Hot Pink Jalapeno Garlic Kraut is, perhaps, my favorite of the many fermented foods we make at home – though homemade root beer and true sour pickles are close runners-up. Vibrant in both flavor and color, the sauerkraut also packs a bit of heat that mellows with time and brings a solid punch of pure salty-sour flavor you’d come to expect from any good quality ferment.
Ferments sustain us through winter. In the summer and autumn, our garden and CSA boxes overflow with good things to eat: heirloom tomatoes, unusual greens, peppers, kohlrabi, baby artichokes, fingerling potatoes, herbs, sweet potatoes, beans, cucumbers. But, as with anything, it doesn’t last. The garden dies off mid-September (yes, we have a 60-day growing season), but our CSA continues through the first few weeks of December.
My husband and I preserve everything we can. We dry quite a bit, including greens for Super Green Veggie Powder and fruit for snacks we take on the road. I can a little bit, usually when the fermentation crocks and dehydrator are full, and make Spiced Peach Butter every chance I get. But, for the most part, we ferment.
Vegetables, Salt and Time
A good ferment requires very little: just vegetables, salt and time. And while it seems desperately complicated, it’s not – as students of the Get Cultured! online fermentation class quickly learn. Rather, the biggest hurdle most newcomers to real food face is that of trust: trust in themselves, trust in tradition, trust in food and trust in bacteria.
In the face of uncertainty, many newcomers to real food fall prey to fear-based tactics and myths that lead some to believe there’s only one right way to do things: the right jar, the right starter (or the refusal of starter), the right time, the right temperature. And, in the end, the only right way to cook or ferment or do just about anything is the way that works for you – the way that keeps you happy and motivated and fearless and on the trek forward.
Fermentation is a magical, transformative process. And, for that reason, fermentation is the aspect of traditional foods that appeals to me most. Over time, bacteria eat away at the carbohydrates found in vegetables – like cabbage and garlic and jalapenos in this Hot Pink Jalapeno Garlic Sauerkraut. As the carbohydrates are eaten away, acids are produced and also vitamins, too. As a result, the food is richer in nutrition when it comes out of the crock than it is when it goes in.
Choosing a Fermentation Crock
In addition to vegetables, salt and time, you also need something to ferment your foods in – a crock of some sort. The real key to safe, and delicious, fermented foods is to make sure that the vegetables you’re fermenting remain submerged in brine, and ideally in an anaerobic environment though lactobacillus bacteria are not obligate anaerobes; that is, they can and will proliferate with or without air.
When just beginning to ferment foods, most people opt to use plain glass jars or open crocks – which is a fine and effective way to begin fermentation, as long as your fermenting vegetables remain submerged in brine and you lift any bloom or film that appears on the brine’s surface. After time, or after discovering resplendent beauty of fermented foods, many fermenters eventually progress to airlocked devices like specialized stoneware crocks or glass jars equipped with airlocks. These crocks – engineered specifically for fermentation – help to prevent the formation of molds while maintaining ideal conditions for fermentation. They often come with weights which help to make sure that the sauerkraut or other vegetables you’re fermenting remain completely submerged in liquid which is (more or less) the only rule to follow during fermentation.
Where to Find (or How to Make) A Fermentation Crock for your Sauerkraut
I tend to favor my stalwart stoneware fermentation crocks (you can find them online), not only because they’re ideally suited for fermentation (and we ferment A LOT), but also because they’re remarkably beautiful. Other people favor glass jars equipped with airlocks however they still fail from time to time. Alternatively, you can learn how to turn a mason jar into an airlocked fermentation jar.
- 3½ pounds red cabbage, (shredded)
- 3 cloves garlic, (minced)
- 4 medium jalapeno peppers, (sliced thin)
- 1 tablespoon unrefined sea salt
- Wearing gloves to protect your hands from the volatile oils of the peppers, toss the cabbage, garlic, jalapenos and sea salt into a large mixing bowl. Knead the vegetables together by hand for 5 minutes until they begin to release their juices. Allow the shredded vegetables to rest a further 5 minutes, then return for 5 more minutes of kneading.
- Layer the salted vegetables into a quart-sized fermentation jar or crock (find a crock online), and pack tightly until the brine created by the vegetable juice and salt completely submerges the shredded cabbage and peppers. Weigh down the vegetables with a glass weight sterilized stone or other heavy item small enough to fit within your crock, close and ferment at room temperature.
- Taste after about 3 weeks and continue to ferment if the sauerkraut hasn't achieved the level of tartness you prefer. Transfer to cold storage when sour enough for your liking and use within 9 months.