I am still enamored with weekly vegetable deliveries, and bok choy is delicious. Really. It’s great. So is it a bad sign that I began to tire ever so slightly of bok choy by week 3 of CSA deliveries? It was week 2 of failing to split the delivery with my share-sharer, and I had a lot of veggies to consume. I contemplated finding a way to put them up for the winter, but I’m pretty sure lettuce does not freeze well, and I suspect that even bok choy would lend itself to mushiness if frozen. And so I turned to kraut.
I thought about making kimchi, which seemed like a more natural fit for the taste and texture of bok choy, but, as much as I enjoy it when I have it, I imagined that a jar of the stuff would wind up sitting in my refrigerator for a very long time indeed. A friend had brought some gnarly little horseradish roots over from his father’s garden a while back, and I had some fermented garlic from awesome Amish farmers in the fridge, so spicy kraut seemed like the way to go. Besides, I am going away this weekend to a land of hot dogs and hamburgers (mine will be veggie), and I figured that kraut would be a welcome addition. Here’s what I did:
Started with a massive bunch of bok choy, which I washed and coarsely chopped.
Mixed my greens with grated horseradish, chopped whey-fermented garlic, a little fresh garlic (because I cannot resist), and a little too much salt. Salt keeps nasty spoiler micro-organisms at bay during the fermentation process. It was a hot and swampy day when I was assembling my kraut, and I erred on the side of too much salt. At least my stuff’s not spoiling!
Tossed the greens and their fixings into a jar and smashed them around with my (well scrubbed) hands. In addition to reducing spoilage, the salt helps draw moisture out of the greens, creating a nice brine. It’s important to keep everything submerged in brine during the fermentation process. Otherwise, things can get slimy and unpleasant.
I hope to have a pickling crock one day, but, in the meantime, fermentation takes place in jars in this household. I had some whey kicking around from making cream cheese, so I added it to the brine. Whey is both cultured and acidic, a combination gives fermentation projects a little boost. To keep everything submerged, I weighed the bok choy down with a ziplock bag filled with salty water. The idea here is that leakage will not affect the salt content of the brine.
I made a little coffee filter hat for my kraut and put it in a dark spot for a few days. I checked it after a few days, and the smell was just like that of good dill pickles. It smelled…well…pickly, and very garlicky to boot. It tastes briny and garlicky and sour, with a bok choy edge. The horseradish is muted, if there at all, but I anticipated as much. Horseradish maintains its kick best in cooler conditions, but I thought I may as well give it a whirl. No harm, right?
The kraut is just a tad saltier than I would have liked, and there’s a chance I prefer the texture of good old grated cabbage (my last batch of kraut was plain old cabbage with garlic and caraway seeds, a tough act to follow), but the bok choy kraut is decent for sure, and I can only hope that my fellow fourth-of-July-ers will deign to slop some on a sandwich and give it a whirl. I’ll let you know how it goes.
In the meantime, if you’d like to whip up some sauerkraut of your own, here are all my tricks:
- If you are not lucky enough to have a pickling crock, keep your fermentables submerged in brine by filling a ziplock with saltwater and placing it on top of your brined veggies. I like to put the empty bag in the top of the jar and fill it once it’s inside. Less messy that way, and easier to finagle.
- Though all you need for sauerkraut is salty brine, whey can help give it a boost. I think the easiest way to get whey, assuming you do not have a jug of it in the fridge, is to strain store bought yogurt. Make sure your yogurt contains live active cultures (it will say as much on the tub). You can get cheesecloth or muslin involved, but the cleanest way to strain yogurt is to pour it into a basket style coffee filter set inside a strainer. Leave it sitting over a bowl in the fridge for several hours, and you will wind up with a bowl of whey and a strainer full of incredibly rich and creamy yogurt, sometimes called Greek style, always delicious.
- I like to top my jars with coffee filters. They are clean and easy and on hand and let the whole thing breathe. A piece of clean cloth would do just as well, but I think it’s worth investing $2 or so in a box of basket style coffee filters. They are great for straining all kinds of stuff and for capping kombucha, sauerkraut, kvass, really anything you wish to ferment in a jar.
- If your stuff gets a little scumminess on the top of the brine while it’s fermenting, skim it off. If the scumminess is pervasive, or if anything in your jar turns vibrant and unnatural colors, toss it. Odds are in favor of your fermentation going just fine, and common sense definitely applies.
- There is a great book on fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz. I waited quite a while to get it from the library some time ago, and I was pleased as punch to realize, when I begrudgingly returned it, that it is available in limited, but amazingly navigable form on google books. He says more than I ever could about fermentation — krauts, sourdoughs, honey wine, you name it. Take a look! He also has a website with useful information and troubleshooting Q&A.