NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665

August 13, 1998

Prairie Fare: Another Fermenting Fall

My wife, Nicki, and I make our own sauerkraut, a tradition handed on to us from Jack, her grandfather on her father's side. One year we made more than 80 pounds of the stuff. Most years we shred, salt and mix up about 40 pounds of cabbage, which ferments in a crock in our kitchen until the bubbling concoction achieves perfect pungency.

From a public relations standpoint, sauerkraut probably does for the Germans' culinary reputation what lutefisk does for the Norwegians'. Yet despite the negative image, both foods enjoy a cult-like following. In fact, I never appreciated how enthused people can get about sauerkraut until we started making our own, most of which we give away to eager takers.

Some who receive our sauerkraut are traditionalists. They simply dab a bit on a hot dog or some other type of sausage product that fits into a oblong bun. Some folks combine it with other ingredients for a one-dish meal that bakes in the oven. Others prefer our kraut as part of a Reuben sandwich.

But some are more daring. One uses our sauerkraut in a chocolate cake. My wife has tried the recipe. It's quite good. Moist.

Like our friend the cake baker, Nicki and I like to use our sauerkraut in nontraditional ways—assuming there is a standard for eating fermented cabbage. For example, I use sauerkraut as a base for shrimp cocktail. By this I mean that I position some sauerkraut in the bottom of a margarita glass, which is how I often serve individual portions of shrimp cocktail. Then I spoon cocktail sauce, preferably homemade, on top of the sauerkraut and finish off the presentation with the shrimp hanging over the rim of the glass, and a garnish, either a sprig of fresh parsley or dill, along with a lemon wedge. You don't need to use as much cocktail sauce this way, and those of us who like cold sauerkraut equally well get the added bonus of what's lurking therein.

Cold sauerkraut? Yes, at least 10 people have told me they like it cold. But in case you're not one of them, here's a recipe that features it nice and hot.

Sauerkraut Goulash
Yield: 8 servings

2 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped red onions
2 green peppers, chopped
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 16-ounce can dark red kidney beans
1 14-ounce can of sauerkraut, or a pint of homemade
1 15-ounce can tomato puree
1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika
1 cup water
salt and black pepper to taste

In a 4- or 5-quart Dutch oven, saute the garlic, onions and peppers for 5 or 10 minutes on medium heat. Add celery seed, kidney beans, sauerkraut, tomato puree, paprika and water. Simmer slowly for about 30 minutes. Adjust flavor with salt and black pepper. Serve with your favorite pork chops, parsley-buttered egg noodles and thick slices of rye bread.

What's Your Take on This, Julie?

Growing up in a home that featured both Norwegian and German foods, I had my share of Midwestern ethnic culinary experiences. I steered clear of the lutefisk and tolerated the sauerkraut. As a budding food scientist, I was more interested in the bubbling sauerkraut crock in the basement.

Sauerkraut is one of the foods made possible by microbiology—specifically, lactic acid bacteria. Mention the word bacteria these days and people run for cover, but without the lactic acid bacteria naturally present on cabbage, we wouldn't have this unique food.

Making sauerkraut just requires two ingredients: shredded cabbage and salt. Bacteria, proper temperature and time do the rest of the work. Lactic acid bacteria have definite temperature preferences. At 70 to 75 F, the kraut will be fermented in about three or four weeks. At 60 to 65 F, fermentation takes longer—about five or six weeks. If it gets much cooler, fermentation won't occur. Above 75 F, the kraut may become soft.

Most vegetables contain little acid, so safely canning vegetables requires the use of a pressure canner to make poison-producing bacterial spores benign. Improper home canning of vegetables is a main cause of botulism, the often-deadly foodborne illness.

But sauerkraut is an exception to this rule. Sauerkraut can be canned in a boiling water bath because it's acidic due to the fermentation process.

Making and canning your own sauerkraut is a family tradition in some households, but also a time-consuming one. Fortunately, it's readily available in stores in both canned and refrigerated fresh versions. The quality, and perhaps nostalgia, may be lacking, though.

This goulash recipe is a nutritional bargain at about 130 calories and 5 grams of fat per serving. A serving also provides fiber from the beans and vegetables; vitamin A from the tomatoes, paprika and peppers; iron from the kidney beans; and a full day's supply of vitamin C from the peppers and sauerkraut.

If your doctor has prescribed a sodium-restricted diet, sauerkraut is generally a food to avoid. A serving of this recipe provides about 400 milligrams of sodium, which would be about one-fifth of the sodium recommended for a 2-gram sodium diet. Some canned soups, though, are even higher—with nearly 1,000 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Enjoy this colorful dish with its German flavor. But I wouldn't recommend lutefisk as a side dish.


Sources: Dean Hulse (701) 231-6136 and Julie Garden-Robinson (701) 231-7187

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