I just got back from family dinner at the Tonti/Rezmovic house. My first chili of the year with homemade schug, story time with the kids, some guitar playing, and homemade chocolate chip cookies have left me in a pretty darn good mood.
Mat and Julie are colleagues and friends, but what I really want from them is there pickling know-how from living on a farm for a while. In this guest post, Mat makes sauerkraut with help from some little cuties.
There are few thrills for me greater than creating good food. Add to that the magic of sharing the experience with my daughters May and Hami, and you’ve got an rollicking good time. In this instance we made sauerkraut. It works as a project on so many levels. Firstly, it’s easy. It involves a clean jar, a head of cabbage, and some salt. Secondly, the main actions to prepare the cabbage involve slicing it into ribbons, and then smashing the b’jebus out of it with a mortar and pestle. This action extracts the water nestled in its cellular walls. I will admit that I do not let my daughters do the slicing, but when it comes to the smashing I let them have at it. The amazing thing is that what we’re really doing is creating a habitat of salt water for certain bacteria to dwell, in this case it’s Lactobacillus. Essentially, we are inviting the Lactobacilli to colonize the jar, and start feasting on the cabbage. By ingesting and then excreting, the lactobacilli are essentially helping us in two ways. The bacteria breaks down the hard-for-humans-to-digest cell walls of the plant, and through its excretions it is actually helping preserve the cabbage, i.e. pickling it. It is no wonder that so many popular Ashkenazi foods are in fact pickled. It speaks to the historical fact that many of the countries in which my ancestors lived had short growing seasons and long winters. In order to preserve the foods that were grown in the ground, the best strategy was (and may still be ) to pickle them. That way, they could enjoy their carrots, beets, and cabbage all year round. And from generation to generation we carry on the tradition by enjoying them as well.
Sauerkraut goes quickly in our house. While it is a challenge to get my girls to eat vegetables (OY!), they always willingly maw down some kraut, especially when they’ve had a hand in making it. And that brings me to my next point. Sauerkraut is DELICIOUS! After three or four days of sitting out, the lactobacilli have really had their way, and the distinct flavor of the pickling comes out, but you could wait even longer than that. How much crunch versus how much pickle you want is a matter of personal taste. One thing to note is that it doesn’t take a huge amount of salt to create a good sauerkraut. I don’t have a fast number or ratio, but I’d suggest paying attention to how much salt you use the first time and playing around with the amount you use from batch to batch.
Finally, I’ll let you in on a family favorite use of the kraut: the veggie reuben. Good sliced bread, a nice spread, like Dijon mustard, fried tempeh, a slice of good cheese, (cheddar is always a favorite), and sauerkraut. Assemble the sandwich, and then fry both sides of the bread using butter. TO DIE FOR! Or, as my youngest would say: Yummmmm.