Thursday, February 18, 2010

Home-Fermented Sauerkraut

Why the multiple sauerkraut-employing recipes lately? Oh, because we have a bumper crop of homemade sauerkraut! Fermenting sauerkraut is totally easy and will make you feel like an old-timey kitchen rock star.

1 large green cabbage
Kosher salt

First, a note on salt: Sandor Katz's guideline for salt is three tablespoons per five pounds of cabbage. You don't need to worry about hitting that exact amount, though. Just add salt one teaspoon at a time; keep going until it tastes pleasantly salty, like french fries. (If you end up with too-salty kraut, rinse it off before eating.)

Trim away any brown or wilted parts of the cabbage. Slice the leaves and core into fine ribbons. In a large, non-reactive container, sprinkle the cabbage with kosher salt and massage it vigorously. Keep massaging and adding salt until the cabbage has given off a lot of water.

Pack the cabbage and cabbage juice into quart jars (two or more, as needed). Smash down the cabbage well, so that you have at least 1/2 inch of liquid on top. Fill a smaller jar with water and use it to weigh down the cabbage so that no cabbage rises to the surface. Some sauerkraut-makers put all of their cabbage in a large crock and use a plate to weigh down the top. We like the dual jar method because it makes it easy to minimize the surface area and you can see through the glass to tell whether you've got your cabbage fully submerged. Fermentation happens underwater, while mold formation happens on the surface. Therefore, less surface area equals less mold.

Cover the jars with a cloth and place in a dark corner. Once a day, take out the small jar, remove any mold that may have formed on the surface (but don't worry about it too much) and smash down the cabbage as much as you can. (Keep those potentially reactive metal utensils away! Wood or plastic are fine.) Rinse off the small jar and return to its original position.

Depending on the season--summer heat means quicker fermentation--your cabbage will show signs of fermentation in one to three days. You may see tiny bubbles forming or hear a fizzing noise. The kraut will begin to smell sour. Keep giving it daily attention and tasting.

Once it's been bubbling and tasting sour for a whole week, put a lid on the kraut and transfer to the refrigerator. In Ye Olden Times, people left their kraut in the root cellar for months or years, but we like to get ours into the refrigerator while it's young--the kraut stays crunchier that way, and is also a bit less sour.

You can begin to eat the kraut now, or wait for it to get a little more sour. The kraut will keep for a very long time in the fridge.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cilantro-Lime Beet Salad with Cotija

We invented this salad when we needed a potluck dish for a tamale party, hence the Mexican flavorings of lime, cilantro, red onion and cotija. The tang of the quick-pickled onions and cilantro-lime dressing and salty cotija cheese are perfect counterparts to the sweet beets.

Cotija is a hard, salty Mexican cheese; if you can't find it, try ricotta salata (probably not a helpful substitute suggestion if you don't have a bountiful cheese selection in your grocery store!) or feta (which is softer and will have a different flavor, but still delivers the saltiness you're after).

6 large beets
1 small red onion, sliced into thin half-moons
3 limes
1/4 cup packed chopped cilantro (plus some extra for garnish)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 ounces cotija cheese, cubed

Scrub the beets and place in a large saucepan with plenty of water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer 45 minutes to an hour, until beets are very tender when poked with a knife. Drain and cool.

Meanwhile, place the onions in a bowl with the juice of 2 of the limes and a few shakes of salt. Marinate while you boil the beets and make the dressing--they'll be less harsh and slightly pickled when you're ready to add them.

When the beets have cooled down, peel them and chop into 1-inch cubes. To make the dressing, combine the zest and juice of the remaining lime, olive oil, cilantro, cayenne and salt in a food processor and pulse until you have a smooth green mixture. Toss the beets with the dressing and top with the pickled onions (and their juice), cotija and some extra cilantro for garnish.