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Simple 2-Ingredient Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe

2-ingredient Homemade Sauerkraut elizabeth rider

If you haven’t ever made your own homemade sauerkraut, then you’re totally missing out.

It’s simple, inexpensive, delicious, and full of health benefits.

This is an entry-level homemade sauerkraut recipe to introduce you to the world of at-home fermentation. It makes enough to fill about 1/2 of a large (quart) mason jar and just takes 3-4 days to ferment. It’s a good way to dip your toes into the process to see what it’s all about.

You’ll get to enjoy the tasty recipe at the end and reap the health benefits of the probiotics in naturally fermented food. Plus, you’ll get the satisfaction for making your own super-charged, gut-friendly, sauerkraut at home. Win-win-win.

Fermentation is a natural process that preserves food. It’s been used for thousands of years and was the primary way of preserving food before the refrigerator came along. The biggest added benefit to eating fermented foods in modern times is that the fermentation process creates a multitude of gut-friendly probiotics.

Probiotics balance your gut microbiome, which can improve your immune system, help your skin glow, and even help you maintain a healthy weight.

Fermenting cabbage relies on a natural process called lacto-fermentation. The cabbage ferments from the naturally occurring Lactobacillus bacteria that live on the leaves once it’s submerged in it’s own brining liquid. The liquid creates an anaerobic (no oxygen) environment that allows the fermentation to occur. #ScienceIsFun

This is not your momma’s canned sauerkraut from the 70’s (ew!). Somewhere along the way big food companies figured out that they could replace the tangy taste of real fermented foods (dill pickles, sauerkraut, etc.) by adding vinegar and canning it. This is not a fermented food and has no health benefits. Stick to the real fermented stuff, it will always be in the refrigerated section of your store if you choose to buy it instead of make it.

Back to your simple 2-ingredient homemade sauerkraut.

A few notes on making homemade sauerkraut:

1. In general, the smaller the batch the shorter time it will take to ferment, and the larger the batch the longer it will take. We’re starting off here with about 1/2 head of a small to medium cabbage, so it should take about 3-4 days at room temperature.

2. This is the most basic recipe ever— it’s just cabbage and salt. Caraway is a traditional flavor in sauerkraut—you can add one teaspoon of caraway seeds when you add the salt if desired. You can even add other spices and other veggies, too. That sends us well on our way to making homemade kimchi and I don’t want to overwhelm you, so we’ll talk about that later in another post. For now, let’s just stick with cabbage and salt.

3. Look for an organic cabbage, if possible, to keep the pesticides out of your homemade sauerkraut. I use the brand Real Salt sea salt.

If the organic cabbage at your store is pricey, ask the produce staff to cut it in half for you—I do this almost every time I buy cabbage. Cabbage is dense and shredding it creates a LOT of food, so you only need about 2 pounds to make this, depending on how you prepare it. When items are sold by the pound, they are happy to sell you half. You can choose any variety you’d like, or a mix of varieties for a really pretty sauerkraut. One part purple cabbage, one part green cabbage, and one part napa cabbage makes for a really beautiful color and texture in your sauerkraut (it all tastes the same).

One thing: don’t buy pre-shredded cabbage—you need the lactobacillus bacteria that’s living on the inner leaves. Most pre-shredded has been washed and/or irradiated. All store-bought produce in the US is irradiated (even organic), but only the outer leaves will be hit on a full head of cabbage. This is another reason to shop at your local farmers’ market!

4. I gave you a lot of notes here but this is actually really simple and will take you less than 10 minutes to pull a batch of it together once you get the hang of it.This is a great “science experiment” to do with your kids every few weeks. Store it in the fridge and let them help you pick recipes and dishes that will complement your sauerkraut.

This recipe is also really simple for people who want to be healthy but don’t have a ton of time for complicated recipes. And, it’s budget friendly. I admit that I love to buy fancy fermented sauerkraut in the refrigerated section of the natural grocery stores, but they run upwards of $10. Making your own is cheap and easy.

Here’s what my last batch looked like while it was fermenting; I used a box grater to shred the cabbage:

Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe Elizabeth Rider

Simple 2-Ingredient Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe

Makes one small batch, about 1/2 a quart

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 of a small to medium head of cabbage
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt

You’ll need a clean cutting board, knife or box grater, mixing bowl, wide-mouth mason jar, cheese cloth or other cloth, and lid for your jar.

Step 1: Clean

Wash your mason jar, tools and hands thoroughly with natural soap and hot water. When fermenting you want to give the healthy bacteria a good clean environment to thrive in, and prevent mold. I usually pour boiling water into and over the Mason jar after I wash it with soap to kill off any potential lingering bacteria.

Step 2: Prepare

Cut your cabbage into quarters, leaving the root end attached (this just makes it easier to chop or shred. Discard the outermost layers, then save a few of the next outermost layers to weigh the cabbage down in the jar.  Do not wash the cabbage—you’re relying on the natural healthy bacteria that lives on the leaves for the fermentation process.

Step 3: Shred

Choose your preferred texture. Thinly slice each cabbage quarter into ribbons, or shred it on a box grater for a finer sauerkraut. Same with the other tools, if you use the box grater make sure it’s very clean.

Step 4: Mix & Massage

Add the shredded cabbage to a large mixing bowl and cover with salt. Using clean hands, massage the salt into the cabbage for about 30 seconds. It will start to release more liquid. Let it sit for about 3-5 minutes to allow the salt to draw more liquid from the cabbage. Massage again another 30 seconds. It will be very liquid-y, which is good! This liquid is your fermenting brine.

Step 5: Fill the Jar

Add the shredded cabbage and all of the liquid/brine to your Mason jar. Use the back of a clean wooden spoon to tamp down the cabbage. It should be fully submerged in the brining liquid. There shouldn’t be a lot of excess liquid, but the top of the cabbage should be fully submerged. It can take 4-5 hours for enough liquid to extract out of the cabbage and cover it. Just be sure that the shredded cabbage is covered 4-5 hours after you put it in the jar. Keep using the back of your wooden spoon to push it down if needed. Place a few of the reserved cabbage leaves on top of the shredded cabbage to weigh it down.

*If it’s not submerged yet that’s ok, give it an hour or two to sit. If in an hour or so it’s not submerged, add additional brine 1 tablespoon at a time. To make the additional brine, combine 1/4 cup water with 1/4 teaspoon sea salt. You won’t need a lot of this, but can add a little to bring the brine just above the cabbage. This is not common to have to do, but I wanted to teach it to you in the off chance your brine does not cover your cabbage.

Step 6: Cover

Cover the jar with cheesecloth or another loose, clean cloth and use a rubber band or kitchen twine to secure it. This allows airflow into the jar and prevents dust or bugs from landing in it.

Step 7: Ferment

Let it sit out at room temperature for 3-7 days. The longer it sits the more fermented and tangy it will get. In the warmer summer months 3-4 days is perfect at my house, in winter I let it sit 5-6 days. Keep it at room temperature out of direct sunlight as the direct sunlight might overheat it. I let mine sit in the pantry or the back of the counter. Within about 24 hours you’ll start to see little bubbles forming, that’s the lacto-fermentation in action.

Step 8: Refrigerate

Once it’s fermented to your liking, Cover with a tight-fitting lid and store it in the refrigerator up to two weeks.

Homemade Sauerkraut Q&A:

How will I know it’s done?
It will taste like sauerkraut! It will be pleasantly tangy and delicious.

What do you put this on? How do I serve it?
I love it alone, and it’s also good in salads, on a sandwich, burger, or just about anyplace you’d use pickles or something tangy. Never underestimate the power of tangy to amp up the flavor of your food. And probiotics are always a plus.

What if there aren’t any bubbles and it’s not tangy?
It probably didn’t ferment. You may have not had enough salt, your cabbage was not organic and/or irradiated, or it’s the middle of winter and it’s just too cold in your house. (This hardly ever happens, in fact, I haven’t ever had this happen in my kitchen. I just threw this in as it’s a possibility.)

What if I see mold?
Throw it away.

What should I do with the leftover liquid (brine?) after I eat all of my sauerkraut?
The leftover brine is full of probiotics. You can drink it or whisk it with some olive oil for a tasty salad dressing.

I love fermenting now, how to do I make bigger batches?
Awesome! Get a fermentation crock and have at it. Here is a good post about using a fermentation crock. Grab the book The Art of Fermentation, too, for even more ideas and instructions.

Happy fermenting!

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