Making Sauerkraut

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 start with some organic cabbage. Note: Cabbage is on the clean 15 and non-organic is very low in pesticides, so you can be safe buying non-organic too.


Peel off the outer leaves, slice the cabbage in half and cut the core out in two strokes by making a triangle shape.

I set the cores aside with the outer leaves to use later.

I just cut the cabbage into quarters and then slice it thinly. I sometimes do it in the food processor on the slicer.

Once it's all sliced or shredded and contained in a bowl, I add salt - according to the recipe, 1 tablespoon per quart of sauerkraut. I'm making 2 here.

Then I let it sit for at least ten minutes. When I get back, the cabbage is "sweating" - exuding juices.

Time to start pounding it with a wooden spoon or masher. Pound it for a good five minutes and try to get it crammed down into the bowl.

Then (with super clean hands) I start moving it into my glass jar. I have a half gallon size that's great. I put half in, and the jar's filled up.

So I smash it some more. Plenty of room for the rest! Get it in there and smash that down too, trying to pack it in and leave about an inch of room at the top.

There are some juices remaining in the bowl.

To them, add a lactic acid starter.

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.

Then pour it over the top of your filled jar. If necessary, add water to cover the cabbage. You really want to leave some head room or it will spill out onto the counter as it ferments.

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.)

How I keep it snug is by using those cabbage leaves from before.

I layer them and stick them under the rim of the jar.

Then I grab a piece of core or two and lay them on top. When I put the lid on, the cores touch the lid and prevent the whole thing from sneaking north like it wants to.

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.).

You can see how the color has changed from the bright fresh green to a more muted, yellowish hue.

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.

The finished product

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. 🙂

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9 Responses to Making Sauerkraut

  1. ASHLEY DREW says:

    Wow, you’ve taken me back to eating hot dogs with my grandmother. She would cook her hot dogs in the sauerkraut. It really did provide an extra good flavor to the hot dogs. Put them on steamed buns, and yummy!

  2. Brittany Zayas says:

    Mmmm sounds delicious! I remember having fresh sauerkraut when I used to take cooking classes in high school…it’s pretty much the only German food I like, and I don’t like hot dogs so I eat it alone. Yum!

  3. Robin says:

    Hmm… I should try this again. Although I have to say, I’m more partial to fermented ginger carrots. Just grate up carrots and ginger, add salt, mix, and jar. Good on salads/sandwiches/etc.

    • Sarah says:

      We LOVE pickled ginger carrots, only I do slices or sticks and throw in a clove and some whey. It is a delicious snack that the kids and parents enjoy! We had some today with our chicken salad.

  4. makes me think of the “wieners and kraut” I had growing up….

  5. SD says:

    Love your sauerkraut method, especially using the leaf and core to help keep the good stuff submerged.

    About the ginger carrots: do you mean a clove clove or a garlic clove? Any chance you’d share your method for these carrots?

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks! It’s really good to hear from you.
      A whole clove, the spice.
      Sure, slice or cut into sticks a pound of carrots and shove them in a quart jar. Add a few slices of ginger, a whole clove and about 1 tbsp sea salt, plus 2 tbsp whey (or 1 extra tbsp salt). Fill the jar the rest of the way with water and leave on the counter for 3-5 days, then check. It should either be fizzy or it should kind of taste fizzy when you taste one. They are a super snack and even better for you than plain carrot sticks!

  6. SD says:

    Thanks!! I’ve tried the NT shredded ginger carrot recipe, but wasn’t crazy about it. This sounds much better. I like the idea of sticks or slices. Thanks again. 🙂

  7. WP says:

    Your pictures reminded me of times when my granny used to make fermented cabbages using a fermenting crock. As kids, a few of us would try to open it and take a look but would get a good scolding from her. Now sights like this always bring back fond childhood memories. I miss home-made sauerkraut.

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