Sauerkraut 2.0: Red Cabbage with Bay and Fennel
A fermentation follow-up to my caraway sauerkraut. Red cabbage instead of green, fennel seeds instead of caraway, with a couple dried bay leaves slipped in for contrast.
Again, it couldn’t be simpler — shred the cabbage, massage in some salt, mix in the herbs, transfer to a jar. In as few as two to three days later, sauerkraut! And this updated version, well, just look how lovely. Fantastic flavor, and blood-red in time for the spooky fun holiday in less than two weeks.
Cabbage is generally among the cheapest produce, and because it’s nearly peak season, they’re at their best now in terms of flavor, nutritional quality, and may be even less expensive.
Hop back to the original post for a more thorough description of the fermentation process (+ snag that recipe), but here’s a quick primer: Through the process of lacto-fermentation, healthy, friendly bacteria like Lactobacillus convert the cabbage’s natural sugars into lactic acid, thus creating the characteristic tang and preservability of your delicious, delicious homemade sauerkraut!
What’s in it for me?
In addition to the formation of lactic acid, a natural preservative, fermentation also promotes growth of probiotics, this conversion also increases the bio-availability of vitamins, minerals and enzymes found in the cabbage, which simply means that these nutrients are more readily absorbed and utilized by our bodies. Fermented foods are extraordinarily rich sources of probiotics, beneficial gut bacteria, which help the digestive system run smoothly, enhance the immune system, and further improve our body’s ability to utilize nutrients in foods we eat. (To benefit most from these probiotic benefits, it’s preferable to add sauerkraut and other fermented foods at the end of cooking.)
At roughly 20 calories per 1 cup (raw), red cabbage provides no fat or cholesterol, about 1 g of protein, 2 g fiber, 5 g total carbohydrate, a fair amount of folate, and is an excellent source of vitamins C and K. Red cabbage along with other cruciferous veg are rich in a group of phytochemicals called glucosinolates that, when broken down either by chopping or chewing, produce isothiocyanate compounds with anti-carcinogenic properties.
The purple-y red pigment of red onion and red cabbage indicate the presence of two more antioxidant phytochemicals — anthocyanins and lycopene — both of which play a role in decreasing cancerous tumor growth and inflammation, therefore offering protection from heart diseases and certain cancers. Newer studies are providing evidence that eating green leafy vegetables and other foods rich in vitamin K,* as well as lutein and beta-carotene, like cabbage, can protect against loss of memory and other cognitive abilities as we age.
The seed of a fennel (anise) plant — a member of the carrot family — fennel seeds offer a small amount of fiber and manganese, as well as a mild anise-like fragrance and flavor, in addition to beneficial phytonutrients. Some research suggests the seed’s high antioxidant content provides some antifungal properties, and, in addition to the fiber, may improve digestive function. Fennel seeds are said to help freshen breath and stimulate digestion, and are often used by nursing mothers as a galactogogue thanks to phytoestrogens that stimulate lactation.
While you won’t actually eat the bay leaves in this recipe, some of their healthy benefits may transfer to the sauerkraut during fermentation. Bay leaves, made famous in the “crowns” of Greek gods and Olympians, been used around the world for centuries to aid in digestion and gut health, boost appetite, and reduce congestion and flatulence. This warm, woodsy herb contains essential oils like eucalyptol that provide antibacterial and antifungal properties, and researchers are looking at it for the potential to regulate blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
Tuck inside warm tortillas or pitas, top burgers, sandwiches, pizza or socca flatbread, toss into stir-fries or pastas after cooking, or sidle it up to grilled meats, poultry, or seafood. Alternatively, serve it as a meatless main with tempeh or tofu, roasted seeds or nuts, on rye toast with garlicky yogurt or cheese, or beans, lentils, chana dal. Don’t like fennel seeds or bay? Try cumin, coriander, nigella, or anise seeds; mint, basil, sage, tarragon, or any other fresh herb leaves; or even citrus zest, smashed garlic clove, or dried red chilli flakes.
Sauerkraut — notably homemade — packs in the colors and flavors, freshness, a good bite, and as you read, so many nutrients. I hope you get the chance to try this or the original recipe. Mayhaps both? Have knife (or food processor or box grater), will kraut!
Tell me… How do you think of sauerkraut: a zingy condiment or more like a tangy salad?
- 1 medium head red cabbage (about 3 pounds), cut into 8 small wedges, core pieces cut out and discarded
- 1 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt
- 1 Tbsp fennel seeds
- 2 small fresh or dried bay leaves
- Remove and discard the outer layers of the cabbage. With a large knife, cut the cabbage into 8 small wedges, and trim the core out from each. Discard the core. Turn each piece onto a flat side, then make very thin crosswise slices to yield fine shreds. Alternatively, you could (carefully!) employ a box grater, or run the wedges through a food processor fitted with a shredder disc attachment.
- Transfer the shredded cabbage to a large clean bowl and add the salt. With very clean hands massage and squeeze the cabbage -- this helps the salt begin to work its magic. After 5 to 10 minutes you will notice the cabbage is wilty and liquid is gathering in the bottom of the bowl. At this time, add the fennel seeds and stir briefly to incorporate.
- Stuff the cabbage into a very clean 2-quart resealable jar (or 2, 1-quart jars), and press down with a wooden spoon or muddler. Pour any liquid from the bottom of the bowl on top, leaving 1/2 to 1 inch of head space at the top of the jar(s), and stick the bay leaves down along the side(s).
- Cover the mouth of the jar(s) with a clean kitchen towel, or piece of cheesecloth or kitchen muslin secured in place with a rubber band or twine. This allows the cabbage to breathe. Let the jar ferment on the counter for 24 hours. (Optional, but not necessary: Press down on the cabbage every so often during this 24 hour rest to aid in release of liquid and help compact the cabbage.) If the cabbage is not well-submerged after its initial rest, dissolve 1 tsp kosher salt in 1 cup of cool water, and add enough of it to submerge the cabbage.
- Keep the jar at room temperature in a place away from direct sunlight and drafts for 1 to 2 weeks. Ideally the temperature should remain between 65° to 75° F -- keep in mind that if your house stays warm, the fermentation process will take less time. Continue to check the brine level during this time, pressing down on the top if the cabbage is not submerged.
- Commence taste-testing daily around day 5. When you are pleased with the taste, seal the jar with its lid and move it into the refrigerator. (See HGN Notes for "Things you may notice while fermenting.")
- At this point, you can open and enjoy, or leave the sealed jar(s) for an additional 2 to 3 weeks for a truly tangy kraut. Being a fermented product, it will keep refrigerated for at least 2 to 3 months. As long as it still tastes and smells good to eat, it will be.
THINGS YOU MAY NOTICE DURING FERMENTING
+ Bubbles coming up along the sides of the jar, or a foam/white scum on the top -- not appetizing (the latter at least), but normal. In fact, these indicate that your sauerkraut is in a blissful state of fermentation. Simply skim the foam/scum off either during the fermentation process or before refrigerating.
+ Mold -- again, not appetizing, but possible. Skim as much of the mold off as soon as you see it, and ensure the cabbage is fully submerged in its brine. Prior to eating, discard the bits close to the surface; the sauerkraut below is fine to eat.
+ Other colors and types of cabbage a great kraut will make! Try Napa, Savoy, regular green and others, or combine for a multi-colored/multi-textured sauerkraut.
+ Try other interesting seeds in place of the fennel, such as anise (similar to fennel but more licorice-y), caraway, coriander, nigella, brown or black mustard, or cumin.
Recipe adapted from Nourishing Time.
*Note: High intake of vitamin K-containing foods is not recommended if you take blood-thinners, as it can decrease the drug’s effectiveness. Additionally, while there is only a small amount of caraway in this recipe, be aware that caraway may decrease blood sugar, which can be an issue if you take blood sugar-lowering medications for diabetes. If you take any of these medications and have questions or concerns about drug-nutrient interactions, please consult your physician.
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