Pointed Cabbage & Fennel Sauerkraut

It’s that time of year when we have cabbages coming out of our ears. Sauerkraut is a really simple and safe way to not only preserve, but to also enhance the nutritional value of these humble vegetables. It just so happens that we have a bumper crop of fennel too so we’ve been making my favourite fennel and cabbage kraut on repeat, and you can too! All you need is a big glass jar, a smaller jar or glass that fits inside it, salt, cabbage and fennel.

Don’t be intimidated by the science behind fermentation. It can feel a little counter-intuitive to encourage microbes to thrive and multiply, but microbes are an essential part of us and part of a healthy world. We would not be here without them, and we certainly wouldn’t be able to grow our organic vegetables without them making our soil healthy and teaming with life. Eating fermented vegetables like this sauerkraut is scientifically proven to boost your gut health, which has a positive knock on effect to your overall health and wellbeing.

Sauerkraut is very simple. Just mix shredded cabbage (and fennel too in this recipe) with enough salt to make it pleasantly salty, pack it tightly into a clean jar and weigh it down so that the vegetables stay safely submerged in brine. Allow fermentation to happen at room temperature for about a week, then remove the weight and pop your jar of tangy, pickley goodness into the fridge to have as a side or sandwich filler to many meals over the coming months.

Liz x

Ingredients

Method

  1. Find some large jars and give them a really good clean and a hot rinse. You can sterilise if you like but it is not strictly necessary.
  2. Give your vegetables a rinse to remove any dirt. Carefully peel off and reserve a couple of outer leaves of your cabbage.
  3. Finely shred your remaining cabbage and the fennel bulbs using a sharp knife, a mandolin or a food processor. Place the shredded vegetables into a large, clean mixing bowl.
  4. Sprinkle over the salt then use your hands to tumble the salt through the shredded vegetables. Once it is evenly dispersed, start squeezing and massaging the salt with the shredded vegetables.
  5. You will soon notice that the salt is drawing liquid out of the vegetables and the vegetables are decreasing in volume. Taste a spoon of the mixture and decide if you would like to add more salt or not. It should just taste pleasantly salty.
  6. The mixture is ready to pack into the jar when it is very wet. You can test this by picking up a large handful and squeezing. There should be loads of lovely brine dripping from your hands into the bowl.
  7. Pack the mixture very firmly into the jar. It’s best to do this a couple of handfuls at a time so that you can push down each layer nice and tight. You want to ensure that no air pockets are in the jar. Use your fist if it fits in the jar, otherwise a clean rolling pin is perfect for poking and packing down the mixture.
  8. Keep going until you have used all the mixture or until you have at least an inch of headroom left in the jar. You don’t want to overfill it! But do include the brine that the salt has drawn from the vegetables. The more brine the better!
  9. Now grab those outer leaves you reserved earlier. Break them to size, they should be just bigger than the surface area of the packed cabbage and fennel mixture. Tuck a leaf carefully into a jar and push it neatly over the shredded veg mixture but under the brine. The aim is to prevent any little bits of shredded veg from floating up to the surface of the brine and catching mould. The brine should rise above the cabbage leaf and all the shredded bits should be safely tucked underneath it. You may be able to push the edges of the cabbage leaf down against the sides of the jar to really tuck the mixture in. Try use a spoon or your fingers.
  10. Pick off any floating bits of shredded vegetables and clean up your jar with a piece of kitchen paper or a clean tea towel. Then add a weight to weigh down the cabbage leaf which will keep everything safely submerged in brine. You can use anything that will be food safe and not be affected by the salt. So a smaller glass jar filled with water is good – just ensure the metal side does not touch the salty brine or it can corrode. Another good option is to use a small water glass or glass ramekin. If it fits right, putting the lid on the jar should pin the glass down and keep everything submerged.
  11. Put the lid on the jar. If you are using a clip-top jar, remove the rubber seal first, this will allow gases to escape during fermentation and there will be non need to ‘burp’ your jars. If you are using a screw top jar you will need to ‘burp’ your jar twice a day by carefully loosening then tightening the lid. You should hear the gases escape and see bubbles rising to the top of the ferment.
  12. Keep the jar on a plate or tray to catch any spills, at room temperature for 1 week. Not in direct sunlight. It’s best to ‘burp’ over the sink in case you have a very active ferment. It should be very active and bubbly between days 2 and 4/5 then it will calm down. If the action of the bubbles causes your ferment to rise above the brine, just use a clean hand or utensil to push everything back down under brine and carry on.
  13. After a week your sauerkraut should be tangy and delicious. Remove the weight and the cabbage leaf. Replace the rubber seal if using a clip top jar, put the lid back on and place the jar in the fridge.
  14. Your sauerkraut should stay fresh in the fridge for at least 3 months but often up to 1 year! To make it last well, do not double dip and move into smaller, clean jars as you work your way down the big jar. This means less air in the jar and less chance of it drying out and getting susceptible to mould.
The just-packed jar before I removed the floating bits of cabbage and fennel. You can just about see the cabbage leaf and glass which is holding the bulk of the shredded veg under brine.
The finished product after a week of fermenting at room temperature.

Pak Choi Kimchi

Like all fermented vegetables, kimchi is incredibly good for you. Luckily it’s mind-blowingly delicious too…and very easy to make yourself. I’ve made it with pak choi, seaweed and little radishes this time but you can play around with the ingredients and make it your own. Use local, seasonal vegetables for the best results. Here’s my quick tutorial video so you can see how easy it is to make yourself. Loads more fermenting inspiration in my book which is available to add to your veg order here. Any questions? Pop a comment down below and I’ll get back to you asap. Liz x

Ingredients

  • 2 large pak choi
  • 2 bundles of radishes
  • 1 handful of dried seaweed
  • 1 tbsp natural salt
  • 3 fresh chillies (or dried to taste)
  • 1 thumb of fresh ginger
  • 6 cloves of garlic

Method

Gather and rinse your ingredients. Find a large jar, a chopping board, a sharp knife, a spoon, a rolling pin, a blender, a mixing bowl and a small jar or glass that fits snugly inside your large jar. Ensure all your equipment is nice and clean – no need to sterilise.

Reserve an outer leaf or two from your pak choi. These will be used as ‘followers’ at the end of the recipe.

Slice the rest of the pak choi into bite sized pieces and put them in the large bowl.

Thinly slice the radishes and add them to the bowl too.

Rinse and slice the seaweed too (if you are using nori, no need to rinse first) and add it to the bowl.

Add the salt to the bowl and use your hands to tumble the ingredients and evenly disperse the salt. Sit the bowl to one side to give the salt time to dissolve and start drawing brine out of the vegetables.

Meanwhile make the spice paste. Take the green stalks off the chillies and roughly chop them. Put them in a blender. Peel and chop the ginger and add that to the blender too. Peel the garlic and then blend the 3 ingredients together into a bright space paste.

Taste the salted vegetables and add more salt if needed. They should taste pleasantly salty and should now look wet and wilted. If they are too salty, add some more vegetables eg grated carrot or another pak choi.

Mix the spice paste through the salted vegetables. Be careful not to get any on your bare skin. Wear gloves or use a spoon.

Then pack the mixture carefully and firmly into the large jar. Use the rolling pin to tamp down each new layer to ensure no air pockets are left in the jar. Leave at least an inch or two of head room in the jar.

Now cover the chopped vegetables with the ‘followers’ (the leaves you reserved earlier). Tuck everything neatly in under the brine. Use the spoon to help tuck the leaves down the sides of the jar and ensure no little floaty bits are above the brine.

Weigh down the ‘followers’ with a small glass/jar/ramekin. See the video above for more details.

Then close the jar – if you are using a clip top jar, remove the rubber seal to allow gases to escape, otherwise just close a regular jar loosely or remember to ‘burp’ the jar every day to allow gases to escape by briefly opening and closing it.

Put the jar on a tray or in a bowl to catch any overspill and set it on a dark shelf to ferment at room temperature for at least one week. Keep an eye on it. Does it need burping? If so, do it over the sink! Have the gases caused the veg to rise up above the brine? If so push the weight down to expel and air bubbles and get everything neatly under brine again.

After one week at room temperature, taste your kimchi. It should be tangy, spicy and delicious. If you are happy with the tang-level, remove the weight and pop the jar in the fridge. It should last well for at least one month, if not many more.

*Tips to make your fermented food last longer in the fridge: No double dipping! Consider transferring the ferment to smaller jars before refrigerating.

Fermented Onions

Fermented onions are pickled onions funky cousin. They are much easier to make than the traditional pickled onion and taste amazing. And as an added bonus, like all fermented vegetables, they are incredibly good for you! I use these beautiful, tangy onions on loads of dishes, from dals to tacos. How will you use yours? Liz x

A quick video tutorial for you.

Ingredients

  • onions (a mix of red and white or just one or the other)
  • natural salt
  • optional herbs/spices (eg bay leaf, peppercorns, coriander and mustard seeds, juniper berries, thyme, rosemary, chilli… anything you like)
  • a cabbage leaf (or something similar)

Method

Gather your ingredients and a clean jar, knife, measuring jug, measuring spoons and chopping board. There is no need to sterilise, but do make sure everything you are working with is nice and clean and well rinsed.

Make a basic brine in your measuring jug and put it aside to fully dissolve while you prepare the jar of vegetables. ***The basic brine recipe is 1.5 tbsp salt dissolved in 1 litre of water.*** If you are making just a small jar then halve or quarter the recipe.

Add a pinch of whatever pickling spices or herbs you’d like to flavour your pickled onions with to the jar.

Then peel and slice your onions and add them to the jar. Red onions, or a mix of red and white, will give you beautiful, bright pink fermented onions. Plain white are delicious too of course. Leave about an inch of head room in the jar.

Then pour the brine into the jar ensuring you cover the onions when they are pressed down, but still leave a little head space in the jar.

Pin the chopped onions down under the brine with the cabbage leaf. You may need to break it to size. Try and tuck it neatly under the shoulders of the jar so that everything is safely tucked under brine. Any floating bits of onion will be exposed to air and are at risk of going mouldy so tuck them under the cabbage leaf ‘follower’.

Add a weight on top of the cabbage leaf if it looks like it will float up over the brine. This needs to be something that is not corrosive when in contact with salt and water. Glass is ideal in this situation so a smaller jar or a glass ramekin is perfect. Otherwise you can buy specialist glass weights for this purpose.

Place the lid loosely on the jar to allow gases to escape during fermentation. If your lid does not fit over the weight, then cover the jar with a tea towel and secure it with string/elastic.

Put the jar in a bowl or on a tray on a shelf for one week to ferment at room temperature. It’s best not in direct sunlight as that would cause too many fluctuations in temperature.

Taste the onions after 1 week. They should taste vinegary and delicious, a lot like pickled onions. If you are happy with the flavour, remove the weight and follower and keep the jar in the fridge. Otherwise let it carry on fermenting at room temperature until you are happy with the flavour.

The onions should last for a long time in the fridge, at least a month but usually much much longer. Just keep an eye on them and no double dipping! Enjoy!

Sauerkraut

A red and white cabbage, apple, caraway and bay kraut I made before Christmas 2020.

The Perfect Place to Start your Fermentation Journey

Once you have mastered the basics of sauerkraut, and it really is basic, you can apply these principles and techniques to many other ferments and play around with the ingredients. You can use a variety of cabbages, you can add other vegetables like grated carrot or beetroot, you can use different herbs or spices to create different styles of sauerkraut, you can even suspend whole apples into your crock/jar to ferment along with you sauerkraut as a German friend of mine taught me to do.

My kimchi recipe, which I will share with you soon, uses the same technique as sauerkraut. The difference being the cut of the vegetables and the all important spice paste. My fermented hot sauce uses the same technique too! Brine fermentation also works through the same simple process of lacto-fermentation to acidify the vegetables. Salt + vegetables + a jar is all you need to produce incredible delicious and nutritious ferments.

My fermenting shelf from last summer.

Why Ferment?

I first got hooked on fermenting many years ago when I had a surplus of cabbages delivered to my old cafe from our local farm. There’s only so much cabbage soup and coleslaw you can sell so we decided to try making sauerkraut as a means to preserve them, stop them from going off and being wasted. It was a revelation! We had no idea then about the health benefits, we were just blown away by the taste. Since that day, I bought lots of books on the subject, incorporated ferments into much of our menu and even started a stall in a farmers market called ‘Fermental’ selling fresh, unpasteurised ferments made with local, organic ingredients.

The science and nutritional benefits behind vegetable fermentation are really interesting to read about. There are so many perks to including ferments into your everyday diet. The importance of encouraging and introducing beneficial bacteria into our digestive system is becoming more well known and rather than taking a pill, this is a delicious way to do that. Fermenting vegetables also makes them easier to digest and makes the nutrients in them more readily available, and the organisms that enable fermentation are themselves beneficial too! All of this is good news for your body and your immune system, but its also great news for your taste buds. Fermented food is delicious! Complex, tangy, crunchy, sour and salty.

Is it Safe?

Lacto fermenation is a very safe way of preserving vegetables and it’s very easy too – no need for fancy equipment, all you need is a knife, board, jars, vegetables and salt. It can sound scary dealing with microbes. We have been trained to try to disinfect all surfaces and food from bacteria, moulds and yeasts so perhaps encouraging bacteria to thrive will feel strange at first. But the importance of our microbiome and the diversity of microbes that we need in our guts to be healthy is now becoming common knowledge. For me, as a chef, the main reason I ferment is for flavour, not medicine. The health benefits are just a bonus. And yes, it is perfectly safe as long as you follow some basic principles.

Submerging vegetables in brine protects them from harmful bacteria and allows ‘good’ bacteria to thrive. Lactobacilli, the good guys, are anaerobic, meaning they don’t need oxygen. So by keeping the vegetables neatly submerged in brine we are protecting them from the ‘bad’ bacteria that need oxygen to thrive, thereby taking out the competition for the ‘good’ lactobacilli. Salt in the brine also inhibits yeasts which would break the sugars down in the fruits/veg into alcohol instead of lactic acid. Salt is the perfect preservative for vegetables, but it’s important to get the right amount. Too much will inhibit fermentation and too little will result in a rotting crock/jar. Thankfully its quite simple, your best guide is your tastebuds! Your salted vegetables should just taste pleasantly salty.

Ingredients

  • cabbage
  • optional other vegetables/fruit like leek, swede, carrot, beetroot, celeriac, apple…
  • salt
  • optional herbs/spices like fennel seeds, dill, juniper, caraway, turmeric, pepper…

Method

Prepare a large jar to hold your ferment. Just give it a good wash and a rinse, no need to sterilise. Find and wash a smaller jar which fits neatly into your large jar. This will act as a weight.

Rinse your vegetables and pull off some of the outer leaves of the cabbage and put to one side. These will act as ‘followers’. A ‘follower’ is like a cartouche which neatly holds down any bits of chopped veg under the brine which may float up and become exposed to air.

Shred the cabbage (and any other veg if using) into a large bowl or your biggest pot.

Add extra flavourings to your tase if you like. A few juniper berries, some chopped dill, fennel/caraway seeds, turmeric and black pepper etc… just choose one or two flavours at most.

Massage in about 1 tbsp of natural, fine/flakey sea salt per regular sized cabbage volume. If you are unsure about doing this instinctively, you can weigh the shredded vegetables then work out what 2% of that weight is and add that amount of salt. Once the salt is fully incorporated, taste it and see if it is salty enough. It should just taste pleasantly salty. If its too salty add more vegetables, if it’s not salty enough add more salt. Easy!

Cover the bowl and allow the salt to do some of the work for you for about half an hour. Then give the mixture another good massage and you should see a lot of brine forming. There should be no need to add extra brine or water, the salt draws the water from the vegetables and creates its own delicious brine.

Once your veg is nice and briney, when you squeeze a handful lots of brine comes out, you can start packing it into your jar. Do this carefully and thoroughly. Take one or two large handfuls of the mixture at a time and firmly press them into the bottom of your jar ensuring there are no air pockets.

Keep going until you have used up all the mixture or until you have a good couple of inches left of head room in the jar. If you made a large amount or only have smallish jars then you may need to use a few jars.

Now its time to add your ‘follower’ or cartouche. Get the cabbage leaves you saved earlier, break them to size if you need to, then wedge them into the jar, neatly covering the whole surface area of the ferment. Take your time to carefully tuck the leaf down around the edges of the ferment. Ideally the level of brine will rise above the ‘follower’.

Digitally coloured illustration of a sauerkraut recipe from my book which you can purchase at the farm shop here

Then you need to add a weight to ensure the shredded vegetables stay submerged. The cheapest and easiest weight is simply a smaller jar filled with water. Make sure its nice and clean, no lables left on the outside. And make sure the lid does not come into contact with the brine. Salt and metal react and you don’t want a rusty metal lid sitting in your ferment! So just make sure the smaller jar can’t fall over inside the bigger jar and it should be fine.

Other weights you can use are scrubbed and boiled beach pebbles (make sure they are not chalk/limestone), you could even use a ziplock freezer bag filled with water/stones. You can also buy specially designed fermentation weights of course. made from glass or ceramics – if you really get into fermenting then these are a worthwhile investment.

Then loosely cover the jar to allow the gases produced during fermentation to escape. Use the lid, or if the lid doesn’t fit over your weight then you can cover the jar with a tea towel and secure it with an elastic band or string.

Place the jar on a plate or tray to catch any potential overspill. Then ferment at room temperature, out of direct sunlight for a week or two.

Check on your ferment daily. Push down on the weight to expel any air pockets/bubbles that form during fermentation. Taste it after one week and if it has soured to your liking you can remove the weight and follower and refrigerate it. Otherwise keep fermenting it at room temp for another week or so for a funkier, tangier taste.

Once refrigerated it will keep well for a very long time up to and over a year even, if you look after it. That means no double dipping – you don’t want to introduce new bacteria from your mouth into the jar, scrape down the sides to keep all the veg together – bits that dry out and are exposed to air are more likely to catch mould. Consider transferring your finished ferment into a few smaller jars before refrigerating. This will mean that the ferment is exposed to less air and last longer.

Newly made kraut on the left, and one that has finished fermenting on the right. The purple cabbage will turn into that beautiful crimson colour as it acidifies.

Let me know in the comments or over on our friendly Facebook page if you have any questions or need me to troubleshoot. More fermenting blogs and videos coming soon. Happy fermenting! Liz x