The Wonderful World of Making Kraut-Chi

Reader Contribution by Blythe Pelham
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Two batches of just-started kraut-chi.

Most of my friends know that I love to garden, experiment, and create in the kitchen. A few years ago, two friends in particular (Bonnie Jean and Sarah) urged me to make my own sauerkraut. Each one insisted that it was super easy—and good for our bodies. The biggest hump I needed to get over was what on earth to do with anything I might make. The only thing I could think of off the top of my head was adding kraut to the occasional Reuben sandwich.

Thankfully, my curiosity (and their consistent urging) got the better of me and I decided to make the leap into the amazing world of fermentation—and an amazing world it is! Beside being an ancient form of preservation used world-wide, it seems that every day someone is proving how eating and drinking fermented foods has great health benefits.

That original entree has tumbled me into trying out kefir, kombucha, sourdough, apple cider vinegar (okay, that was completely accidental), hard cider, beer, and mead (a type of wine created with water, honey, and yeast).

My favorite guide into the world of fermenting is Sandor Katz, whose books The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation were added very quickly to my own personal collection after cruising the copies I’d checked out from the public library. The former book appeals to my artistic and explorative brain by explaining the history and processes of many types of fermentation with wide open and very general guidelines to follow. The latter is more of a cookbook with specific recipes for those who prefer less experimentation.

I’ve adopted Sandor’s label of “kraut-chi” (kraut for sauerkraut, and chi for kimchi) for the vegetable fermentations that I create. It’s a way of honoring the fact that many cultures have used this style of preservation for a great deal of time and it helps me stay connected with the wider world. My energy-working side also loves the tie-in to the Chinese label for our life force, chi, since I truly feel the goodness of these foods.

As I said, I’m very grateful that I got my fraidey-cat, blinder-eyed self off of that hesitation ledge and took the leap. I now always have batches of kraut-chi going in all their phases: ready to make, just started fermenting, almost completely fermented, and in the fridge waiting for me to eat. It is not uncommon for me to eat some of these delectables every day! I love kraut-chi on brats, surrounding pork roasts, regularly adorning my eggs, and just a munch here and there.

Tools and ingredients for my favorite kraut-chi, salt not pictured.

My absolute favorite concoction is kind of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink mixture. Aside from appealing to my artist’s eye with its blend of colors, it also delights my palate with a variety of flavors and textures. The usual ingredients of this melange include: cabbage (sliced, I often use both white and red), carrots (grated and sliced), apple (I like a blend of granny smith and gala or something similar, chopped in smallish triangles), broccoli (also chopped), kale (chopped, though you don’t want to use too much of this), and grated ginger. Oh, and salt—don’t forget the salt. It keeps everything safely preserved. I most often use sea salt.

I prepare the organic veggies by washing them, then slicing, chopping, or grating them (see above). As I finish each addition, I dump it in my handy repurposed crockpot liner, then pound it heartily with the flat head of the wooden tenderizer. I add salt every layer or two and pound some more. Once my concoction fills my crock to a little more than halfway, I let it rest.

I then pack it into one of my half-gallon glass jars, top with a layer of cabbage leaf, weight it down, add a little water if necessary, and cover. Aside from your knife for slicing, you don’t want to use any metal with fermenting—salt tends to corrode metal and will leach it into your creation. I use glass and wood as much as possible.

I’ll be happy to be your Sarah and Bonnie Jean here while urging those of you with active curiosity and an adventurous sense of play to take the leap. There are only a few rules for keeping safe and not ending up with a container of moldy slime. I suggest reading up a little just to cover those bases—then start playing!

A final note: bring your patience. As I mentioned in my mustard-making post, that recipe came about as an interlude since it takes only a few days to ferment rather than the 4 to 6 weeks in the making of a good kraut-chi, and a year or more for mead.

Delicious breakfast, including scrambled eggs with fresh chopped kale, topped with kraut-chi.

Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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