Monday, December 14, 2009

Sauerkraut, Okroshka, and guests

You know how sometimes your weekend gets hijacked by guests who overstay their welcome? Sometimes, even the nicest, friendliest people stay too long. Just a gracious reminder: it is not up to the hostess to kick you out. A good hostess never tells her guests to leave. Instead, she makes hints. Please, take the hints. Offer to leave or, if you absolutely must, ask to stay early on enough that it's still a possibility for you to leave if your hostess tells you she has important plans in the morning (like relaxing because it's Sunday morning). Do so before it becomes necessary for the hostess to offer you the couch and some linens. I don't care how fresh-out-of-college you are, manners are still manners.

Now that we're all clear on that, back to the topic of the day: Sauerkraut (or, as I more commonly spell it to avoid the minefield of german vowel combinations: kraut).

Kraut is the food of the gods. Salt, cabbage, a little weight, and a week or 3 of magic turns into the most delicious, nutritious food you could ever imagine. Eat straight out of the jar (as I was did my whole childhood when my parents weren't looking), on a Reuben, or as a side to just about anything (how my parents would have preferred I ate kraut). My favorite part of sauerkraut (don't knock it till you try it yall) is the brine. I drink it straight or make a variant on a Russian soup (I prefer it as a cold soup) called Okroshka (recipe below) which is traditionally made with Kvass (fermented black bread - eww).

Also, this post includes a basic lesson in Russian

KAPUSTA (aka: cabbage, but generally used to refer to kraut as well)

Seriously - it is this easy.


- gallon crock (keep your eyes open at garage sales and flea markets - they're everywhere) or a few wide-mouthed ball jar
- 3 tablespoons canning salt (or any non-iodized salt. Sea salt is expensive. go for Morton's canning salt. it's just as good and cheaper than the iodized stuff)
- 5 pounds (bout 2 small heads) cabbage (green for traditional look. red for a sexy burgundy kraut)
- a lid that is just too small for your crock/jar. The goal is to push the cabbage under the surface of the brine.
- a weight that will fit on top of the lid and into the crock/jar (typically a boiled rock (boiled to sterilize), but you can also use a plastic bag filled with water and rocks if you're using a jar, or a smaller jar filled with water, or whatever)

The process

Chop up your cabbage to the size you like your kraut to be. I like cutting off a chunk and then cutting the chunk into thin ribbon-like slices.

Now layer 1 layer cabbage, 1 layer salt until you've layered all the cabbage and used all the salt. Press down as you go. All of the cabbage should fit into a 1 gallon crock.

Now put the lid you're using (or small plate, etc.) over the kraut, push it down as far as it will go, and put the weight on top. Store it somewhere out of the way. The warmer the spot, the faster the fermentation will go, but the flavors will be less subtle. The colder the spot, the longer the fermentation will take, but the flavors will develop more fully.

Check your kraut after 24 hours to make sure the brine has covered the cabbage. If it hasn't, add a saltwater mixture (about 3 tablespoons salt per quart) to cover, and leave. Taste in about 5 days, and then daily if it's in your room-temperature house, until it's as sour as you want. don't wait to long - or it'll taste off. Once it's done, stick it in the fridge to slow the fermentation (in jars or in the crock if it fits).


A note on ingredients: some people put weird things in their kraut, like juniper berries, caraway, coriander, and black pepper. Try it out, but in my humble opinion, nothing beats traditional salt-and-cabbage kraut. A carrot or for color can also be added.

A note on crocks: I found a set of nested crocks with lids. It's perfect for kraut since the medium-sized lid is a perfect kraut lid for the largest crock.

A note on salt content: If you're not into salt, you can soak the kraut overnight in tap water to get a low-sodium kraut for eating the next day. do this rather than making a lower-salt kraut. Salt preserves the kraut, and is needed for the right bacteria to ferment the brine. Traditionally, kraut was made with a lot more salt than we use now, because the main purpose of the salt was to preserve the kraut before refrigeration. Thus crocks were typically held in cold cellars and the kraut needed to be submerged in water overnight or for 24 hours to leach enough salt out of the cabbage to make it edible. The level of salt needed to preserve kraut in brine is 5 tablespoons salt per quart of water. This way, in a cold cellar place, it will take at least a month to ferment, and will last at least a few months, if kept cold.


Yes, this is my favorite soup.

This is my personal recipe. It may be blasphemous to my grandma's traditional okroshka made with beef and kvass, but so be it.

ingredients (no quantities because you know how to make soup. Just make soup.)
- The usual suspects: carrots, celery, onions
- Brine (yum)
- potatoes
- optional - meat (if you're into it, I'd go for a chopped up hotdog. That would be traditionally Soviet. If you believe in real food, pork or beef will do, and tofu would be good too)
- garlic
- dill (a lot) parsley if you have some
- black pepper

Chop and saute carrots, celery, onion, and garlic (i'd suggest a medium dice). Substituting celeriac for celery in the winter is great, and I would recommend it in general when you have celeriac in your cellar. If you're using meat, throw it in to saute a bit, then cover with some water or whatever stock you have on hand (use the smallest amount of water/stock possible. This soup is about the brine! you''re going to want a final ratio of about 1-to-1 stock to brine), throw in the potatoes (I'd suggest a medium dice), and simmer until everything is cooked.

Add brine. for hot soup, heat, but do not boil (boiling kills off the good-for-you bacteria). according to my mom, this is a very traditional soup called Sour cabbage soup (kisloy schi). For cold soup, chill. season with black pepper, lots of dill, and parsley if you have it, and adjust the salt by adding more brine or more stock/water. Serve and be happy!


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