One country that may eat and love cabbage with even greater zeal than Germany is Russia (along with its slavic neighbors like Poland, Ukraine and Belarus).
This is one of those foods, like chickpeas in the Middle East, that grows robustly in that area, is cheap, hardy, accessible, and nutritious, and therefore is a traditional food of the masses. Like kimchi in Korea, it was and is normal for every household to make their own fermented version of this dish to last throughout the fall and winter.
Their iconic version of sauerkraut is far less known to us in the US but you may decide the speed at which it’s ready (not to mention its subtle but satisfying flavor) makes it your new favorite go-to cabbage ferment. Most people will ferment it just 4-5 days, and I’ve talked to Russians who eat or fridge it in as little as 2-3 days; compare that with typical sauerkraut ferment times being 1-6 months before refrigeration.
There are some regional and individual variations people can put on this so I’ll provide the basic recipe along with some optional add-on ideas, like cranberry, caraway or black peppercorns, which I’ve added to my recipe.
Although I think you’ll find this to be delicious and distinct from sauerkraut, it may be worth knowing that without the long ferment time of typical kraut, this dish (as well as a lot of Russian food in general) has a more mild character. That said, I think there are those who don’t want such a pungent kraut, and you can also pick up on more nuances in this dish. The pinch of caraway and peppercorns hits you as fun little flavor blasts here and there.
There are other unique aspects too. When you serve it, it is typical to pour on some oil such as sunflower or light olive oil (not extra-virgin), and add some fresh onion. You could also add some finely diced fresh apple too, though as with the add-ons I mentioned, some Russians are divided on this.
Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get Russian. 😬. Sorry. I had to. I’m “Insane in the Brine” after all.
This recipe is for one packed quart jar. Double the quantities for a half gallon.
You will need:
- Large non-reactive mixing bowl
- Knife & cutting board (or other desired means of shredding cabbage)
- Grater (for carrots)
- Kitchen gloves (if you don’t want to massage cabbage with bare hands)
- Fermentation airlock lid
- Glass weight (optional but veggies must be completely submerged)
- Optional: canning funnel
- ~2 lbs. cabbage (before peeled & cored)
- 2 carrots (~175g), peeling and/or removing top optional (they’re a good source of fermenting bacteria)
- 1 TBSP additive-free salt (or 2% salt by net weight of the veggies)
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1/3 cup cranberries
- 1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
- Pinch or two of caraway seeds
- ~1 tsp clear oil (e.g. sunflower or light olive oil) per each cup of kraut
- Finely diced or thin sliced fresh onion to taste
1.) Cut the cabbage in half and remove a few layers of outer peel (retain one or two large pieces of peel for later). Cut a V-shape at the core to remove it (or keep it and slice it with the rest of the cabbage, up to you).
(Note: unlike my typical practice in my other kraut recipes of cutting the cabbage halves again down the center (horizontally) for smaller strips, for this dish I simply long-cut the cabbage, as is a more common practice.)
2.) Grate (using the largest grate size) the carrots and combine with the cabbage in the mixing bowl.
3.) Add the salt, sugar, and optional caraway & black peppercorns. (Or weigh the veggies now to determine how much salt to add.) If you are adding the cranberries, do so after Step 4 below.
4.) Massage all the ingredients vigorously for 5+ minutes until there is juice liberally flowing from the cabbage. (However, you don’t need to overdo it.)
5.) If adding cranberries, mix them into the veggie mix now and transfer the mix into the jar, packing firmly as you go.
6.) Once everything is firmly packed down, place the large cabbage leaf over everything and tuck it down until it stays firmly in place. In addition or alternately you may use a weight, but be careful about the brine being within a couple inches of the jar mouth, as brine will continue to release and build up. (As needed, remove some excess brine at the top with a spoon.)
Ferment time: 3-5 days.
When serving, you can add some oil, ~1-2 tsp per cup of kraut, and fresh finely diced or sliced onion. You can add salt to taste if desired.
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We have my late mother-in-law’s ancient kraut cutter, which I treasure. She was an excellent cook, and I could sit and eat her kraut right from the jar. Just give me a fork!
One thing she did that I’ve not seen anyone else do, and that was to place a quartered, unpeeled apple midway up the jar. Before sealing and adding the salt, she also placed one tiny red cayenne pepper on top.
Thank you for the excellent recipes–I just found the site tonight. I have to ask you–did you advise people to always use hard water (not from your softener) for best results, and to also always use canning salt instead of iodized. Some small tips from an older cook.
Thanks for the comments. Yes, I always advise additive-free salt and distilled or filtered water. Thanks!