How to Make Homemade (Bulgarian) Sauerkraut

I live with a family of Bulgarians. They are wonderful friends of ours that bring old world traditions into modern day society. Now that gut-health, fermented foods and DIY home projects are popular, I thought I would share what I believe to be the best sauerkraut recipe ever!

But before I divulge the “Old Country” secrets of sauerkraut success, I want to share some of the health benefits of eating sauerkraut on a regular basis.

1. Homemade is always better. Period. There is no denying that. I feel like over the last several months, every time I walk into the grocery store, I am seeing something being pulled for possible salmonella contamination or E. coli bacteria traces. Sorry, but I like knowing who has touched my food, what was used to clean the counters last and when the last time the handles on the faucets and refrigerator doors have been sanitized. Control freak? Nah, just information hungry! Knowledge is power!

2. If you don’t eat any other vegetable, eat cabbage! Cabbage helps lower cholesterol, provides excellent fiber, contains high levels of vitamin c and k and is part of the cruciferous family. That means it has some major immune boosting qualities, including helping your body keep cancer away!

3. The water from the sauerkraut juice is amazing. I might be a weirdo, but I love drinking it. I have liver problems and I can tell that on days that I drink it, my liver feels better. Also, just the other day, I decided to go for a run in some 89 degree sunny weather! However, upon my return, I kept feeling like I was about to black out. I naturally have very low blood pressure, to the point where nurses always look up at me with a worried look on their face after that doo-hickie goes “shoooooo,” letting out that air out that just squeezed my blood down to my hands, making me look like I have “The Hulk” veins! I mean they get scared, especially the new ones…”Are you normally that low?” They ask! I always nod, with a Tom Selleck-like grin, assuring them that my heart is still pumping! Anyways, knowing I am prone to low blood pressure,when I get dizzy after runs, (I ran for years in college) I know that salt always helps. I drank a full glass of sauerkraut water after my run to replenish electrolytes and voila… no more dizzy spells!

4. Sauerkraut provides excellent gut loving bacteria. Our guts are in bad shape today! Fermented foods are a great way to get our guts the proper bacteria they need in order to work properly. When your gut flora is in balance, the nutrients in our foods are absorbed easier, our bodies can digest food with more ease and that means that if our bodies don’t have to work as hard, then we have more energy for other things. like say, our kids or exercise, or better sleep quality!

OK! Now that I have fully convinced you to eat sauerkraut (you must be convinced or you wouldn’t still be reading this! =)

Here is the recipe! (I highly recommend doing this during the winter since the temperature needed is about 62 degrees F.)

This is what you’ll need:

2 five-gallon food grade buckets with lids, washed well, NOT with antibacterial soap

8 heads of organic cabbage (four red, four green)

7 liters of water (I know it’s liters, but if you have the large 8 cup Pampered Chef measuring bowl, you can easily measure this out!)

200 grams of sea salt (Do not, I repeat do not use Celtic sea salt, Himalayan salt or any other salt that is iodized. For best results we use Hain Sea salt as pictured below.) For fermenting anything, the more processed the salt (or sugar) is, the easier fermenting can go about its business!

20150609_151157First, peel off all the outer, dry layers of leaves. Make sure your wash your cabbage well, too. Fermenting is a delicate process and we don’t want any unwanted visitors!

OK! On your mark, get set, CHOP!

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Take those eight heads of cabbage and slice them into fours, cross-ways. If you have particularly larger heads of cabbage, I would slice them into 6 slices, but you want the slices even or else they won’t ferment at the same pace. You want your slices about 2-3 inches wide, cutting the core out as well. Think “wedge salad” at Outback! That is about the size you want these hummers!

Next, layer them into the bucket, like so. You want to have the green and the red cabbage evenly distributed throughout the bucket, like this:

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OOPS! I found some black stuff on my cabbage… yeah cut that off!

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After your bucket is full of nicely sliced, tightly packed wedges of cabbage, measure out 6 out of your 7 liters of water and pour them into the bucket.(Make sure your lid will still seal ,of course. If you have some cabbage left over, don’t worry we will talk about what to do with it, depending on how much is left!)

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(Gotta love Pampered Chef for this wonderful measuring bowl/cup!)

You have poured 6 liters into the bucket of cabbage, so at this point, you should only have one more liter of water to pour. This is when you add the salt.

Pour one liter into your measuring device and measure out your salt. I measured mine on a scale like this

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The rule of thumb for this recipe is that you want 30 grams of salt per liter of water. 30 grams equals roughly, a heaping ounce of salt. (One ounce equals 28 grams.) I use a plastic snack baggie so that I don’t have to really calibrate the scale for the weight distribution of the salt-holding container, since plastic snack baggies are just about weightless.

Next, I pour this into the water 1 liter of water I have left to pour and stir.

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After the salt is dissolved well into the water, I pour this into my full bucket of sauerkraut. Lastly, I place a dish on top to keep all the cabbage submerged in the salt water. This dish will be very important later. Make sure its not one of your favorites because the cabbage will stain the edges.

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Then I cover and let sit in a cool room (the coldest in your home) for about tw0- three days. After three days, you take that second bucket (remember when I said you needed two?) and use it to transfer your water.

And your counters should look like this when your done chopping!

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That dish comes in handy as a strainer to help keep the contents of the bucket in the bucket, while letting the water pour out. You want to pour this water in and out of the bucket with the cabbage three times so that the water gets well mixed and distributed throughout the bucket as seen below:

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After about two weeks of doing this water transfer every other day (or everyday if its summer), taste the water. If it tastes nice a sauerkraut-y (yes, that is the technical term for this) then you have sauerkraut.

NOTE: Any time you handle the cabbage or use any utensils or plates, wash, wash, wash! Wash your hands, wash your plates, wash your buckets… but not with antibacterial soap because residues will remain and guess what? It will kill off the bacteria that you WANT! I wash with plant based soaps and hot water, personally.

Like all fermentation processes, Sauerkraut has a very temperamental attitude toward temperature. In the summer, you must, I repeat you must have a cold area in your home in order to achieve the desired outcome and not waste a bunch of money on cabbage. The temperature should be between 65 and 72 degrees F, which is pretty cold for AC.

Also, if you have too much cabbage like I did, we put some in mason jars to ferment … however this is a bit different process and needs much more attention. Comment below if you would like to know how to put into mason jars

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Now, I know many have their recipes down to a science (with labs and everything) but honestly, I trust a culture that has been doing it for hundreds if not a thousand or so years! I guess its the European in me, nostalgic of the stories I heard about how my mom in the 50’s was cured of whooping cough with eucalyptus trees my grandparents would burn the leaves in her room for her to inhale and take her to the eucalyptus trees in Portugal. Stories of my mom eating a macro diet in the early 60’s, drinking parsley and carrot juice because my mom was so sick with appendicitis. Yes, these were the treatments and the cures in much of Europe and many still use them today.  My Portuguese grandmother is 94 and doesn’t take one pill. Not even one. That is health. The health thing that is all the rage right now here, isn’t a fad for me, its the lifestyle, culture and mindset I was brought up with.

Happy Fermenting!!! =)

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