Leek-Cracked Pepper Kraut has been a favorite around our house since I first made it for the MEND issue of Taproot Magazine. Recently, it occurred to me this delicious kraut is spiked with plenty of black pepper so why not add a little turmeric root and have a kraut with not only prebiotic (important for gut health) but also anti-inflammatory properties — all while being incredibly delicious.
Most people know turmeric in its dried powered form, but it is increasingly common to find these fresh rhizomes in the produce section of the market. In recent years it has become widely available, in part due to the stellar antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and health benefits of its active ingredient curcumin.
Curcumin is turmeric’s superpower, however our body’s ability to absorb it into our bloodstream is poor. Fortunately, the bioavailability of curcumin is greatly enhanced by the simple addition of piperine — the alkaloid responsible for black pepper’s heat.
So why does (turmeric + black pepper + leeks + cabbage) x fermented = flavor with benefits? And what do the sour-pickley veggies have to do with my gut health?
Fermented vegetables are one of the whole-food tools we can use to support our microbiome. Fermentation makes nutrients more accessible to our bodies by “pre-digesting” sugars and starches that we cannot process. These crispy fermented veggies still contain fiber that feeds our friendly bacteria (called Actinobacteria). When these good gut guys are well fed they produce nutrients that nourish our intestinal linings as well as our bodies. At the same time we are adding “new recruits” to propagate in our inner garden when we consume the friendly lactic-acid bacteria.
There are some vegetables—ones high in the dietary fiber, inulin—that are thought to be particularly good food (here comes the leek) for the good bacteria; people who eat more onions, garlic, and leeks frequently have higher levels of healthy bacteria.
Increasingly, the research is showing that our mood and mental clarity, as well as our physical health, are directly affected by our gut’s health. Hippocrates suspected as much around 300 BC when he said, “All diseases begin in the gut.”
The science of modern man is just beginning to unravel the complexity of the bacterial relationship that is us. Recently they have discovered our bodies are more bacteria than human, and most of these little guys are not the “bad germs”. Instead, this diverse community of microbes-—over 400 different species—ensures our survival. We are reliant, even dependent, on the microbial garden in our guts. This garden, or microbiome, is densely populated, too—it is estimated that there are 1000 times as many microbes in our gut as there are stars in the Milky Way. (Wow!)
Yield about 2 quarts
Leeks originated in the Mediterranean basin and are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables. Egyptian writings show leeks as a barter currency (along with oxen and beer). Despite their warm, dry beginnings, they’re a cold-weather crop and are often fresh and available the same time as cabbage.
While this kraut has the same comforting simplicity of plain cabbage sauerkraut, multifaceted layers of flavor bring it to a new level. The best part is it’s still easy to make and versatile.
• 3 pounds green cabbage, about one large dense head, reserve a few of the outer leaves
• 1 pound leeks, with 2 to 3 inches of the green, sliced thinly crosswise
• 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh turmeric root, grated
• 1 to 2 tablespoons unrefined salt
• 1 to 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1. Finely slice the cabbage into shreds and place in a large bowl along with the thinly sliced leeks, grated turmeric, and ground pepper to taste.
2. Massage in 1-1/2 tablespoons of the salt. Taste. It should taste slightly salty but not overwhelming. Add more salt if necessary. By now brine will be developing. Continue to massage the cabbage and leeks as if you were kneading bread. If you’ve put in a good effort and don’t see much brine in the bowl, let it stand, covered, for 45 minutes, then massage again.
3. When the veggies are limp and glossy and there is a liquid at the bottom of the bowl, begin to press them in the jar or crock. Start by putting a little of the kraut in the bottom of your vessel, press until compacted and continue until all of the kraut is pressed in the jar. It’s finished when air bubbles are out and brine is on top.
4. Top the vegetables with one of the reserved outer leaves. Then top the leaves with a sealed water-filled jar to weigh it down, or use your favorite fermentation technique/vessel. (Remember the key to success is keeping everything pressed under the brine.) Cover a clean kitchen towel. Set aside on a plate to ferment, somewhere nearby and out of direct sunlight, in a cool spot for 7 to 21 days.
5. Check daily to make sure the vegetables are submerged, pressing down as needed to bring the brine to the surface, and scoop out any scum that develops. It will be ready when it is deliciously sour to you.
This kraut will keep, refrigerated, for 12 months.
Kirsten K. Shockey is a post-modern homesteader who lives in the mountains of Southern Oregon. She writes about sauerkraut and life — but not necessarily in that order. She’s written a complete book of Fermented Vegetables and maintains the website Fermentista’s Kitchen.
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