Before we had refrigerators, airplanes, and greenhouses, fresh vegetables were hard to come by in winter. And so our ancestors developed many ways to preserve vegetables for the winter. Even though it is not a necessity anymore, we keep preserving vegetables because we like the flavors.
An important example in Dutch (and other northern European) cuisine is sauerkraut (zuurkool). Cabbage is shredded and salted and put in a container to ferment. The lactobacillus that are naturally present will turn sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid, thus preserving the cabbage and giving sauerkraut its characteristic flavor. Once fermented, it will keep the whole winter in the cellar.
Nowadays we can buy sauerkraut in the supermarket, but it is more fun and more delicious to make it yourself. I had never done so yet, but it turns out to be quite easy. The only ingredients you absolutely need are cabbage and salt. You could add optional herbs and spices (like bay leaves and juniper berries) or white wine. And you could get the fermentation started by adding some buttermilk or yogurt, but that really isn’t necessary.
The cabbage has to be mashed and bruised to get the fermentation going, which was quite a bit of exercise. But it was worth it, as the resulting homemade sauerkraut had a milder and more complex flavor than store-bought sauerkraut.
salt, 15 grams per kilo or 1 teaspoon per pound
Do not wash the cabbage, but simply discard the outermost leaves. Cut the cabbage into quarters.
Cut the quarters into wedges, and remove the tough central trunk.
Slice the cabbage thinly, which is the easiest when using a food processor or a (large) mandolin.
Put a layer of salt in a container, and then a layer of cabbage.
Bash and bruise the cabbage until it is flattened and starts to release liquid. I used a bottle with a flat bottom for this.
Keep going until you have filled the container or used up all the cabbage. Finish with a final layer of salt. I was surprised that all 4 cabbages fit into the single container.
You are supposed to keep bashing the cabbage until enough liquid has formed. I got tired of the bashing after an hour or so, and decided to add some dry white wine instead (riesling would be the most traditional choice).
You are now supposed to put something heavy on top of the cabbage to keep it submerged. The cabbage will only ferment when it is not exposed to oxygen. Since the opening of the container I used wasn’t large enough, I skipped that step and decided to stir the top layer once in a while instead.
Close the container. Keep it at room temperature for some days until the fermentation starts (which you can smell and/or see). Then continue the fermentation in a cooler spot, like a cellar or garage. Keep going until the sauerkraut is to your liking. In my case it took 6 weeks. Check on the sauerkraut every week or so. If any mold appears (which didn’t happen in my case), that is not a problem. Simply skim it off.
You can now take out what you need, and then close the container again. It will keep all winter in the cellar or garage (around 16C/60F).
Sauerkraut can be eaten raw or it can be eaten cooked. You can find a great way to prepare it here.
Truffle risotto is a simple yet decadent dish that is perfect for this season. Just make sure you use real fresh truffle and not chemical truffle oil from a bottle.