Monday, July 21, 2014

Bon Nuit, Mon Petit Chou

You would not believe to hear me speak it, but I took French from third grade until sometime in high school. Thanks to the rigidness of the Finnish education system and the novelty of French as a first foreign language (usually we start taking English in third grade), or perhaps just to my own brand of learning through experience and not rote, my vocabulary and conversational skills are about the level of a two-year-old that's oddly fond of colloquialisms and adverbs.

One of my all time favorites, just happens to be the endearment:"My little cabbage." There's something so much sweeter about it than "honey", or "dear", or "sweetie"…I mean, who has affection for cabbages, a vegetable often considered pedestrian peasant food, paling in the light of zucchinis, arugula, eggplant, heirloom tomatoes…

Admittedly, cabbage revival must surely be on it's way since the trend-vegetable status moves on in the brassica family from kale to kohlrabi, but still comparing your beloved, or dear child to a cabbage? Not the most obvious choice, yet perfect. After all, cabbage is an excellent choice for salads, soups, ready to be stuffed and baked, sweet, yet savory. It's also chock full of vitamins and minerals and has some serious impacts on one's cholesterol especially when consumed raw.

I come from a cabbage-eating people. Root crops, cabbage, and rye were the staple foods of my people for untold centuries. Growing up, I had a certain adolescent dislike for it, considered mundane, boring ingredient, but these days it makes me think only of comfort foods, the signature finnish cabbage dishes.

This summer I was really proud to grow four big, beautiful green heads of cabbage in our own garden. I swear, I could practically hear my ancestors cheering me on, except for the fact that it would not be a very Finnish thing to do. Maybe nod not-entirely-disapprovingly?

Growing cabbage for me is like putting money in the bank, because we have it often in the from of sauerkraut, or rather fusion sauerkraut-kimchee: regular cabbage with some of the kimchee spices and additions of our own. This recipe is cobbled together from my friend Callie's fermentation classes, Nourishing Traditions, Wild Fermentation, imagination and many odd experiments. It's one of the most consistent homesteading things I do, making this dish, and we eat it at almost every breakfast on our tortillas, and sometimes…our oat meal.

There's been a lot of articles popping up on the healthful effects of fermented foods, soI hope I don't have to extol their benefits for anyone, but if you're curious there are plenty of resources online to learn more about the wonderful things they do to your digestive system. Trust me, you're gonna love this recipe:

You will need (at the very least):
one largish head of cabbage

Some mason jars (preferable 1/2 gallon and quarts)
something to pound with (not metal)/ a wooden spatula

fresh ginger
fresh turmeric
garlic (not too much-it tends to slow down the fermentation process a little as it's antiseptic)
red pepper powder
a few green onions
a few carrots

for the busy/lazy fermenter (that'd be me!):
or juice from some kraut you had before

Cut up your cabbage in half and then chop it into strips from each side of the stem, or whatever way you cut cabbage. Put in a bowl (preferably) a flat-bottomed one. Sprinkle some salt on it. How much salt, you ask? Enough to taste. Stir and let it sit, white you go gather your other ingredients, or watch a movie, or weed your garden. After a while you'll notice that the cabbage starting to sweat. That's as good a time as any to start pounding.

You're trying to brake the integrity of the cabbage, as well as squeeze some juice out of it. So pound hard. Think, spices in a mortar. The more you pound the faster and better the fermentation process, but, fear not, if you have somewhere else you need to be, there's a short cut. You'll still want to pound a spell, though. Alternatively to pounding, you can also use your hands to "massage" the cabbage.

When it's good and soggy-seeming, add your other ingredients: grated carrots, finely chopped spices and garlic, green onions cut to strips. Mix in the red pepper, add more salt of your can't taste it (the salt helps it not go bad while it ferments, but too much can stall the fermentation process). Stuff in jars. Depending on what you've got to pound with, a spatula might work good in the jars.

Here's the tricky part: in order for your kraut not to go bad and grow nasty molds, you'll need enough liquid to cover it. Most of the time, my pounding efforts don't quite yield that much so I top it off with either juice left over from kraut we had, or…kombucha! This does raise the price of your kraut slightly, but it speeds up the process and helps guarantee the right result. Fermentation that is. Another way to do this is to make a salt brine, which is what you do for a lot of other fermentation projects.

Put the lids on the jars, but don't screw them on! Set in a nice warm (but not hot!) spot. Check your kraut daily and press down any floaters. In a day or two you should have a nice bubbling action and a delicious smell of…farts filling your kitchen. Trust me though, it's so worth it. After it's clearly fermenting you can start tasting it. Once it's to your liking put it in the fridge, the cold will stop the fermentation process.

Like all my recipes, this one is to-taste and the measurements are not that exact, but you know what? It's really hard to mess up fermenting cabbage. In case you think you've managed such a feat, here's some trouble-shooting tips:

"It's not fermenting! No sour smell, no bubbly-action."
-Make sure you didn't put in too much salt. If you think you did, no worries, just add some more cabbage until the ratio seems more pleasant. You can also "inoculate it" with kombucha.
-Is it too cold in your kraut-spot? Make sure your kraut is warm, but not too warm.

"There's icky mold on top! I'm throwing this away!"
-Don't do it! Just skim the mold off the top. I promise you, anything under the surface is fine.

There you have it. Personally, I can't think of a better way to ground yourself than making some lacto-fermented products. Let me know how it goes…

Edit: As a kindly Sara points out in the comments whey works for liquid as well. Also, it can take anywhere from a few days to a weeks to have your product properly fermented, but the effects should be apparent in a few days.

Ps. I also know a poem in French about a crab named Balthazar who lives on a black beach on the shore of the Sea Of Malabar, but sadly, it has never been pertinent...


  1. nice cabbages!
    i've only made plain kraut, which was delicious, but this recipe sounds like a nice change. i'll definitely be trying this and will let you know how it comes out.

    maybe maggie needs to be called my little cabbage. what a cute little nickname!

  2. Lovely krauts! Made some spicy kraut over the weekend with carrots, ripened serranos and a habanero - bright orange! Tho the addition of turmeric sounds wonderful, I may add it in.

  3. Kauniit kaalit. Nostan hattua,omani kupsahtivat alkuunsa.
    Mä kutsuin Herttaa pienenä pumppaksi.

  4. I use whey instead of kombucha or old kraut juice. Works really well, too.

    You've heard of the cookbook Nourishing Traditions, I'm sure, but it's my favorite one. I highly recommend it.

    Three cheers on the cabbages. Well done, my dear.



  5. You're too adorable Milla. Smell of farts indeed :)

    Thank you for sharing your kraut wisdom. I tried the recipe from Wild Fermentation twice! The first time it was moldy, the second time I though the taste was too plain (it just tasted like slimy salty nothing). But I think that I just didn't quite understand the mechanics of the process. It's so different seeing the process rather than reading, and I think the addition of carrots and onions would really spice it up a notch. For the moldy one I tried to ferment mine much longer than two days, which may have been part of the problem. In Wild Fermentation I think he leaves there for several weeks? The second time, I think I left mine on the counter top for about a week and then transferred it to the fridge, but it was so bland and boring I thought I must have messed it up. And sadly I tossed it out :( I don't like the taste of whey (currently I only have goat whey) so I like the idea of using kombucha.

    Aside from just eating kraut like a salad, what other things did people do with it in the past? In Finland? Any exciting recipes?

    PS: Saw your post about your mug collection too! I need to do a post about my growing collection. I used to love the daintiest cups I could find, but now that I'm a coffee drinker I'm obsessed with handmade pottery and cups that hold their warmth. It's fun to collect something of practical use, no?

  6. Ciel ! Milla, j'aimerais tellement t'entendre dire "bonne nuit, mon petit chou" !

    Not to mention this mysterious poem about the crab Balthazar... !


    And congratulations for your beautiful green cabbages with their ivory white, intricate hearts.

  7. Un petit bonjour d'une française qui te lit souvent ;)

  8. Milla - tu es trop adorable! You really are! I love visiting you and reading all you have to say! Thanks so much for your kim-chi recipe - I loooove kim-chi! I'll let you know how mine turns out :-)

  9. I was halfway through this post, excited to read your recipe and see what you were making, I realized you were talking about sauerkraut, my least favorite food ever as a kid! I must admit I haven't eaten it in years, and seeing that my tastes have developed quite a bit, I might enjoy it now. Maybe I'll try... ;)

  10. Mon petite cabbage!! I used to say that all the time in french class! My favorite saying too

  11. My co-worker this summer thought "mon petit choux" was adorable too, but then for jokes started using other foods in the place of cabbage and started calling me his "petit pâté chinois" or his little shepherd's pie haha... :) I really love fried cabbage with onions, or cabbage soup... mmm cabbage!