Fermented Raw Red Cabbage (Kraut-chi)
This recipe came about as I was desperate for a sandwich. That desperation then turned into wanting the perfect sandwich, or one as close to what I was craving as possible. I was in the mood for tempeh, marinated in tamari and charred to perfection on our griddle plate. More importantly the tempeh had to be topped with kimchi. The raw and unpasturised brand that we regularly purchase was not available, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Originally I was going to make quick pickled red cabbage which could be eaten almost immediately and with which I could satiate my kimchi-yearning. As I was researching recipes and consulting with the fermentation bible, The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz, I decided to yield the urgency for immediate pickled-cabbage gratification and to see whether or not I could hold out for a few days. Instead of the instant pickled red cabbage I would make what I was really after, a raw red cabbage fermentation, or what Katz appropriately calls kraut-chi.
The texture, flavour and awesome nutritional profile of red cabbage led me to it, and because I was so inspired by the flavours of a Korean kimchi, I offered a very subtle nod in that direction and decided to ferment the cabbage with some chilli, ginger and garlic. The only other ingredient - other than patience and a house that smelled like vinegar - was salt.
I cannot recommend this recipe enough. It is simple to prepare and works just as it is or can be explored further by including other flavour combinations. Replace the garlic and ginger with juniper berries, cumin or peppercorn? Go for it. Add other vegetables such as beetroot, carrot or turnip? Chuck them in! The combinations could be endless. For now though we are quite happy with this five ingredient option.
Other than chopping the veg, the process is pretty much labour-free. The only concern that I want to draw attention to is the salt content. I used 1tbsp of salt which is not a lot, but for any little people or those with sodium restrictions, I would reconsider the amount used. The salt is only really needed for flavour and the less you use, the longer the kraut-chi will take to develop. You can get to pretty much the same flavour with less salt and more time.
There isn’t any need for fancy equipment, but you will want to use a sharp knife, and a jar with a lid that is large enough to contain your cabbage. Cabbages come in different sizes and densities, just make sure that it fits into your jar with enough space at the top (roughly 2cm) between cabbage and lid. A wider mouthed jar is better as this will allow you to have better access to the contents especially when you need to resubmerge any stray veg back into the liquid. I used the ubiquitous Kilner jar, it has a two piece lid so that when it is left only partly closed, the top of the lid can rise with any internal pressure.
I was very happy to read that Sandor Katz is not overly enthusiastic about sterilisation, because I was not about to go beyond washing the jar that I was going to use. The fermentation process is like a stinky bubble bath, its where all the action takes place, and it gets jiggy with bacterias hangin' out and multiplying, so the more the merrier. You can eat this on day one or later, but for best flavour I recommend waiting until at least day three. The flavour acquires depth the longer you leave it, but it is delicious at any point, even after just a few hours.
A word of caution: your house will bear the tell-tale fragrance of fermenting cabbage as this goes on - don't let it put you off, but keep opening the windows.
- 1 head of red cabbage
- 1 tbsp non-iodised sea salt
- 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tbsp ground chilli (optional)
- Quarter the cabbage in vertical slices and remove the core.
- Slice the cabbage as thinly as possible and place in a colander or sieve.
- Add the salt one pinch at a time mixing it into the cabbage. Gently massage the cabbage as you do this to tenderise it.
- Place the colander onto a large enough bowl so that all liquid that is released from the cabbage is kept.
- Let the cabbage rest in the colander for a few hours, longer also works and can speed up the fermentation process. A weight can be added to help release liquid from the cabbage, simply place a plate over the cabbage and top with a can of beans or a pint of water.
- When ready to put the cabbage into a jar, peel the ginger and slice into thin rings. Peel the garlic and lightly bruise with the flat of your knife.
- Pack the cabbage along with the garlic and ginger into the jar. It needs to be packed tightly, to do this I use the bottom end of a rolling pin or a similar implement and carefully bash it. Top up with the liquid leached from the cabbage and make sure that the veg is submerged. It may look like there is not enough liquid and that the liquid is not above the veg, this is not cause for immediate concern. The cabbage will release more liquid as it ferments, so if after 24 hours the veg is still not submerged then it can be topped up with some filtered water and a pinch of salt.
- Place it onto your kitchen counter and wait. For three days if you can (I didn’t, though it was admittedly better on day three) and up to a week and then place in the fridge, where it will continue to ferment, but at a much slower rate.
- Meanwhile, it is very important that the jar is opened at least every twelve hours to release the gases that build up as the vegetables ferment. It can be sealed tightly after the first few days of frolicky action.