Make the most of the season’s produce with the help of chef and food writer, Gill Meller. This month, he champions the humble cabbage and shows us how to turn this economical winter veg into a deliciously simple sauerkraut recipe.
Make the most of seasonal cabbage in this easy sauerkraut recipe below.
Photography: Andrew Montgomery
Cabbage hasn’t got the best reputation. It’s often seen as a rather drab vegetable, only good for boiling and serving on the side of a Sunday roast. I’ll admit, that in the wrong hands it can and does suffer. A lukewarm bowl of washed out, soft, smelly mush isn’t overly appetising, and can be enough to put you off for life. I still remember how sorry I felt for Charlie Bucket and his grandparents in Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. They had to eat cabbage soup every night for supper. I’m sure I, like many other children, listening to this woeful part of the story, could clearly imagine the disappointment of a watery grey broth served up each and every night.
I suppose that was the point, we all realised how lucky we were not to have the same. Broth or no broth, it’s all too easy to overlook how much potential this wonderful brassica has. It’s certainly grown on me over the years and now I hold it in the highest regard. For the seasonal cook, cabbage can be a saving grace. Its hardy demeanour means that in the depths of winter you’ll always have a cabbage to turn to when there’s little else around, and its versatility as a vegetable means there’s no end of ways to prepare it. So this month I’m championing the cabbage as my star ingredient because I believe it deserves a second look.
White, red and green cabbages, like these Savoys, are full of fibre and rich in C and K vitamins
There are several varieties to choose from, each offering their own distinctive characterful differences. They come in white, red and green and are packed full of fibre and rich in vitamins C and K. Last summer I got into barbecuing wedges of cabbage over hot charcoal or a smoky hardwood. The outside takes on a bitter sweet charring, whilst inside they soften delectably. Served with caraway and garlic butter, they are absolutely delicious.
My all time favourite way to eat cabbage is raw. Straight up, with no cooking involved. For instance, finely sliced cabbage makes a cracking slaw. I tumble it with crisp sweet apple, raisins, thinly cut celeriac and walnuts and dress it lightly with cider vinegar. It’s fab. Another raw dish I like to make uses red cabbage cut in the same way and tossed with orange segments, grated parsnip, chopped medjool dates, honey and thyme. It makes the ideal accompaniment to quality sausages or roast venison.
How to ferment cabbage into gut-friendly, tasty sauerkraut
You’ll know that fermentation has experienced a renaissance in recent years. We’ve become more aware of the health benefits fermented food can provide. Sauerkraut is a traditional preparation for cabbage and is absolutely delicious. It involves salting the raw cabbage, and if left in the right conditions, a process called lacto fermentation takes place. This happens because lactobacillus – a naturally occurring bacteria that’s on your hands right now, and on the vegetables in your fridge – feed on the sugars in the cabbage, producing lactic acid, which helps to preserve the cabbage.
Fermented cabbage is full of probiotics. These are microorganisms that are great for your digestion and general gut health. I’ve been making my own at home. Not so much for the health benefits that come with it, but for the flavour and texture it gives cabbage, it’s truly amazing.
I’m including my tried and tested recipe here. And, if you do make a batch (which I hope you do), I’m throwing in a recipe for my Sauerkraut Onion Bhajis too, which are, I might add, next level delicious.
Gill Meller’s Sauerkraut
Makes: 1 large jar
– 1 or 2 firm white or red cabbages (2.5–3kg), damaged or ragged outer leaves removed
– 40g salt
– 1–2 tablespoons coriander seeds or fennel seeds (optional)
1. Before you begin, you’ll need a 2-litre scrupulously clean, sterilised jar with a lid and a plastic food bag.
2. Place the cabbage or cabbages on a large chopping board and cut into quarters. Remove the dense core, then use a large, sharp knife to slice the cabbage quarters across their width as thinly as possible. Place the shredded cabbage in a large plastic or metal bowl, sprinkle over the salt, and add the coriander or fennel seeds.
3. Crush the cabbage through your hands repeatedly to break up the leaves and get the salt into it. It’s hard work, but try and do this for 3 to 4 minutes. Cover the bowl and leave for an hour or so, then repeat the crushing process. The salt will have drawn a lot of liquid out of the cabbage. This liquid is called the brine.
4. Pour the brine into the jar, then pack in the cabbage, pushing it down below the surface of the liquid. If there’s not enough brine to cover the cabbage, simply mix 10g fine salt with 200ml water and pour this over. Weigh down the cabbage using a clear plastic food bag part-filled with water, as in the photograph.
5. Leave the jar at an ambient temperature (16–22°C) with the lid left open for five to eight days. Taste the cabbage on the third or fourth day, and see how you like it. It should be sweet and not overly sour at this stage. I like to leave it to ferment for another two to four days before decanting into a large, clean, airtight plastic box.
6. Store the cabbage in the fridge and eat within four to six weeks.
For organic cabbage and all ingredients in this recipe, go to farmdrop.com.
Stay tuned for more of Gill’s seasonal monthly recipes, including these wintery recipes for lamb stew and the perfect pork roast. Or turn your sauerkraut into these crowd-pleasing Sauerkraut Onion Bhajis.