Friday, October 12, 2012

sauerkraut

russian sauerkraut

I was all set to write about sauerkraut yesterday, but then something happened. We came home to find our cleaning lady asleep in our bed. And that proved to be a very distracting thing.

Given my ethnic roots, my relationship with cabbage is so strong, I should have been incredibly focused. After all, Russians and cabbage are linked at the hip. We stuff it, we saute it a number of ways, we make soup out it.

Our Brooklyn apartment is small, so when you walk through the door you are immediately standing in the open kitchen, which becomes our living room/home office. Without moving, you can also see into the bedroom where half of our bed peeks out.

When we came back home yesterday mid-afternoon, after working at a coffee shop since the early morning, as soon as we unlocked the door we felt immediately that something was amiss. Bags of garbage were strewn about the kitchen and the entryway, the vacuum was in the middle of the living room, the furniture was off kilter, and every single light in the apartment was on. And then we saw someone’s feet on our bed. It took us a few seconds to figure out that they looked like our cleaning lady’s feet and then we looked at each other and silently mouthed in unison, “Holy crap, our cleaning lady is IN OUR BED!!!”

shredding the cabbage

You know the expression you get when you’re faced with a situation you’ve never faced before and it’s at once strange, funny, and absurd at the same time? That was us I glanced at Andrew, “Do something,” I glared at him. “What??” he glared back.

We called out a few loud hellos, but there was no movement, and we got a little nervous. Was she okay? Was she conscious? Was she… dead?

But as soon as the door shut behind us, she must have woken up, because we saw her stirring. We gave her a few seconds to get up and compose herself. She seemed disoriented and confused and never offered us any explanation. Muttering something about changing the sheets, she headed back into the bedroom.

colorful carrots from the market

We too were somewhat thrown off and left to a nearby café to give her time to finish. When we sat down, we looked at one another—what did just happen? On the one hand it was very comical, the juxtaposition of it all. You get home, you put your bags down, you find another person sleeping in your bed. Not napping—just out cold. Dead asleep.

On the other hand, we were worried that this was a sensitive issue and we needed to handle it properly and delicately. We wanted to give her a chance to explain—she has a tendency to call us in the evening after she comes over to tell us of what cleaning agents we need to replenish and tell us about how much Forrest hates the vacuum cleaner. [She never called.]

cabbage, carrots, salt, sugar

What truly threw us off wasn’t so much the sleeping on the job part (though that’s never a good sign) but that it was our bed rather than the couch that was the selected place of said nap. Beds, I think, are very personal. Sleeping in someone’s bed, covers or no covers, is just a very strange thing. Lines are crossed. You feel a little off. Something doesn’t quite sit right.

For the rest of the afternoon, I stared at a blank page thinking of what to tell you about sauerkraut. “It’s delicious,” I wanted to write, “and it’s good for you!” But I couldn’t get my thoughts in order; I kept thinking about our cleaning lady in our bed.

mixed and seasoned

Cabbage doesn’t exactly inspire odes or ballads—it’s a pretty pedestrian, albeit delicious vegetable.

I’ve been thinking about fermentation more these days as less and less fresh produce is making its way to the greenmarket. The Kimchi Cookbook comes out out in about a month and a half – so natural lactic fermentation has been on my mind quite a bit.

The concept isn’t necessarily a sexy one unless you’re a chemistry nerd like me. When acidity of the food rises, due to lactic acid fermenting organisms, many other pathogenic microorganisms are destroyed in the process. Which means that if you lived in an agrarian society with limited to no means of refrigeration, fermentation was an incredible tool at your disposal to make sure that you get some vegetables and flavor during the months of no harvest.

russian sauerkraut

Some of you asked me what makes sauerkraut Russian, based on a picture I posted and mislabeled. I added the term Russian because that’s what I grew up with, but I can’t find anything in particular that makes it specifically Russian.

From my basic online and other research, sauerkraut is sauerkraut—and is pretty much the same throughout Europe. I asked Luisa, who knows her German food, if she knew any distinguishing traits between German and non-German sauerkrauts, and she mentioned that in Germany there are two different kinds of sauerkraut: cooked and fresh. The latter is the crunchy version that I imagine tastes pretty similar to what I grew up with eating in Russia. I did note two (cosmetic) differences: carrots and sugar. I don’t know if the German version uses carrots—but every Russian version I’ve ever eaten, came with shredded carrots. In a handful of recipes that I saw on the web, the German versions didn’t mention any addition of sugar—whereas the Russian versions I’m familiar with use a small amount to balance out the salty flavor.

But the gist is simple—shredded cabbage (and carrots) are tossed together with some salt and sugar, and are allowed to ferment for a few days. That’s it. No fancy gadgets. No complicated processes. Unlike, say, the aftermath of finding your cleaning lady in your bed—sauerkraut is dead simple.

Sauerkraut

The yields and jars indicated below are guidelines. Sometimes the cabbage will give off a lot more juice and shrink considerably, other times, it shrinks somewhat but not much. I don’t recommend using Savoy or Napa cabbages for this – while the fermentation will be the same, the texture and crunch will be very different from regular, green cabbage. In Russia, that’s what we were working with, and if you go to any Russian deli, you will see the Russian sauerkraut made only with regular cabbage. Often, Russians will add a handful of cranberries or a grated apple to their sauerkraut in the beginning—in my own family the cranberries (or in Russia we used lingonberries) were very popular. I prefer the minimalist version myself—and this is the version I give you below. Of course, please feel free to modify this according to your taste.

Sauerkraut is present at every Russian gathering and sit down dinner, along with other delicious zakuski (bites). The closest thing I can compare it to is banchan in Korean cuisine: where you have a series of small plates like kimchi to accompany the main meal. Sometimes, my grandmother dresses up her sauerkraut with a spoonful of unrefined sunflower oil, but most often we serve it as is in a nice bowl with a large spoon. And in the dead of winter, we make this cabbage soup swapping out half of the fresh cabbage with homemade sauerkraut. The end result is a deep, flavorful, brothy soup that is unlike any other.

1 head green cabbage (about 4 1/2 pounds), shredded (about 14 cups), with 1 large cabbage leaf reserved
4 large carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
3 tablespoons (25 grams) kosher salt
1 teaspoon (4 grams) granulated sugar

1. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage with the carrots. Add the salt and sugar and toss to combine thoroughly, almost massaging the salt and sugar into the vegetables. Make sure the seasonings are evenly distributed. Let stand 1 hour.

2. Transfer the vegetables and the accumulated juices to 2-gallon jar with a wide mouth or a nonreactive container. Cover the vegetables with the reserved cabbage leaf. You may need to trim the leaf and discard the thicker, less flexible part. Place a small saucer on top of the leaf and place a can of beans (or a can filled with water; something with a weight). The cabbage should be completely submerged in the liquid. If it is not, add just enough water so that it is.

3. Place a double layer of clean, wet cheesecloth over the jar (with the weight on top) and secure it with a rubber band. Transfer the jar to a well-ventilated area around 65oF for 4 days. Every day, during those 4 days, remove and rinse out the cheesecloth, clean any scum that might form on the cabbage leaf. You might see some bubbles and what looks to be like light foam, wipe that off as well. Using a wooden skewer (a chopstick is perfect), pierce the sauerkraut in a few places to release the gases. Return the leaf, saucer, weight, and the cheesecloth over the jar and secure with a rubber band once more. Store, without disturbing, for an additional 6 at 65F or somewhere slightly cooler (a basement or a garage, if you have it. Transfer the cabbage to clean jars and refrigerate for up to 3 months.

Makes 2 quarts.

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31 Comments

  • 1
    kickpleat said:

    I grew up making sauerkraut and even did a science fair type of report on it in grade 2 or 3. At the time it wasn’t a very popular subject with my classmates. But I loved the stuff anyway and would sneak into the basement and pull aside the wooden top and dig my hands right into it. Yum. It’s been ages since I’ve had any and I think making some from scratch would be just the thing. I’ll try your recipe though I’ve never had it with carrots, I think it looks lovely. As for the cleaning lady asleep on your bed? Yikes!!! Don’t use her again. Jeez.

    October 12, 2012 2:14 pm
  • 2
    Sharmila said:

    I have to say, Olga, since you mentioned this on Twitter yesterday, you’ve had me hooked onto the story of your cleaning lady in your bed. Was she a long term cleaning lady? Regardless, she does owe you an explanation even if she makes stuff up like,”I haven’t now or ever had a relationship with that bed.” Hopefully it is more, “I was exhausted, and I’m sorry.”
    One of the things about growing up middle class in India is that you will never, ever leave your cleaning folk alone in your home. This is out of sheer paranoia that a non-relative or non-friend left alone will most certainly steal the wonders of your kitchen – like that soot covered kerosene stove, or your last cup of sugar, or much worse, your secret recipe for mango pickles. My mom certainly subscribed to that theory. She would make sure one of us was home for the cleaners (as if any of us were going to care enough to spy on the maid in the kitchen!)
    While I believe my cleaners are quite reliable, I still can’t bring myself to leave home when they visit. Old habits die hard, Unfortunately, stories like yours will not have me leaving my home anytime soon.
    That image of a semi-stranger in your bed is hard to erase once it’s there.

    October 12, 2012 2:31 pm
  • 3
    Cate said:

    Yowza… sounds like something right out of a Seinfeld episode. And yes, a bed is way too personal of a space for a random person to take a nap… that would 100% be the end of it for me.

    As for the sauerkraut, I tried making it once, but the top leaf wasn’t totally submerged and ended up getting moldy. Sounds like it’s time to give it another try :)

    October 12, 2012 2:39 pm
  • 4
    emmycooks said:

    I started a batch of sauerkraut this week but am planning on a much longer ferment (following the USDA guidelines). I will have to try your recipe while I’m waiting for the other jar! And I can’t wait to make that cabbage soup this winter. Mmm, sauerkraut.

    October 12, 2012 3:10 pm
  • 5
    Morningside Heights said:

    Was she under the covers? That would make it worse. If she had been napping on the couch then mayyyybe I would let it slide, but….no, it’s too creepy. I think I might look for a new cleaner.

    October 12, 2012 3:47 pm
  • 6
    Katie said:

    I worked as a chambermaid at an inn on Nantucket the summer after my freshman year in college. I lived in the basement of the inn with a group of girls my age, many of them from Ireland. We partied pretty hard that summer and we’d often roll home an hour or so before we had to roll upstairs to clean rooms. Needless to say, in those conditions, it was hard to be near a bed and not be tempted to lay down for a few minutes. I usually only did this in rooms when people had already checked out, but once, I did lay on someone’s bed … and they returned to find me there. I jumped up and ran out. Anyway, maybe your cleaning lady had a really bad hangover? And yes, an odd situation–especially when it’s your own bed!

    October 12, 2012 4:28 pm
  • 7

    oh my gosh, this made me laugh out loud just now in my office! I love this story? Is she ever going to come back? I hope her shoes weren’t on your covers.

    October 12, 2012 5:05 pm
  • 8

    Oh geeze. When you tweeted that I seriously thought you were joking. Unreal! I agree it totally sounds like an episode of Seinfeld. Have you heard from her since?

    My husband’s family is Ukrainian and they make an amazing sauerkraut soup at Christmas time. I haven’t tried making sauerkraut before from scratch, but I think you’ve made me brave enough. Thanks for the recipe!

    October 12, 2012 5:11 pm
  • 9

    This sauerkraut is simply gorgeous and sounds delicious. I’ve only ever had sauerkraut with just cabbage, no carrots or fruits. Now I must try making my own with both. Lovely! On another note, this post had me laughing and mortified at the same time. I’m so curious how you ended up handling the situation?? Did you fire her? Did she explain herself? What did she say? Or did she at least offer an apology? (I hope!)

    October 13, 2012 7:29 am
  • 10

    I am so excited to try this. My mouth is watering as I look at this, however, I do have a question and concern. I have HBP & heart issues, and have to avoid much salt – - I do eat some & I use 1/2 tsp in my savory cooking and that is sufficient to let me have my salt and not overdo it – - but, how do I avoid this problem in sauerkraut? Would it help to wash it after making it and just before eating it? Will it still retain those good enzymes? I so want to try making my own and your recipe is SO TANTALIZING!!!
    HELP!!!!
    Thanks!

    October 13, 2012 8:23 am
  • 11

    OMG. I honestly can’t believe that happened to you. So awkward and embarrassing. I don’t know what I would have done. Probably left the house running, and then avoided the house cleaner forever. Sounds like you handled it well.

    October 13, 2012 12:56 pm
  • 12

    I was dreaming about sauerkraut the other night, so much so that I attempted to make a braised vinegary quick substitute, good but no where near the same. Thank you for reading my mind and posting this recipe! Nothing says fall to me like roast pork,sauerkraut and apples! …..and the cleaning lady in your bed. : )

    October 14, 2012 2:03 pm
  • 13
    leeann said:

    This is too hilarious. Maybe just thinking about your sauerkraut knocked her out!! Thanks for sharing this caper.

    October 14, 2012 2:53 pm
  • 14

    I have never made my own sauerkraut. But my husband’s Polish family eats lots of it – the cooked kind, with no carrots. Your fresh, crispy, carrot-filled version looks lovely, though. I’m going to have to try this for a sauerkraut change!

    October 14, 2012 6:03 pm
  • 15
    Radish said:

    J’marinde – my husband is also in a low-salt regiment.. i just figure that 3T for that much cabbage isn’t so bad. However, if you want to play around with salt amts, by all means do. Try to go down to 2T. Would that be better?

    October 14, 2012 6:30 pm
  • 16
    Jayne said:

    I have a cabbage in the fridge & was planning on making sauerkraut, what good timing to come across your recipe! As for your cleaning lady- that made me laugh out loud! How
    mortifying, for all of you actually! Have you read The Door by Magda Szabo? I’m reading it now and your situation sounded like something from that book!

    October 19, 2012 4:29 pm
  • 17
    Radish said:

    Jayne – haven’t read, but now will do soon! How funny. Glad the sauerkraut recipe comes just in time! let me know how it goes.

    October 19, 2012 5:20 pm
  • 18

    I’ve been thinking about sauerkraut for days now, this is so helpful! When I was growing up, our Polish neighbor would give us jars of sauerkraut every Fall, and his were always slightly sweet and packed full of apples. With hot keilbasa and mustard there is nothing better! Can’t wait to try this recipe.
    As for cleaning lady in bed- wow. No matter what her explanation, there is nothing creepier than someone sleeping IN your bed without explicit permission! I’m looking forward to finding out what you guys did next!

    October 21, 2012 1:40 am
  • 19
    Radish said:

    Ruthy – we gave her several days to call us and let us know what happened. We left voicemails – and finally got in touch with her. She didn’t seem sorry or want to provide an explanation. I explained to her that I totally understand needing a nap, just wished she did it on our couch and just told us that she was tired. I’m an immigrant myself and my parents worked some very grueling jobs well below their masters’ degrees, so I wasn’t appreciative of her efforts and, given her age, fatigue. It’s the fact that she was in bed (with shoes on!) that was so weird.

    Let me know how the sauerkraut turns out. My mom likes to add the apple once the fermentation process is underway, but others do it at the beginning. I love it plain, hence the recipe, but by all means, it is easily augmented to fit your favorite version. And outside of poking it and cleaning the cloth for a few days, it’s so, so easy!

    October 21, 2012 8:17 am
  • 20

    [...] Homemade sauerkraut over on Sassy Radish. She uses a whole leaf to help keep the shreds submerged, which I think is genius. I’m so sorry about the cleaning lady weirdness, though, Olga! [...]

    October 22, 2012 4:44 pm
  • 21
    Helen said:

    I’m Croatian, and my Baba taught us to add with garlic, salt, and chili powder to the crock with cabbage cut in quarters or left whole with the center core cut out. Once it’s fermented, I shred the quarters, squeeze out the excess water, and season it with pepper and olive oil.

    October 23, 2012 11:33 am
  • 22
    Christina said:

    I found this through the Food in Jars blog by Marisa McClellan and I have to say, this is wonderful! I’ve been wanting to make sauerkraut for a long time now, but it seems all the recipes I’ve found are for vast quantities and require large crocks–which I don’t have room to accommodate at the moment. I can totally do a 2 gallon jar! Thank you!

    On another note: Weird with the cleaning lady thing. Did you ever coax an explanation out of her?

    October 23, 2012 11:52 am
  • 23
    K. Crete said:

    I truly want to know the Rest Of The Story – was she ill, exhausted, had a family crisis – or off on a bender???

    October 23, 2012 3:14 pm
  • 24
    Radish said:

    Helen – that sounds a lot more similar to kimchi — and utterly delicious!

    Christina, K. Crete, and others who have asked about the cleaning lady debacle, we had to let her go. We called her a few times and she wouldn’t return our calls. After we got her on the phone, we asked what happened and she just didn’t offer anything up. We explained that if she had taken a nap on our couch that would’ve been fine – we understand she is tired and we wouldn’t mind if the nap became a regular thing. But sleeping in our bed was just something that didn’t sit right with us. She truly didn’t seem to care about it and said that’s fine with her. It was incredibly strange.

    October 23, 2012 5:35 pm
  • 25

    I’ve been tempted to try making homemade sauerkraut, but I’m worried about the smell. I don’t have a garage or basement. I’m in a small Brooklyn apartment too. Will I stink up the place?

    October 25, 2012 12:23 pm
  • 26
    Radish said:

    Urban Cholita – not at all. You won’t even know you have cabbage fermenting. We live in a small Brooklyn apartment and it’s totally fine. I used to make 5 kinds of different kimchi at once and you couldn’t even tell! Ferment away and freely and enjoy!

    October 25, 2012 2:19 pm
  • 27
    Denise said:

    This is too funny. I have a friend who came home early from work as he was not feeling well. Walked into the kitchen to find the housekeeper sitting on the kitchen counter, smoking a cigarette and watching soap operas – with all the windows open. Yep, she didn’t have a job any longer!

    October 26, 2012 12:04 pm
  • 28

    [...] know me well, know that one on one, I can prattle away about various ephemera, say the magic behind natural lacto-fermentation, so much so, that sometimes I forget to come up for breath; but put me in an unfamiliar [...]

    October 31, 2012 3:24 pm
  • 29

    [...] served with sauerkraut is, I’m told, a very common thing in Germany. It’s hearty, hardy fare, downright pedestrian [...]

    February 4, 2013 1:52 pm
  • 30

    [...] anchovies, harissa, mayonnaise, capers, pickled ramps from last year, preserved lemons, homemade sauerkraut I’ve been aging for soup, and (obviously) some kimchi. All lovely ingredients, but outside of [...]

    April 26, 2013 11:02 am
  • 31

    […] in the week, before things went horribly awry, I made a wonderful soup using my very old homemade sauerkraut that I wrote about some time ago. It became our Rosh Hashanah soup and we had leftovers for days […]

    September 11, 2013 1:10 pm

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