Romanian Sauerkraut(Varza Murata)... and a Peppery Sauerkraut Salad. Sometimes I feel the need to post recipes that aren't the "norm". Recipes that I make without relying on cookbooks or other means of online inspiration. As I am getting older, I realize that I tend to crave dishes that I once grew up with.... more so than before. Dishes that were the norm in our home. And just recently I thought of a salad I loved. The only thing was that it involved a homemade version of sauerkraut. Knew I needed to make it...
I've been meaning to post a recipe for sauerkraut for SUCH a long time... so this was the perfect opportunity. And when I say sauerkraut, I mean the Romanian version of sauerkraut, not the "normal" sauerkraut. The Romanian version uses a "wet" brine (water + salt)... different than the "dry" brine(salt only) that's normally used in sauerkraut making. And while many may not recommend a wet brine to be used when making sauerkraut, I find it works for me.
In reality this method has worked for many others, including my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, and so on. It's the way us Romanians have "pickled" cabbage for generations... and continue to do so to this day. Our version of sauerkarut is also a bit different in that we ferment the cabbage as a whole(sometimes the head of cabbage is cut in half or quarters so that it would fit in the container). But we do not shred the cabbage before fermenting it, as you would normally with a dry brine. It's mainly because we use the cabbage leaves to make the well known Romanian sarmale(or stuffed cabbage rolls),... so the outer leaves need to stay intact.
I am not going to go into the specific scientific methods that are used to properly ferment cabbage. Nor am I going to write about the health benefits associated with eating sauerkraut. There are plenty of articles online that do that... My purpose is to share how I make my version of a "wet" brine sauerkraut. I'll share the methods I apply... and the method I found that works best for me.
I've also included a sauerkraut salad that both my husband and I grew up with.... the one I mentioned above. It was a salad I always looked forward to.... probably one of my favorite winter salads. While the outer leaves of the sauerkraut were used to make sarmale, the inner part of the cabbage would be shredded to make the salad I am sharing today. The sauerkraut salad accompanies most Romanian stews, but can also be used next to some sausage and beans... also works very well next to a portion of mashed potatoes and some sort of pan-fried meat. And instead of making a "sweet" version of cabbage and sausages(varza cu carnati), some or all of the fresh, raw cabbage can be substituted with sauerkraut.
In any case, this is how I make my sauerkraut(or varza murata).... yields a nice crunchy texture. We simply love it. Hope you enjoy...
Note: Optimum temperature for storage while cabbage ferments should be about 65-70 degF, give or take a few degrees. You don't want the temperature to be too cold or too hot.... it will not ferment right/or spoil.
Sauerkraut is done when it tastes like sauerkraut... But a good general rule to go by is that it takes about 4 weeks for cabbage to fully ferment at a 70 deg F storage... less if temp. is higher, and longer if temp. is lower.
~Salinity of brine should be between 2.5-3.5%...now I think mine is somewhere in between there:)... but it's best to keep it close to 3.5% salinity, as it yields sauerkraut that has good flavor and firm leaves. But here is a good chart you can follow depending on how much brine you need.
(Example: To make a 16 cup brine solution at 3.5% salinity, use 133 grams salt)
~ It is important to use a non-iodized salt, as iodine prevents the bacterial fermentation to occur that is needed to make sauerkraut.
~All cabbage must be kept submerged in the brine at all times...or you will have mold and spoilage. You can place thin wooden sticks(or thick dill stems), a plate with a weight, or a food grade freezer bag filled with a brine solution, to hold down the cabbage.
~ Foaming and frothing(bubbles) can be expected during the first week of fermentation. If you add the brine all the way to the top of the glass container, it may bubble over. You may want to place something underneath to catch it.
~ After the fermentation is complete, I transfer the container in my cold garage( benefit of living in MT), but you can place the cabbage in the fridge.
Homemade Sauerkraut(Varza Murata)
You will need:
~ A wide-mouth large glass container with lid~
3-4 medium whole cabbage heads, cored
16 cups water
1/2 cup(120 grams) Morton's kosher salt(do not use table salt)
2 bay leaves
bunch of fresh dill/stems
5-6 garlic cloves, cut in half
1-2 TBS whole peppercorns
1. Heat water until it's hot but not boiling... and add salt. Stir to dissolve. Set aside.
2. Wash and clean glass container with boiling water. Rinse.
3. Cut the core from cabbage and remove any outer leaves that are too "disheveled":)... some cabbages may need to be cut in half or even quarters to fit inside the glass container. I cut all mine in half.
4. Place the cabbage inside container and add seasonings: garlic, bay leaves, dill, and peppercorns.
5. Pour brine over the cabbage, leaving an inch or so of space on top. Place a weight( or use wooden sticks/hard dill stems) to keep the cabbage submerged.
6. Cover with lid and allow to ferment at a 65-70 Deg F temp. for about 4 weeks. During the first few days, I use a 1/2 inch plastic tube that I place inside the container.... reaches the bottom. I then blow some air through the tube so as to circulate the brine throughout.... it's what my parents did, and so I do the same:). Sort of keeps the brine and seasoning mixed well inside.
Peppery Sauerkraut Salad... a favorite of mine!
Tip: While freshly sliced onions aren't normally used, I sometimes do use a bit. I tend to use a fresh sweet onion as it's a bit milder.
You will need:
1/2 head of sauerkraut cabbage
1/4 cup olive oil, or to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. Shred cabbage by using a knife to cut thin strips.
2. Add oil and pepper... I use quite a bit of pepper, but taste and adjust to preference. The same goes with the oil.