of a preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or until edges start to brown.

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That once crumbly crust now pressed into the pie plate

3.  While pie crust is baking, flip tomatoes, salt with 1/4 teaspoon salt, and let rest 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, cover with another double layer of paper towels and press firmly to release excess water.

4.  Remove pie crust from oven and let stand 10 minutes. After the 10 minutes, spread 1/4 cup mayonnaise on pie crust and sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese, top with 1 TBSP fresh basil.  Sprinkle with coconut flour.

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Here comes the mayo, herbs, and cheese!

5.  Follow with a single layer of tomatoes. Add a second layer of 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup cheese, 1 TBSP fresh basil (or mix your Garden Gourmet Basil Paste with your mayonnaise as shown here), and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon coconut flour. Add another single layer of tomatoes. Top with 1/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup of cheese, and cracked black pepper.

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More layering

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Final topping

5.  Return pie to oven and bake for 40 minutes until cheese is melted. Watch closely as a foil collar may be needed to avoid the crust becoming too dark. Let pie stand for a few minutes after removing from oven and before slicing.  Perfect tomatoey heaven.

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A tomato pie I’d fight over!

If you don’t have access to in-season, ripe tomatoes, look for organic vine-ripened varieties at the grocery store.  A day or two on the window sill will get them sweetened up, juicy, and red all the way through.

If you don’t want to use a crust, sprinkle a greased 9 inch pie plate with about 1 tablespoon of almond flour or 1 teaspoon coconut flour and about 1/4 cup of cheese.  Build pie the same after that. This method works best as a side dish as it’s a tad messy (but sooo delicious)!

Also, try switching up your herbs and cheeses:  Asiago and chervil, goat cheese and basil, cheddar with bacon and green onions, or Gruyère and caramelized onions as a few suggestions. You can also play with the thickness of the tomato, whether you keep the skins on or off, and whether you remove the seeds or not.

Enjoy!