Getting Funky with Fermentation – Cilantro Jalapeño Sauerkraut

Funky fermented sauerkraut.  Not only is this recipe spicy and delicious, but it is packed full of probiotics for gut health.  What better way to stay warm in the winter than by lighting a fire inside your mouth? Not to mention the added warmth provided by a happy, healthy colon.

All joking aside, homemade fermented sauerkraut is delicious and is in a completely different league than store-bought.  Its crispness and sourness are unmatched and so are the health benefits of traditionally fermented foods.

Lacto-fermentation not only preserves your harvest for year-round enjoyment, but also increases the nutritional benefits of the food.  How cool is that?  Raw Cabbage Nutrition < Fermented Sauerkraut Nutrition.  Science is amazing.  The fermentation process produces vitamins and good bacteria (i.e. less gross sounding probiotics) that aid with digestion among many other health benefits.

Some say fermented foods can also prevent cancer.  As someone who is proud of her Polish heritage, I found this study from Michigan State University and the University of New Mexico quite interesting – researchers observed that women who immigrated to the United States from Poland were three times more likely to have breast cancer than those who remained in Poland.  They concluded that the consumption of lacto-fermented sauerkraut could be a factor because women in Poland ate an average of 30 pounds of raw sauerkraut each year, while the Polish women in the United States were eating approximately 10 pounds per year.

I don’t even think I’ve come close to eating 30 (or even 10) pounds of sauerkraut in a year, but this recipe for Jalapeño Cilantro Sauerkraut from Fermented Food Lab may change that.

Fermenting food may seem a bit intimidating, but really once you get the basics and a solid recipe down, it is a snap.  I am fortunate enough to have a fermentation crock from Poland with stone weights.  If you are going to get serious about fermentation, I highly suggest investing in a crock with stones.  Also, if you do not have access to homegrown organic veggies, you must purchase organic produce for your fermentation.  If your vegetables have been treated with pesticides or chemicals, it can impede on the fermentation process.

First step, gather your tools and ingredients:

Food Processor

Cabbage Shredder

Fermentation Crock with Stone Weights

1 Head of Cabbage

1 Tablespoon Sea Salt or Pink Himalayan Salt or Canning Salt (*please see salt note below)

2 Cloves of Garlic

4 Jalapeno Peppers

1 Bunch of Cilantro Leaves

1/2 White Onion

Crock, Stone Weights, Cabbage, Onion, Garlic, Cilantro, Jalapeno Peppers

First step is to remove the big outer leaves of cabbage.  Line the bottom of your crock with the leaves and set aside a couple leaves to put on the top of your shredded cabbage.  This will prevent bruising of your cabbage by the weights.

Next step is shredding your cabbage.  I put the biggest pot I own under my cabbage shredder.  I cut the cabbage in half and cut out the core.  Then I go to town using my cabbage shredder.  Please note, cabbage shredders like this are very sharp.  I got carried away and accidentally shredded my thumb.  It was extremely painful.  If you don’t have a fancy shredder like me, a food processor works or a big sharp knife. Your goal is to produce uniform shreds of cabbage.

Once you have your big pot of shredded cabbage, it is time to give it a salt massage.  Sprinkle the cabbage with 1 Tablespoon of salt and massage it for 5 minutes.  You will almost instantly feel the cabbage start releasing liquid and the stress of modern cabbage life.  After the massage, let the cabbage sit for 15 to 20 minutes to continue releasing liquid and make the cabbage soft.

* A note on the salt, I was fortunate enough to visit an old-time hardware store called Lehman’s in Ohio.  If you have never been, it really is a neat place with a lot of old fashioned tools and cookware.  There, I discovered unrefined Redmond Real Salt which is free of any additives.  You DO NOT want to use table salt / iodized salt because additives and anti-caking ingredients inhibit fermentation.  Use mineral rich real sea salt, pink Himalayan salt, or canning salt.

While your cabbage is recovering from its massage, you can prepare your other ingredients.  In a food processor, finely dice 1/2 white onion and the 2 cloves of garlic. Add your cilantro leaves and give them a whirl as well.  You can also add the 4 jalapenos to the food processor, but I opted to use my shredder to keep the circular jalapeno shape.  You may also want to remove the seeds and membranes from the jalapenos to reduce the heat level.  I did not remove the seeds or membrane because I am a masochist with a penchant for making explosively hot food.

Then, you must give your massaged cabbage a little more attention….  Give it a few tender but firm squeezes with your hands. If it is releases more juices, you are good to go.  I know, very sensual.

Next step, put gloves on to prevent being burned by the jalapeno juice!  Add your finely minced garlic, onion, jalapenos, and cilantro to the pot and mix it all together. Take your beautiful mixture and any juices it produced and put it on top of the big cabbage leaves that are lining your fermentation crock.  Then firmly push the mixture with your hands until it is packed tightly in the crock and produces even more liquid.  This natural brine protects your cabbage from going foul.  Once you have produced enough brine to fully submerge your cabbage mixture, put the big cabbage leaves you set aside on top of your shredded cabbage mixture.  Then put your weighted stones on top of the leaves and push down firmly so the stones are also submerged in the naturally produced brine.

Cover the crock with its lid and add water to the canal.  This keeps the crock air tight during fermentation.  Check the canal daily to ensure it is filled with water. During fermentation, bubbling and gurgling from the crock are good signs!  You do not want to remove the lid during this process.

The original recipe suggested letting it ferment for one week, but I let it ferment for two weeks to add a more tangy flavor.  It is a matter of personal taste preference.  Like fine wine, sauerkraut improves with age in regards to both flavor and production of healthy bacteria.

After the one to four weeks of fermentation, discard the whole cabbage leaves and pack sauerkraut into containers to store in the fridge. It will keep for a very long time. I still have sauerkraut from last year that is still delicious. If you are accustomed to very salty store-bought sauerkraut, you may be a little surprised by the lack of saltiness of homemade sauerkraut.

To reap the most healthy rewards of sauerkraut, it should be eaten raw with no alterations.  But I have to admit that I like to saute mine in a little bit of butter.  This sauerkraut would be amazing on a taco, a bratwurst, or even on fish.  The result is hot, spicy, garlicky, funky goodness.  Hope you enjoy!