Хороша закуска квашена капустка!
И подать не стыдно, и сожрут – не жалко!
Sour cabbage is the best health salvage!
No shame to dish up one, no pity when all gone!
The English name for fermented cabbage is borrowed from German where it means literally “sour herb” or “sour cabbage”. It is believed that the earliest records of people eating fermented cabbage come from ancient China, where it is known as Suan Cai (or Suan Tsai). Many sources claim Suan Cai was consumed by those who built the Great Wall 2,000 years ago. About 1,000 years later, fermented cabbage was brought to Europe and became a staple food in Eastern-European an German cuisines. In every language the name means the same — sour cabbage.
There are many sources in English with step-by-step instructions for making fermented cabbage at home. Almost all of them don’t pay attention to cabbage varieties as if knowing how to choose the right cabbage for fermenting is a common knowledge. Apparently, it is not. In addition, in Southern states we mostly have only green salad cabbage available. Even though it is white under outer green leaves, green cabbage is less juicy and sweet. It becomes grayish and looks less appetizing when fermented. The only cabbage to ferment is white, large, firm, and slightly flat winter cabbage. In Austin, look for it in MT Supermarket and other Asian produce stores. It is more expensive, but worse every penny.
There are 4 easy steps to make fermented cabbage: 1) shred, 2) mix with salt, 3) pack into a jar, 4) wait for 3 days (72F room temperature). Many sources describe the second step as something that requires manual efforts. Is that true?
The main goal of this step is to distribute salt equally in shredded cabbage and draw water out of it. Salty cabbage juices are the brine in which the cabbage can ferment without spoiling. Just like for cole slaw, finely shredded juicy cabbage needs neither “working the salt into it,” nor “massaging” and “squeezing” when prepped for fermentation. Love — which is gentle tossing — is all it needs. That’s what keeps it pleasantly crunchy when ready to eat.
Sweeteners. Here in Texas, I feel very lucky when I get a cabbage with enough natural sugars in it. Most of the time I add some brown sugar, agave syrup, or honey.
Carrots. Carrots used to be an additional source of sugars too, but nowadays sugary carrots are as rare as good cabbage. They still improve the color of final product by adding warm hades of orange. Don’t skip them.
Spices. Here you can play with flavors of European cuisines. Germans add caraway seeds and juniper berries. Slavic cuisines often use black pepper, cloves, and bay leaf. It is also common to add cranberries and apples to the mix. Some recipes suggest sprinkling spices all over cabbage, but I insist on packing them into a tea bags and placing between layers of cabbage. I don’t like removing spices from my meal during eating.
I half or quarter cabbage first and then use mandoline as the most efficient tool. Stainless steel canister is my preferred jar for fermenting cabbage. On the top of the cabbage, I place a small plate upside down and a glass jar filled with water as a weight.