"It's Alive!": Cultured Kohlrabi Sauerkraut and a few tips and tricks (gluten-free, vegan, raw, ACD)

I needed to clear out my crisper before heading out to New York City a couple of weeks ago.   I decided to whip up a two batches of cultured vegetables, my absolute favorite way to preserve the harvest.  

A friend recently told me that Common Roots Cafe, a local organic restaurant, is serving grated pickled kohlrabi with their entrees.  Inspired, I decided to embark on a pickled grated kohlrabi adventure of my own, a departure from my usual pickled kohlrabi spears (from this recipe or this recipe).  I combined shredded kohlrabi with red cabbage,  scallions, and red pepper flakes, inspired by the flavors of kimchee and Japanese sauerkraut, sealed up the jars, and hoped for the best.  

a portrait of kohlrabi

With temperatures in my apartment approaching a balmy 87º, my cultured vegetables and kombucha were all going a little bit crazy (so was I). This jar of kraut totally cracked me up, actually. As it fermented, it took on a vibrant pink color, was making hissing sounds, and was bubbling away violently.  I'd suddenly hear strange gurgling noises coming from the jar, or look over to see brine oozing out under the jar rim. "It's alive!" I cried, audibly cackling alone in my kitchen like a mad scientist as I doted on my jars.  Truth be told, I wouldn't have been surprised had I woken one morning to find that my jars had grown legs and walked off somewhere; those things were teaming with happy live bacteria.

I wonder what Dr. Frankenstein would think of my fermenting experiments?  

After three days, I carefully opened the jar. It nearly fizzed over!  Yes, ladies and germs, this is some seriously live food.  Prudent fermenters know to open jars over the sink for this very reason.  I tasted it, and was struck with delight.  It was tart, spicy, peppery, and had a nice crunchy texture and a lovely, cheery pink color.  It was, by far and away, the best batch of sauerkraut I had made yet!  Then I put in the fridge and left for New York.

Now that it has sat in my fridge for about two weeks, the flavor has developed quite nicely and it tastes even better. Sadly, I hardly have any left, because I've been eating big scoops of it at every opportunity and took it to work to share with coworkers (who all loved it, by the way). I have to make another batch with fresh farmers market produce this week, because I am totally addicted to this stuff. 

I am on a mission to spread love of fermented kohlrabi around the globe.

Speaking of fermented vegetables, I will be posting a KILLER recipe for cultured dill pickles very soon, so stay tuned! In the meantime, here are a few tips for culturing, and the recipe for this awesome kohlrabi kraut.

TIPS FOR MAKING GOOD KRAUT AND CULTURED VEGETABLES

  • Use organic vegetables. Pesticides can become concentrated in the fermentation process, and can throw off the lactobacilli's ability to ferment things properly.  All in all, using chemical laden veggies is just not a good idea if you can help it.
  • Use fresh vegetables. I think this is self explanatory. Old vegetables have less food energy, and don't taste as fresh, and also don't have as much oomph to ferment with.
  • Use a high quality, unrefined sea salt. Unrefined sea salts contain naturally occurring trace minerals and enzymes, as well as adequate sodium, that help your body maintain proper mineral balances and cell fluid levels.  RealSalt, Eden sea salt, Himilayan pink salt, or Maldon salts are excellent, but my current favorite is Premier Pink Salt by Premier Research Labs.
  • Use filtered water. If your recipe requires water, make sure it is good water. Filtered water tastes better and reduces the risk for contaminates in your kraut.
  • Sterilize your jar. You don't want unwanted bacteria in your kraut, so pour some boiling water into your jar (make sure the jar can handle it, otherwise it will break) to clean it out before you use it
  • Use non-metal utensils to scoop out the kraut. Metal reacts with fermentation.
  • Keep the kraut covered with brine. As you eat it, make sure it stays covered with liquid to prevent spoilage; if the brine doesn't cover it, add a little filtered water until kraut is sufficiently covered. 

KRAUT TROUBLESHOOTING

  • You can't open the jar. Not uncommon - the salty liquid can make the jar top stick. Just run under hot water, and try using a cloth to get a better grip. It will open, I promise.
  • It isn't sour enough.  Reseal the jar and let it ferment longer.  Taste it again after another day or two.
  • It is too sour, tastes really acidic, or tastes bad and weird. You may have let it ferment too long, or some unwanted bacteria or pesticides may have found its way in. Trust your gut. If it tastes bad, say goodbye,  and put it in the compost.  Then get back on that horse and try again.
  • It grew mold. A little greenish or greyish mold on the top layer of kraut is fairy normal - just scrape off the moldy layer, and eat the rest (seriously). But if your mold is black, pink, or orange, or your kraut smells or tastes especially funky, send that kraut directly to the compost.  Again, trust your gut, and don't risk it.
  • Your kraut is dry and starting to turn colors or fade. As you eat it, the amount of liquid in your kraut may decrease. Add a little filtered water or leftover salty brine from another batch of kraut to fully cover it. By keeping it covered, you are keeping it safe from oxygen exposure, and therefore keeping it fresh and reducing spoilage.

so crisp, so sour, so pink!

Cultured Kohlrabi Sauerkraut

yield 1 quart

This is delicious scooped on salads, eaten with grilled meats, or used in place of regular sauerkraut in any recipe. It is also very tasty wrapped with rice in simple vegan sushi rolls.  Don't be intimidated - there are a lot of instructions, but this couldn't be easier to make.  One disclaimer, though: you will make a big watery, salty mess on your countertop, so get your towels ready to clean up.  If you feel fancy, try adding a little shredded carrot, daikon radish, or ginger to this recipe for a fun variation.  don't be afraid. Just do it.  

4 medium kohlrabi, grated

1/4 small head red cabbage, finely shredded

4 scallions, thinly sliced

1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

2 Tbsp sea salt

1 quart glass jar, sterilized with boiling water

Combine kohlrabi and cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt.  With clean hands, massage salt into vegetables and squeeze, working them for about 5 minutes. Let sit for a few more minutes, and then massage again.  You could also pound with a kraut pounder or a big wooden spoon.  The cabbage and kohlrabi should be soft and nice salty juices should have formed in the bowl. Then add thinly sliced scallion and red pepper, and mix in.  Scoop out handfuls of cabbage mixture and squeeze out some of the liquid, then pack firmly into the jar, pressing down after each handful.  

Pack sterilized jar full of kraut, leaving 1" of open space at the top, and make sure that cabbage mixture is covered with the brine liquid.  Then put on jar lid tightly.  Place the jar in a dish on or a plate to catch any drips during the fermentation process, and let sit at room temperature to ferment 3-6 days.  

After 3-4 days, open jar (you may want to do this over the sink, it tends to bubble over), and taste the kraut.  If the kraut it isn't sour or tart enough for your tastes, reseal and let ferment another day or two.  Hotter temperatures will quicken fermentation time, colder temperatures will make it slower.  In my hot 87º F apartment, I fermented for 3 days and got a great kraut.  Just taste it as it goes along, and when it is how you like it, stop.

When kraut is done, place the jar in the refrigerator.    It will keep for 6 months in the refrigerator, and flavor gets better with age.

Other favorite Cultured Vegetable Recipes:

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