Seeking sauerkraut: home fermentation

Sauerkraut was traditionally made in the autumn to prepare for the winter in Eastern Europe as cabbage is freshest and sweetest at the end of Autumn. Given that, it’s not surprising that it ended up on my family’s Thanksgiving table in the United States. It’s a recipe that’s credited to the Kaestners, and that’s no surprise, several recently immigrated German families married in Baltimore in the 19th century. I imagine sauerkraut was the obvious choice when they started to celebrate the quintessential American holiday sandwiched between Autumn and Winter- a celebration of abundance right as the leanness of winter sets in. The branch of my family that came from Dresden in East Germany likely brought our distinctive, Bohemian recipe that pairs the sour vegetable with brown sugar and bacon. It recalls of the tradition of eating pork and sauerkraut at the new year to bring good luck, and for myself and my family, this recipe says “We’re here. We made it another year and our sauerkraut is still the same as ever.”

Stay tuned for my final recipe for Kaestner Sauerkraut with Brown Sugar and Bacon.

As a kid I was cajoled by my father into taking just a little, even if I didn’t like it, I ate it because that’s just what we do. In my lifetime, we’ve relied on canned sauerkraut which was always fine but I want to get back to the traditional heart of the dish. It’s easy to ferment your own sauerkraut and I was dying to know what the potential was for this treasured recipe by seasoning with spices as it ferments. So a few weeks before Thanksgiving, just as the cold was really setting in, I bought a head of cabbage and set out to make the perfect kraut for our treasured holiday staple. I purchased two large, stout jars and crossed my fingers that my husband was down with eating a LOT of sauerkraut.

I tried to ferment sauerkraut last year but I ended up tossing the batch out of a combination of fear and sheer lack of confidence. I thought the ferment would take a few weeks, but when I rechecked the recipe and it said it takes at least a month. I was disheartened that my homemade kraut wouldn’t make it to Thanksgiving this year but I charged ahead because A. I had all that damn cabbage and B. I was determined not to be defeated by this project.

 I made the first batch with caraway, the German classic and I added star anise and cinnamon sticks to the second. My hopes are highest for the last batch, I can see some of the star anise seeds pressed up against the side of the jar, it looks like Christmas.

After a few days, I tasted the anise and clove kraut and it tasted right, if not a little mild. After reading further, I’ve learned that the reference I was using that said fermentation should last a month was erring on the very conservative side. After 3 days, your sauerkraut is theoretically ready to go if you want, and you can continue to ferment for a few weeks for a more intense end product.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients
Large green cabbage head (about 1.5 kg)
1.5 tablespoons of course sea or kosher salt
Caraway seed, cloves, anise seeds for flavour.

Cloth, rubber bands and something to weigh the cabbage down with.
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Mixing bowl
2-quart jars

Cut the cabbage in half and slice it as thin as possible. Fill the mixing bowl with cabbage and pour in salt. Start massaging the cabbage and salt. You want to use a lot of force here, the goal is to break down the cabbage and it will become watery and limp. The reason sauerkraut is traditionally made in the autumn is that’s when cabbage is harvested. The fresher your cabbage, the more liquid it will release and the better your sauerkraut will be.

Once the cabbage is limp and watery, transfer it to the jars and press it down. Add your spices inserting them throughout, I just add some between handfuls of cabbage. I can be weighed down with marbles, a small jar, a rock- anything that will ensure the cabbage stays under the brine to maintain an anaerobic environment.

Check your cabbage for the first three days, if you don’t see enough brine, pour in a tablespoon of lemon juice. Avoid using bring as it can result in brown, mushy kraut and the lemon shouldn’t be particularly detectable in your finished product.

Update:

I wasn’t vigilant and found that my first jar (the batch with the caraway seeds) was brine-less and had grown a fuzzy white mold. I threw it out. Check out this great Sauerkraut troubleshooting guide if you have issues with your fermentation.

 

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Cafe Sugar Mama

We made the most wonderful discovery today- Cafe Sugar Mama is a little cafe down by the Main River south of Konstablerwache. It was packed when we walked in around 130 today, but we vied for a seat and had a perfectly charming lunch. The savoury food is interesting and original, but all surprisingly good. There were three homemade daily soups and two salads along with quiche, and sandwiches. The best part was the prices- barely anything is more than 5 euros which is excellent.

We indulged in the desserts, which are not gluten-free, or healthful (try What the Food for that), but were stellar and SO worth the splurge! I had a quiche with leeks, bacon, peppers and onions and Ben had bacon, apple, corn, frischkase, lettuce on excellent bread. I know it sounds weird but trust me it was so good I was shocked. They rotate the desserts, but today I had a chocolate chunk cookie with candied peanuts and white chocolate drizzle on top.

Get thee to Cafe Sugar Mama! I see they also do cocktails and wine- will definitely be back for more.

 

Autumn in Frankfurt and Kale Chips!

Kale, beautiful kale. In the United States it is available year round and you can get nacho kale chips at Trader Joe’s anytime. I took this beautiful veggie for granted until I came to Germany and realized that most vegetables are truly seasonal in Europe and kale is exclusively an autumn veggie.

So, this weekend when I stopped by the Saturday market at Konstablerwache and saw Grünkohl advertised at my favourite organic veggie stand I was over the moon.

Today, I come to you with a simple recipe for kale chips and some glimpses of life in late September in Frankfurt- spoilers, its gorgeous!

Kale Chips are so easy to make this hardly counts as a recipe but here are the steps to making a healthy, autumnal snack.

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First- trim the stems off the kale and cut into nice chop sized pieces.
Toss them in olive oil and sea salt and whatever seasonings you like- I use cayenne and onion powder.

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Bake at 300f or 150 c for 8-10 minutes. Check at 8 minutes for crispness and go up from there- then enjoy!

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Perfect with pear cider and Gilmore Girls.

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Yummmm

So, now that you know how to make these here are some of the shots I took of the market at Konsti, and a cheeky shot of my outfit.

Traditional Hummus

So, I learned the hard way you never leave bone broth unattended. The other week, I figured I could run to the gym while my broth slowly cooked and returned to some (surprisingly friendly) German firemen in my apartment. The result has been an unusable, black tar covered kitchen and lots and lots of takeout.

So, inaugurating the kitchen after Ben cleaned it has been really slow.

After eating out all week I was craving some comfort food, which for me means Levantine classics and the easiest to whip up is hummus!

All you need are chickpeas (soak and boil them yourself or get canned) I use 1-2 cans depending on how much I want.

Tahini, roasted or white. I like roasted but it’s all dependent on what you like. I don’t even measure it out, I just keep adding it ’til it tastes the way I want. Start with a table spoon and go from there.

Ice cold water, just fill a glass and pour it into the food processor.

Olive oil, I put in a couple tablespoons for the texture.

Lemon juice, again start with a tablespoon and add more to taste.

All of this goes into a food processor and I highly recommend you add little bits at a time until it tastes right for you!

When it’s done, I drizzle olive oil over it and sprinkle some Za’atar that I brought from Nablus and I swear I’ve been transported back.

So, maybe try this (non) recipe this week! It’s cheap, it’s easy and you basically can’t get it wrong.

What do you add to your hummus? Tell me in the comments!

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Cauliflower Shrimp and Grits: Sunday Suppers

Growing up, my family always ate dinner together, and no dinner was quite like Sunday. We lived in the developing world and almost always had someone to help make weeknight meals but on Sunday night my mother or father would make dinner for us. Sunday dinners became a tradition as I became an adult and we met around my parent’s table in Washington DC with my uncles and all our dogs. Now that I’m overseas I still treasure Sunday nights as the time when my boyfriend and I can unwind with a glass of wine and get ready for the week ahead.

I had this recipe in my mind all week, I scribbled the idea and tweaked it all week long. The result was a dish that felt warm and hearty and perfect for the cool late summer weather we’ve been having here in Frankfurt.

Onto the recipe!

Cauliflower Shrimp and Grits

Serves 2

What you need-

1/2 head of Cauliflower

20-ish small shrimp or 6-7 large prawns

1 lemon

1/2 cup Bone broth or stock

1/4 cup Almond milk

1 cup Gouda (optional)

1 yellow onion

Cooking fat of your choice – I used coconut oil for the shrimp and ghee for the rest.

1 head of garlic

 Spices for the shrimp:

1/4 tsp oregano

1tbs fresh oregano

1/4 tsp thyme

1/2 tsp cayenne (or more if you like it hot)

1/2 tsp onion powder

Juice & zest from 1 lemon

3 garlic cloves, minced.

Take your cauliflower and chop it into florets, put them in the food processor and pulse until they are the texture of rough grits.

In a pan, saute the minced onion in the cooking fat of your choice- I love butter or ghee for the flavours here.

Mix the shrimp spices and shrimp in a bowl and set aside to marinate. Shrimp needs very little time to marinate so there’s no need to do this ahead of time.

Add cauliflower, broth, almond milk, minced garlic and cheese to the pan when the onions are translucent. Cover and stir occasionally for about 10 minutes, until the flavours are well developed. For me, it’s key that there be very little residual cauliflower taste since I don’t love the flavour.

Once the “grits” are done, take them off the heat and move the shrimp to a small pan to saute. It should take about 3-4 minutes maximum- you don’t want overdone shrimp.

Serve the shrimp over the grits in individual bowls and enjoy!

We had ours with a really nice skin contact Halbtrocken Spatburgunder from the Rheingau- which you can get easily if you live in Germany- you might need to search if you are overseas, though.

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