The yields and jars indicated below are guidelines. Sometimes the cabbage will give off a lot more juice and shrink considerably, other times, it shrinks somewhat but not much. I don’t recommend using Savoy or Napa cabbages for this – while the fermentation will be the same, the texture and crunch will be very different from regular, green cabbage. In Russia, that’s what we were working with, and if you go to any Russian deli, you will see the Russian sauerkraut made only with regular cabbage. Often, Russians will add a handful of cranberries or a grated apple to their sauerkraut in the beginning—in my own family the cranberries (or in Russia we used lingonberries) were very popular. I prefer the minimalist version myself—and this is the version I give you below. Of course, please feel free to modify this according to your taste.
Sauerkraut is present at every Russian gathering and sit down dinner, along with other delicious zakuski (bites). The closest thing I can compare it to is banchan in Korean cuisine: where you have a series of small plates like kimchi to accompany the main meal. Sometimes, my grandmother dresses up her sauerkraut with a spoonful of unrefined sunflower oil, but most often we serve it as is in a nice bowl with a large spoon. And in the dead of winter, we make this cabbage soup swapping out half of the fresh cabbage with homemade sauerkraut. The end result is a deep, flavorful, brothy soup that is unlike any other.
1 head green cabbage (about 4 1/2 pounds), shredded (about 14 cups), with 1 large cabbage leaf reserved
4 large carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
3 tablespoons (25 grams) kosher salt
1 teaspoon (4 grams) granulated sugar
1. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage with the carrots. Add the salt and sugar and toss to combine thoroughly, almost massaging the salt and sugar into the vegetables. Make sure the seasonings are evenly distributed. Let stand 1 hour.
2. Transfer the vegetables and the accumulated juices to 2-gallon jar with a wide mouth or a nonreactive container. Cover the vegetables with the reserved cabbage leaf. You may need to trim the leaf and discard the thicker, less flexible part. Place a small saucer on top of the leaf and place a can of beans (or a can filled with water; something with a weight). The cabbage should be completely submerged in the liquid. If it is not, add just enough water so that it is.
3. Place a double layer of clean, wet cheesecloth over the jar (with the weight on top) and secure it with a rubber band. Transfer the jar to a well-ventilated area around 65oF for 4 days. Every day, during those 4 days, remove and rinse out the cheesecloth, clean any scum that might form on the cabbage leaf. You might see some bubbles and what looks to be like light foam, wipe that off as well. Using a wooden skewer (a chopstick is perfect), pierce the sauerkraut in a few places to release the gases. Return the leaf, saucer, weight, and the cheesecloth over the jar and secure with a rubber band once more. Store, without disturbing, for an additional 6 at 65F or somewhere slightly cooler (a basement or a garage, if you have it. Transfer the cabbage to clean jars and refrigerate for up to 3 months.
Makes 2 quarts.