This recipe is very forgiving. As long as you use 50% cabbage, you can mix and match other vegetables that have been sliced, diced and chopped during a knife skills class. If you have never made kraut, try just (or mostly) cabbage first as it’s the most successful fermenter. This is a beginner method that involves no special equipment. For longer ferments and methods using some seriously fun equipment, please use an internet source. They abound.
Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and discard. Rinse the head. Do not wash the insides; the organisms in the folds of the cabbage start the fermenting process. Shred.
Place cabbage and salt in a large bowl and massage, punch, squeeze and otherwise manipulate it until you can squeeze a handful and juices drip out of it. If it doesn’t give up juices, add a few TBS of water and another 1/2 tsp of salt, no more. Too much salt inhibits fermentation. If you don’t want to add salt, cover it and wait an hour and let the salt pull juices out.
Toss the cabbage with the remaining vegetables and your choice of optional additions, making sure it is at least half cabbage. It will ferment just fine without the sugar water.
Taste. Getting the amount of salt right becomes something you can taste at this stage. It should be pleasantly salty, not overwhelmingly salty.
Pack the mix into wide-mouth one-quart Ball jars. Press each addition until it is compacted, no air pockets allowed. Be sure fluid is covering the vegetables lest it mold. (If it didn’t yield enough brine, you can make a brine of 1 cup boiling water to 1 tsp salt; cool completely and use some to top off the jar.) Leave an inch of head room. This prevents moldering and flowing over.
Set the jar on a plate and leave it in a warm place in the room, like on top of the fridge. For this style of fermenting, don’t screw down the lid, it needs to burp and you will be visiting it each day. For methods using airtight vessels, see this article. In warm weather, the counter is fine.
Each day, take a fork and press down the vegetables to submerge them. By day 2 or 3 it will foam when you press. It may smell odd for a day or two. That’s correct. By day 4, 5 or 6, the foaming dies down. It is ready to have the lid screwed on and sit in the fridge for a couple days more before the taste is nice and sour. Remember, it takes longer in winter than in summer.
(Alternate method: If you want a longer fermentation with more complex development, you can allow the lactofermentation to continue by leaving the kraut out at room temperature for another few weeks. Some of us at Suppers sacrifice a few of the benefits of continuing the fermentation because we love the taste and the crunch of the 5-7 day fermentation. Here is some information for a different method of fermenting if you’re interested in a longer process that allows for the full development of lactofermentation.
Interpretations and Troubleshooting
Icky, limp kraut: Probably you didn’t pack it hard enough and air bubbles allowed the wrong organisms to grow. This is compost and a lesson: Pack the kraut into the jar, really press each handful as it goes in.
It doesn’t taste nice when it’s done fermenting (about day 5): Leave it in the fridge a week. Flavor improves as it matures for a few days in the fridge. Taste again.
Mold forms: 1) Maybe you didn’t press them in enough or keep the vegetables submerged. Once or twice a day, press those veggies down so there is always fluid on top. Most cabbages give up the right amount of fluid. But if you got a dry one, you can add a little brine to the top. 2) Or maybe you didn’t put in enough salt. Lactobacilli love salt (“halophylic” organisms). As they thrive in your brine, they suppress the other organisms. You may want to try an airtight vessel method.
You got frustrated because it didn’t work: Try again. Use just one medium cabbage and 1 TBS salt. Cabbage is the easiest to ferment and carries the rest of the vegetables along. Go back to basics and then move on from there.