Growing up in Brooklyn, of course I have had opportunity to enjoy the “dirty water dogs” from the ubiquitous corner hot dog vendors. At first, I would only eat them with mustard (extra mustard – I actually like mustard better than hot dogs). Somehow, though, one day I was prevailed upon to try that weird-looking white ribbony stuff called sauerkraut. After that I was hooked and never again wanted to eat hot dogs without it. Salty, sour and a little bit sweet – what’s not to like?
So I knew if I was going to start attempting to ferment my own vegetables, sauerkraut seemed a safe place to start. If I could make it taste like what I knew, it was something I’d at least eat. Well, I made my first batch according to the recipe in Nourishing Traditions, and on the appointed day, I cracked open the jar, took a very trepidatious whiff, and was amazed – it smelled right! It tasted not disgusting, too! My husband was quite excited and said it took him right back to the months he spent in Germany as a child.
It’s really easy to do and I wanted to share with you how I do it and some photos. I’m going to show you the basic recipe, but there are endless variations.
I’ve heard you can get packets of a vegetable starter if you can’t tolerate whey for some reason, and I have great success using homemade beet kvass (one of my personal recipe tweaks) which is also made with a whey starter. But if you can, use some of the whey that you have on hand (from straining yogurt) and add 1/8 cup per quart of sauerkraut (about 1 medium cabbage). If you can’t tolerate dairy and you don’t have a starter, just add an extra tablespoon of salt, according to Nourishing Traditions.
It’s important to keep the cabbage underneath the liquid, so that it remains protected by the acid in the starter which will take over as it starts to ferment. Any part that is exposed to air is likely to mold. (If it does, no worries, just get it off with a spoon and discard, what’s under the liquid will be fine.)
Now I close it up, set it on the counter (in a dish would be smart) and leave it there for 3-5 days (it sometimes takes much longer, I’ve found, but typically it’s done around the 3-4 day mark. It won’t hurt it to sit longer though.).
Open it up and take a whiff. It should smell pickled. If you know the smell of sauerkraut, it should be familiar to you. Sometimes the gases from being closed up tightly might be confusing until they dissipate so it might help to take a scoop out and put it in a bowl and smell it. If it’s too crunchy still, or just tastes more like cabbage and salt than sauerkraut, just close it back up and leave it another couple of days.
You can go ahead and enjoy it right away, of course, but if you can keep it in the house long enough (which around here is difficult!), go ahead and put it in the refrigerator for a few months. It gets better and better with age.
Nitrite free hot dogs with sauerkraut coming right up! No more dirty water dogs and pasteurized sauerkraut for me. 🙂