One more cultured vegetable condiment to add to your repertoire. I’ve been experimenting these past couple of months with some new recipes; some I liked, others not so much. Out of these experiments comes a really fresh, crisp and lively flavored Fennel Kraut. With a combination of fennel, fennel seeds, whole peppercorns, daikon and Napa cabbage this kraut definitely passes both crunch and taste tests. Plus it is easily prepared and requires less than a week to ferment.
Name this kraut
I’d like to come up with a new name for this kraut other than just a list of its ingredients. I mistakenly began calling it Asian Fennel Kraut. Then realized I’d misread an article on how fennel was widely used in the East. Not only do they grow a different variety of fennel, but it’s mainly the seeds that are used in the East, as in Chinese Five-Spice Powder.
The variety of fennel sliced and fermented in Fennel Kraut is native to Italy and the Mediterranean. Sometimes referred to as Florentine fennel, this type of fennel has a large naturally crisp, sweetly flavored and delightfully edible bulb. Both fennel seeds and the fennel bulb share a unique, sweet, fragrant smell and anise-like flavor.
Reaping the benefits of fermentation
Recently I read that fermentation turns “ordinary vegetables into superfoods.” Such a great concept. Rather than reducing nutrients, which happens with other means of food preservation, the process of fermentation actually adds nutrients and probiotics. Fermented foods often surprise us with how much we crave them for their nutrients, flavor and freshness. And we all appreciate how easy they are to make in small batches at home.
The eight basic steps
If you’re new to fermentation or would like a quick review, here are the eight basic steps for making vegetable ferments prepared with whey.
- Wash your vegetables.
- Cut, slice or grate them according to your recipe.
- Combine them with salt, herbs and spices. Let the mixture sit for about 30 minutes.
- Do a bit of mashing with your hands, a kraut pounder or a wooden pestle to break down cell walls and release juices. Stir in the whey.
- Press everything into an air tight container leaving 1½ to 2 inches of space between the ingredients and their liquid and the top of the container. This is important as the juices expand during fermentation.
- Weight down the ferment to keep the vegetables completely covered with their juices. I like to use ceramic or glass weights and small glass jars filled with water.
- Store at room temperature. Most of these ferments will take from 3-7 days. Check individual recipes for recommendations.
- Replace the glass weight and jar with a tight-fitting lid. Transfer the containers to a refrigerator (or similarly cold conditions) for storage.
Fennel Kraut w/ Daikon & Napa Cabbage
Preparation time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Fermentation time: about 5 days
About 3 pounds of Napa cabbage, cored, quartered, cut into ½ inch thick slices (c 20 cups)
1# 10 ounces daikon, sliced with the 2 mm blade (7-8 cups)
10 ounces fennel bulb, cored, quartered, sliced with 2 mm blade (3-4 cups)
1 medium yellow onion, halved, sliced with 2 mm blade (2 ½ cups)
2 tablespoons high quality salt
1½ tablespoon black peppercorns (or a mix of black, green & pink peppercorns)
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
¼ cup whey
- Place the sliced Napa cabbage in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle it with ½ tablespoon of the salt.
- Slice the daikon and add it to the bowl with the Napa cabbage. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the salt.
- Slice the fennel and add it to the bowl. Sprinkle with the remaining ½ tablespoon of salt.
- Slice the onion and add it to the bowl along with the peppercorns and fennel seeds.
- Stir the mixture. Let it sit for 30 minutes. The salt will begin drawing out the liquid from the vegetables.
- Use your hands or a kraut pounder or a wooden pestle to mash the vegetables and draw out more of their liquid. This will take 5-10 minutes. There will be a thin layer of liquid in the bottom of your bowl.
- Stir in the whey.
- Transfer the vegetables and all the liquid into 2 clean half-gallon, wide-mouth canning jars. Press down on the vegetables until the juices rise to the top completely submerging the vegetables.
- Leave 2 inches or more of air space between the top of the liquid and the top of the jar.
- Place a glass weight on top of the vegetables. Fill a small glass jar (one that can fit inside the canning jar) with water and tighten its lid. Use this jar as a weight on top of the glass weight. Together they will keep the vegetables submerged in the liquid. Place a plastic bag upside down over the jars. Tighten the bag in place using a rubber band. Note that the plastic is not in contact with the food.
- Store the jars in a dark cupboard for about 5 days. Check the jars daily. “Burp” the jars and make sure the vegetables are completely submerged.
- Begin tasting the kraut on day 4. When you love the taste (usually day 5 for me), remove the weights. Put a lid on the jars and transfer them to the refrigerator.