Making your own kraut is easy and cheap, and the process uses ingredients and equipment you can easily source, if you don’t already have them on hand: a big bowl, a quart-size Mason jar, vegetables and sea salt. Cabbage is the traditional base for kraut, but you can include any other crunchy vegetables such as carrots, radishes or turnips. You’ll use a little more than one tablespoon of salt for every two pounds of vegetables. For this batch we used one small red cabbage, about one pound, three large carrots, again about one pound, slightly more than one tablespoon sea salt, and one teaspoon each yellow mustard seed and fennel seed.
Get Your Shred On
First, quarter and core your cabbage, then slice the cabbage crosswise as thinly as possible. A mandoline or food processor with a slicing attachment can make this go faster.
That’s Just Grate
Grate your carrots, or whatever crispy veggie you prefer. The box grater works fine, but, again, a food processor can speed up this process.
Put It Together
Combine the cabbage and carrots in a large bowl with the salt and spices. Feel free to get creative with the spices, but don’t vary the proportions of vegetable to salt.
Get Your Hands Dirty
Toss all the ingredients in the bowl, using your hands not just to mix, but to gently crush the shredded vegetables. Do this until they start to release liquid, about five minutes.
Pack It In
Pack the mixture into a clean quart-size Mason jar. A canning funnel makes this a little easier, but it is not strictly necessary. As you approach the top of the jar, use your hand or a wooden spoon to press down the mixture; juices will exude and rise.
You should have just enough to completely fill a quart jar, very tightly packed. Press down hard and allow as much liquid to rise as possible.
Add a small weight on top, such as a smaller Mason jar filled with water, to ensure the kraut stays submerged in its juices.
Fear Not the Foam
Loosely cover the jar with a clean towel or cheesecloth, using a rubber band to close the cloth around the neck of the jar to keep out dust and bugs. Check every day to make sure the kraut stays submerged; if it does not, press down to release more juices, and, if necessary, add a little water. After one day you should see bubbles forming; after two days you may see foam, scum or even some mold, which can simply be skimmed away.
Take a Taste
Three days into the fermentation process, have a taste. It should be lightly sour, fragrant yet not stinky. With each passing day, the kraut will get more sour and pungent; it will also begin to break down the cell structure of the vegetables, making it softer. When the sauerkraut is to your liking, seal the jar and store it in the refrigerator for up to several weeks. Enjoy the sauerkraut in salads, sandwiches or as a side dish.
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Sean Timberlake is a professional writer, amateur foodie, avid traveler and all-around bon vivant. He is the founder of Punk Domestics, a content and community site for DIY food enthusiasts, and has penned the blog Hedonia since 2006. He lives in San Francisco with his husband, DPaul Brown, and their hyperactive terrier, Reese.