In vegetable fermentation, vegetables are submerged in liquid (called ‘brine’), creating an environment that is free of oxygen. This favours the growth of lactic acid bacteria (the good guys) and stops the growth of pathogenic bacteria and molds. What surprises most people is that lactic acid bacteria is found naturally on all plants and you won’t actually have to purchase or add any specific starters.
The key though is to use good quality organic vegetables grown in good soils. If they're really dirty, a quick rinse in filtered (non-chlorinated) water is okay but if you wash them too much you'll actually remove the lactic acid bacteria, which we need.
Before making this recipe I highly recommend reading Part II: Fermented Foods - Everything You Need To Know to get a bit more of an understanding of how vegetable fermentation works.
Salt helps pull water out of the vegetables, limits which bacteria can grow, keeps veggies crunchier and slows fermentation (which extends preservation). Using salt generally creates a tastier ferment with a nicer texture. Some recipes call for a lot of salt (like kimchi) and others just a bit (like sauerkraut) but if you have an issue with salt you can adjust. It's important to use unbleached sea salt and make sure there are no other preserving agents.
Use only filtered water to ferment. As we discussed in pt. 1 & pt. 2, chlorine is an antimicrobial so it will kill the bacteria and inhibit fermentation. If you don’t have a water filter you can boil it and then leave it uncovered on the stove to cool which allows the chlorine to evaporate. Just make sure the water is at room temperature as any heat will harm the bacteria!
Below you'll find a recipe for simple sauerkraut with some extra liver-support thanks to the beets. The beets also add a natural sweetness which I love. Just keep in mind this one is messy so make sure you're wearing clothes you don't mind getting dirty and are doing it in an area you can easily clean!
Once you've mastered one recipe go ahead and experiment with whatever vegetables you like.
Fermentation time: 1-4 weeks or longer if desired.
NOTE: Try to pick a room temperature or warmer place. You can leave the kraut to ferment in a cooler place, it will just be a slower ferment (which may be what you want).
Check regularly! During the first 24 hours, it’s helpful to check it every few hours and keep pushing down on the weight to help more water to release. In the first few days, you may see bubbling as the CO2 is being released, this is normal. You may need to add some brine (water with salt, roughly ½ tbsp salt per cup of water) if too much liquid has evaporated and the veggies on top are being exposed to air. You may also see a scum/slime forming on top, this is normal, just spoon it off and remove your weight and give it a rinse before replacing. If there are any floating veggies that have been exposed to air, discard them too. Remember - the key to fermentation is that the veggies are in an oxygen-free environment, so they need to be submerged in brine.
After a week, begin tasting your kraut. Some of us like really soft, tangy krauts, others like crunchy krauts. When it’s fermented to your liking, top with a lid and store in your fridge. You can also transfer to smaller jars just make sure the vegetables are also submerged in brine. If liquid evaporates, add more brine to keep it submerged. It will keep for 6 months or more.
Fun fact! Have you ever heard of a ‘gut shot’? This is actually leftover brine which can be enjoyed as a digestive tonic or used as the vinegar in salad dressings. It can also serve as a starter for other ferments.
*While most of this information is something I've picked up through Nutrition studies, there was a ton I didn't know. I attended an amazing workshop held by For The Love of Body in Toronto where I learned a lot of great information about fermentation. A lot of the tips I've included here are from that workshop and made a huge difference compared to other things I read online. If you live in the area and are interesting in taking a class, I definitely recommend their workshops!