Sauerkraut is the German food that most people know the best. It is green cabbage that is sliced very finely and is then fermented by bacteria in lactic acid. This fermentation process is the same as occurs during pickling, and gives the cabbage its sour taste. Thus the dish is known as sauerkraut, or sour cabbage.
Sauerkraut can be bought in many German grocery stores and in many outdoor markets in all parts of Germany. You can eat this German delicacy raw, and it is packed with minerals and vitamins that keep you healthy. Remember though that if you are not accustomed to the bacteria that is in the raw dish, you could suffer some stomach problems temporarily.
If you want to make your own sauerkraut, you first need to wash the white cabbage and slice it finely. The sliced vegetable is then put into a pot, and you need to mix in a precise amount of salt. Then you mash it up with a cabbage masher. This lets the juices from the cabbage to get extracted from the cabbage. This should make enough liquid to cover the cabbage entirely. This is an important step in the process: making sure that the cabbage is totally covered in liquid. This keeps out any air; contact with air will ruin the fermentation process.
Then, you will take the cabbage and put it into an airtight bowl for about five weeks. The bacteria/yeast combination will start to ferment the cabbage. After a few weeks, the bacteria in the lactic acid will go active, and will convert any sugar in the chopped cabbage into acid. Your sauerkraut will be ready to eat when it has achieved the right amount of sourness, depending upon your tastes.
You can keep your sauerkraut for 3-4 months if it is in a container that is airtight, and is kept below 36 degrees F. You do not have to keep sauerkraut in the fridge, but the shelf life is extended a lot if you do so. Most of the sauerkraut you buy in stores has been pasteurized to extend the shelf life even further.
When it comes time to cook your finished sauerkraut, you should drain it of liquid and possibly rinse it off if it is very salty. You will then put it into a large pot. For each pound of sauerkraut, you should put in ¾ of a cup of dry white wine. Boil it, and then turn the heat down to low. Let the kraut simmer for about one hour. If it gets too dry, add some water.
There are many things that you can add to spice up your sauerkraut, depending on your tastes. You can add onions, bacon, cream and even some types of berries! In some parts of Germany, people add pork cutlets or ribs to it to provide a smoky taste. The pork will absorb the liquid and become very soft.
If you decide to make your own sauerkraut, know that people have been doing a form of this for thousands of years. The preservation of green cabbage was discovered in China in 220 BC. As they built the Great Wall, they needed to have good, nutritious food in the winter, so they started to preserve their summer cabbage by drenching it in wine.
Pickling cabbage was started in Europe in the 1400s by people from Mongolia. It became popular in eastern Europe and then it eventually took root in Germany.
As you can see, making sauerkraut yourself is quite an art! But many Germans will only make it themselves; they would never want to buy it from a grocery store shelf. Give it a try sometime!