Here’s how to make vegan probiotics at home in jars. No milk, starter, fancy equipment, or special skills needed. Sandor Katz, the king of fermentation, calls this easy, tangy slaw “kraut-chi” because English doesn’t have a word for fermented vegetables, unlike German (sauerkraut) and Korean (kim-chi). I eat a spoonful or two of fermented food nearly every day for the zingy taste and to help my gut biota thrive. You don’t need yogurt to get probiotics, the good bacteria that may help your GI-system stay balanced and healthy.
I start a fresh batch four or five days before my previous batch runs out. I dip out a little every day, but let the batch ferment at room temperature for about two weeks, when it reaches my favorite level of sourness. The microflora vary during this process, which Katz says enhances the nutritional benefit. All I can say is that I’d eat it whether it was good for me or not!
Active time: 20 minutes. Total time: 3 days to 2 weeks or more. Vegan, gluten free, and fat free.
Ingredient note: use organic ingredients. Vary the proportions based on what you have and what you like. Unless you like strong flavors, choose bok choy that has a high proportion of stems to leaves or use Napa cabbage instead.
7 cups thinly sliced bok choy or Napa cabbage (save ends to use as a topper)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, preferrably unrefined sea salt
1.5 cups grated carrots
1 cup grated daikon
4 teaspoons minced garlic
4 teaspoons minced ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle
if needed, daikon slices for additional toppers
- Put bok choy, salt, carrots, daikon, garlic, and ginger in a large bowl. By adding the salt with the bok choy and stirring as you add the other ingredients, you let the salt start to draw liquid out of the vegetables as you continue grating and chopping. Mash vegetables with a potato masher or squeeze them with your clean hands until vegetables can be submerged in their own juices when you press down on them. If the vegetables don’t seem juicy, wait 15 minutes or so for salt to draw liquid from vegetables, then mash or squeeze again.
- Stir in chipotle last to avoid getting it on your hands. Taste and adjust seasonings. It should taste a little salty. Pack vegetables and liquid into two very clean, wide-mouthed quart canning jars. Trim a topper for each jar using the bottom slices of bok choy or Napa cabbage or slices of daikon. When you screw on the lids, vegetable toppers should press down on kraut-chi and keep it submerged.
- Screw on lids loosely, so carbon dioxide can bubble out as kraut-chi ferments. Put jars in an open container such as a casserole to catch any liquid that bubbles out. Cover with a clean kitchen towel or old pillow case. (CO2 builds up in neglected jars of kraut-chi causing them to explode on rare occasions. The deep container and fabric cover can help minimize any mess. If this makes you nervous, see the note below about using an open crock and a plastic-bag topper.) Put the whole setup in cool place where the smell doesn’t cause family conflict. I keep it in my home office because my Taster is not a fan. Just make sure to put the jars where you will be reminded to release the pressure.
- Every day at first and then every other day, take off the jar tops to release the pressure and let fresh air into the jar. Clean up any liquid that bubbled out. Taste a sample if you want to on the third or fourth day. Marvel at how the flavor and texture change as the invisible local bacteria transform the raw vegetables. If the toppers or vegetables on the top grow surface mold or turn an odd color, gently spoon them out and discard. Add fresh toppers if needed to keep vegetables submerged.
- When a jar of kraut-chi is as sour as you like, discard toppers and screw the lid on all the way and refrigerate it. I often refrigerate one jar after the first week and the other after two weeks.
- Serve at room temperature or chilled on top of beans, in burritos, on veggie burgers, on spicy peanut noodles, as a salad dressing, or just as a side dish. Refrigerated kraut-chi keeps for months.
- Instead of using canning jars, I’ve fermented vegetables in the crock from a small slow cooker, using a freezer-weight plastic bag half-full of water as a topper. It worked fine and eliminated this risk of exploding jars, but I prefer fermenting small batches directly in the storage jars.
- Keep it cool. You’ll get the best flavor from a slow ferment at 50° and 65° F. Use a little more salt and a briefer fermentation period at higher temperatures, especially over 70° F.
- I had the pleasure of taking a workshop led by fermentation revivalist Sandor Katz and also have a copy of his book, The Art of Fermentation. His book is about technique, not detailed recipes. I thought it might be useful to share a detailed recipe to help cooks who prefer that style and to help me calculate price and nutrition.
- In his book, Katz quotes a UDSA fermentation specialist who says he’s never seen a documented case of food-borne illness from fermented vegetables and who calls vegetable fermenation “one of the oldest and safest technologies we have.” Thanks, Sandor, for inspiring such a tasty revivial!