Sauerkraut

This post was originally published on September 17, 2013.  I’m re-posting it todayfor those that attended my session at Eat Alberta 2017.

 

Shredding cabbage to make sauerkrautKraut is German for cabbage.  It was also a derogatory term for Germans during the Second World War.  Sauerkraut means sour cabbage, or possibly a German curmudgeon.  Ukrainian, Russian and several other eastern European languages use the word kapusta to refer to fresh cabbage, cured cabbage, and various dishes made with one or both of those.

Sauerkraut is a miracle preparation.  Cabbage and salt.  That’s it.  Somehow liquid appears from thin air and submerges the cabbage.  Over a few weeks, though neither cabbage nor salt are acidic, the mixture develops a piquant tanginess.

I had never eaten sauerkraut before moving to Alberta when I was a teenager, unless maybe once I accidentally got it on a hot dog at a baseball park.  In Edmonton there seems to be a house every couple of blocks that has a big crock of sauerkraut in the basement.  I first learned the process from Yolande at Tipi Creek.

While I’ve made sauerkraut a few times over the past couple years, this was the first year that I went all in and filled a 10 gallon crock.  The ever-resourceful Judy had found us an old Medalta[1] crock, as well as a wooden cabbage shredder, pictured above.  The latter is basically a mandolin with three sets of serrated blades that make quick work of a trimmed, quartered cabbage.  The last piece of the puzzle fell into place on a balmy Saturday morning when I saw that August Organics was selling 50 lb bags of cabbage for $25.

The freshly sliced cabbage, about to be mixed with salt35 lbs of shredded cabbage had the crock brimming, though the volume falls by more than half once the salt is worked in.

The specifics of the preparation are discussed below.

Sauerkraut

Ingredients

  • 100% cabbage, thinly sliced, roughly 1/16″ wide and  2″ long
  • 1.89% kosher salt
  • optional: spice, usually either caraway or juniper, to taste

The percentages above are equivalent to 18.5 g of salt per kilo of cabbage, or roughly 3 tbsp of kosher salt for every 5 lbs of cabbage.

Procedure

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bucket or crock.  Let stand for one hour, then mix vigorously until liquid is pooling on the bottom of the container.  (Letting the mixture stand for an hour makes the mixing and liquid extraction easier; you can proceed directly to the mixing, but you’ll have to work harder to get the liquid from the cabbage.)
  2. Once there is enough liquid, use a plate that is slightly smaller in diameter than the bucket to cover the cabbage.  Weigh the plate down (a smaller bucket filled with water works well) until the cabbage is submerged in liquid.  Cover the entire operation in a kitchen towel and secure with an elastic band.  Store at a cool room temperature, maybe 18-20°C.  Most basements are this temperature.
  3. A white scum will slowly form on the surface of the liquid.  For the first week or two, skim the surface every day.  Afterwards, skim whenever you remember that you have a crock of sauerkraut curing in your basement.
  4. After three weeks, starting tasting periodically.  The sauerkraut is done when it has a sharp-but-manageable acidity.

A jar of sauerkraut

 

1. Medalta, short for Medicine Hat Alberta, was once a large ceramics factory in that town.  They produced plain but distinctive pottery that can still be seen in kitchens and flea markets across the province.  One advantage of setting up such a factory in Medicine Hat was the large oil and gas reserves that could cheaply fire the kilns.  In fact it has been said that Medicine Hat has all hell for a basement.[2]  The site of the old factory is now a historic district housing modern ceramics studios and a museum.

2. Most know this phrase from the Big Sugar song All Hell for a Basement.  When that song was first played on the radio, my cousins in Ontario started asking if we had basements out in Alberta or what the deal was.  The song is actually the ballad of an itinerant worker moving to Alberta to find work.  Big Sugar is quoting Rudyard Kipling, who when touring southern Alberta, wrote, “This part of the country seems to have all hell for a basement, and the only trap door appears to be in Medicine Hat.”

The Big Sugar line is: I have lost my way / But I hear tell / Of a heaven in Alberta / Where they’ve got all hell for a basement.

Great lyrics…

Perogies

This post was originally published on January 6 (Orthodox Christmas!), 2013.  Re-published today for those that took my session at Eat Alberta 2017.  The only difference between what we did at Eat Alberta and the recipe below is that we used Sylvan Star medium gouda instead of orange Cheddar.

 

Perogies!There are as many recipes for perogies[1] as there are babas in the world.  Some pillowy perogies have potato in the dough, as well as the filling.[2]  Others are made with a simple dough of flour, sour cream, butter, and eggs.  This is what I prefer…

This afternoon I made perogies, then ate four dozen of them, giving me ample opportunity to contemplate their mysteries.

The Dough.  Full recipe is below.  I whisk together the sour cream and eggs, then slowly add the melted butter while whisking.  The flour goes into the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.  I slowly add the liquid mixture to the flower as the paddle attachment stirs on the lowest speed setting.  As soon as a fairly smooth dough has formed we’re done mixing.  I then wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for at least two hours.

Cooking the Potatoes for the Filling.  This is one of many recipes that requires cooking potato, milling or ricing it while it’s hot, then chilling thoroughly before further processing.  You’ll notice that steam billows from the potato as it breaks up.  This is good.  We want to get some of the moisture out of the potato before we make the perogy filling.

I use a food mill, the kind that has a hopper with a screen on the bottom, and a slanted, rotary blade that pushes the potato flesh through that screen.  There are also devices called ricers, that have pistons that push the potatoes through the screen.  Both work well, provided the potatoes are cooked all the way through.  If undercooked, the final dough won’t be perfectly smooth.

Milling the baked potatoes to make perogies

Once milled, I spread the potatoes out on a sheet tray and let them cool in the fridge.

The Filling.  Apparently the traditional filling is cottage cheese, but in North America cheddar is king.  The cheese is mixed with potatoes to give the perogies a structured filling.  I mix finely grated cheddar with the milled potatoes in a stand mixer.  The paddle kind of smears the cheese into the potatoes to make a homogeneous paste.  I also add sour cream for moisture, acidity, and to help bind the filling.  And salt.  Even with all the cheese, this filling needs salt.  The filling should be seasoned quite assertively so that it can be tasted through the dough.

The filling should be quite stiff when cold, otherwise it will run from the finished perogies when you cut into them, or worse, when you boil them.

Shaping.  Once the dough is well rested, I roll it out to 1/8″ thickness.  I use a 2.5″ ring cutter to punch circles out of the dough.  (As a side note, I’ve seen some women shape their perogies without a cutter!  They put a dollop of filling near the edge of the rolled dough, then lift and stretch the dough over the filling, and cut off the perogy from the sheet, leaving no trim!)

Once I have the circles cut, I put a bit of filling on each.  I’m always surprised by how little cheese stuffing it takes to fill the perogies, maybe a tablespoon, about 10 grams by weight.  Then simply fold the dough over the filling and pinch it off into the characteristic half-moon shape.  If the dough is dry, a bit of water brushed on the surface will help it bind.

Shaping the perogies

 

Perogy Trim.  Using a round dough cutter will invariably create trim.  This trim can be combined, and re-rolled.  The re-rolled dough is a little harder to work with.  Even after letting it rest, it will be tougher and springier than the original dough.  It will resist rolling, and the perogies will not close up as easily.  Perogies made from re-rolled dough will be slightly chewier, but it’s worth doing one re-roll, because about 20% of your original dough weight will be left behind as trim.  I wouldn’t do more than one, as the dough becomes pretty much unworkable.

A friend told me that there are traditional Ukrainian dumplings made by reshaping and boiling perogy dough trim.  He called them babaikas, (“ba-BYE-kahs”), but I can’t find any mention of them online or in my cookbooks.  I made these from the trim from my re-roll.

Freezing and/or Cooking.  At this point the raw perogies should be either frozen or boiled.  They freeze beautifully.  Just line a sheet pan with parchment and lightly dust with flour.  Lay the perogies out on the tray and put it in the freezer.  Once they’re frozen through, you can bag them.  Using this method will keep the dumplings from sticking together.

To boil, fill a large pot with cold water.  Season liberally and bring to a vigorous boil.  The old adage is that when dumplings float in water, they’re done.  Hervé This actually disproves this in his book Molecular Gastronomy, but it’s a bit of a “the bumblebee flies anyway” situation.  After about two or three minutes in boiling water, fresh perogies will float, and they’re done.  Frozen perogies obviously take longer to start bobbing.

Boiled v. Fried.  Once boiled, consume immediately with onions, bacon, and sour cream.  Once boiled, you can chill them and keep them the fridge for a few hours or days, just toss them in a small amount of oil to prevent them from sticking.  Then simply pan-fry the cooked, chilled perogies to thoroughly brown and crisp the exteriors.

Here are the actual numbers I use.

Cheddar Perogies

The Dough

Master ratio – 5 parts flour : 2 parts sour cream : 1 part butter : 1 part eggs

  • 1 kg flour
  • 400 g sour cream
  • 200 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 200 g eggs

The Cheddar Filling
Master Ratio – 4 parts cold mashed potato : 2 parts finely grated cheese : 1 part sour cream, by weight. And a generous amount of salt.

Ingredients

  • 400 g cooked, riced, chilled starchy potatoes
  • 200 g finely grated cheddar, the orange kind
  • 100 g, sour cream
  • kosher salt to taste

Another extremely handy ratio is that you need about 10 g of filling to stuff 20 g of dough.

 

Pan-fried perogies with onions and bacon

 

Footnotes

1.  You’ve no doubt noticed that there are about one hundred different spellings of the word “perogy” in common usage.  This is because many of the countries from which perogies come, places like Ukraine and Russia, use a different alphabet than us.  Rendering the word “perogy” is often an issue of transliteration, not translation.  If you hear a baba pronounce the actual Ukrainian word пиріг, they are clearly using sounds that don’t exist in English – how can they be transcribed?  The Polish alphabet is much closer to our own.  They spell it pierogi (that’s the plural form).  I think the entire point is mute.  It’s safe to say that perogies have been naturalized, and are part of Canadian prairie cuisine.  I defer to the Ukrainian churches of Edmonton, who, when advertising dinners on signs, usually (but not always) use “perogy.”

2.  If this style of perogy dough interests you, try this out for a dough recipe:

Ingredients

  • 680 g all-purpose flour
  • 420 g cooked, riced, chilled starchy potatoes
  • 50 g unsalted butter. melted
  • 50 g egg (one large egg…)
  • 230 g sour cream
  • 5 g kosher salt

 

 

Sour Cabbage Heads

A homemade sour cabbage headThis happy fellow at left is a sour cabbage head, sauerkraut in whole-cabbage form.

You can make sour cabbage heads simply by burying little cabbages throughout your sauerkraut crock after you have liberally salted and mixed your shredded cabbage.  The mass ferments together, and at the appointed time you can prod through the conventional sauerkraut til you find the whole heads of cured cabbage.  It’s rather like an Easter egg hunt only with more lactobacillus.

It didn’t cross my mind to make sour cabbage heads this season until about a month after I had started my large crock of kraut.  Lisa had bought some pretty little savoy cabbages.  I stole one.  Then I dug a deep well into the centre of the dense, wet, tangled mass of kraut.  I planted my cabbage head in the bottom, then back-filled the hole.

Today, a month or two later, I fished the cabbage from the crock.

The most common use of cabbages cured in this manner is to snap off the whole leaves and make them into sour cabbage rolls.

When making cabbage rolls with sour cabbage leaves I forgo the tomato sauce and instead use mushroom cream sauce.  Not sure what the traditions are, but the sour cabbage leaves don’t need any supporting acidity.

Ukrainian Christmas Eve – Sviata Vechera

I’m not even remotely Ukrainian, but (as I’ve written many times before this) I am fascinated by the food that Ukrainians have brought here to central Alberta.

Yes, perogies.  And yes, sauerkraut, kielbasa, and cabbage rolls.  But the more I read into this cuisine, the more I respect it.  There are so many interesting preserves, and countless recipes of ingenious frugality.

It also seems that every ingredient, dish, and meal comes with superstition and ritual.

Take the traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve dinner, or Sviata Vechera (literally “Holy Supper”), perhaps the most beloved of all Ukrainian feasts.  Orthodox churches use the Julian calendar, so their Christmas Eve falls on January 6.  There are more traditions associated with this dinner than I could possibly describe.  Here are some of the more common practices:

  • Early in the day the yard and stables are cleaned.
  • The farm animals are given extra fodder (I think because the infant Jesus was placed in a manger).
  • The house is cleaned and whitewashed.
  • Hay is placed on the dinner table (again, recalling the manger…) and covered with a special, embroidered tablecloth.
  • Farm tools and wheat or hay are put under the table.
  • Garlic, a symbol of health and strength, is set at the four corners of the table.
  • The children of the house watch for the first star to appear (a symbol of the star that led the magii to baby Jesus). 
  • The did or didukh, the last sheaf of wheat taken from the fields, serves as a symbol of harvest and gathering.  It is placed under the icon in the dining room.  In eastern Christianity, whether Ukrainian, Greek, Russian, et c., icons are religious pieces of art, usually paintings representing Jesus, Mary, angels, or saints.
  • An elaboroate meal is enjoyed.  Traditionally, all animal products – meat, fat, eggs, and dairy – were forbidden.  These days meat is still forbidden, but dairy is often permitted.
  • Twelve dishes, one for each of the apostles, are shared by the family.  There are a few dishes that are always prepared, but the exact meal will vary from family to family.

This past January 6 I cooked a twelve-course dinner inspired by the traditional Sviata Vechera.  We dispensed with most of the rituals described above.  My version of the dinner was based on traditional dishes, but I adapted the preparations to suit contemporary palates and available ingredients, just as Ukrainian emigrants have done wherever they move in the world.  The meal included lots of wild food, such as cherries, puffball mushrooms, wild rice, horseradish, labrador tea, highbush cranberries, and rosehips.

Here’s a brief description of the dishes we ate that night.  (Better late than never?) Thank you to Valerie and Vanja for playing host, and to Claire for being my sous.

 

Kutia
wheat pudding

This is always the first dish of the Holy Supper.  It is a pudding of boiled wheat, sweetend with honey, sometimes with the addition of nuts or poppy seeds.

There are many peculiar traditions associated with the kutia.  Before the meal, the mother and father of the house take a bowl of kutia to the front door and invite the sun, the moon, and various other natural forces including dead ancestors to come in and enjoy the meal with them.

Once everyone is seated at the table, the father of the house raises a spoonful of kutia and greets his family with the words, “Khrystos Razdayetsia,” meaning “Christ is born.”  The family responds, “Slavite Yoho,” or “Let us glorify him.”  After this call and response, everyone enjoys their kutia.

At this point the eldest member of the family might fling a spoonful of kutia at the ceiling.  “The more kernels that stuck to the ceiling, the greater was the good luck expected in the following year.  The number of poppy seeds that stuck indicated the number of new beehives the family would have the following year.”[1]

My version of kutia was made with wheatberries and dried evans cherries.


Kolach
braided bread

Kolach is a rich bread (ie. containing sugar, eggs, and fat) that’s braided and curled into a ring.  In fact the name derives from kolo, which means “circle”.  This is a deeply symbolic bit of baking.  Oftentimes three loaves of kolach are stacked on top of each other on the supper table, with a candle stuck into the top loaf.

We ate a simple rye loaf, accompanied by honey and garlic.


Kapusniak
sauerkraut soup

This is a soup made from sauerkraut brine.  I discussed this form of soup here.

The acidic brine was thickened with a roux and enriched with heavy cream.  The soup was garnished with sauerkraut and dark rye croutons.

Bib

beans

Bib simply means beans.  Broad beans are a very common Holy Supper dish.  They are usually simply boiled and mixed with sautéed onions.

We made baked beans with preserved tomatoes, kale, and a breadcrumb crust.

Baked beans with kale

 

Smazheni Doshchyvyky
puffball mushroom fritters

Typically only dried mushrooms would be used at a Christmas Eve dinner.  Puffballs, while common in Ukrainian food, do not dry well, so these fritters would not typically be served at Christmas.

I happened to have some chopped, sautéed puffballs in my freezer.  They were foraged by Yolande, the farmer at Tipi Creek CSA, this past summer.  They were folded into a simple fritter batter, deep-fried, and served with red onion jam.

A parade of puffball mushroom fritters with red onion marmelade

 

Holubtsi

cabbage rolls

My Alberto-Ukrainian sources tell me that in the old country holubtsi are made with sour cabbage leaves, and almost always accompanied by mushroom cream sauce.  The Albertan version uses fresh cabbage leaves, and bakes the rolls in tomato sauce.

We opted for the sour cabbage wild mushroom version, but included wild rice in the stuffing.


Borsch and Vushka
beet soup and dumplings
Another indispensable dish.  Finish with freshly grated horseradish.

Oseledsi
pickled herring
Herring being a bit of rarity here, we used pickerel.  Served with honeyed carrots and dill.

Varenyky
perogies
The familiar dumplings, filled with homemade cottage cheese and served with onions.

Chay
tea
Some form of tea is usually served towards the end of the supper.  We made labrador tea, sweetened with orange peel syrup.

Kisiel
cranberry soup
Fruit soups are common throughout central and eastern Europe.  We used some stinky highbush cranberry preserves, thinned out with apple cider.

Pampushky
raised doughnuts
Traditionally these are filled with poppyseeds or jam.  We served ours with a dollop of rosehip jelly and powdered sugar.

Raised doughnuts with rosehip jelly and powdered sugar

 

1. Weleschuk, Mary. Cooking from Generation to Generation. ©2011 L. Rasmussen Co. Ltd. Winnipeg, MB. Page 7.  I am hugely indebted to this family cookbook for descriptions of the Sviata Vechera rituals.

Pickle Soup

Pickles!This is exactly the kind of delicious, hearty, ingenious, frugal dish I love.
While finely chopped condiments like relish, piccalilli, and jam can be canned on their own, larger slices of vegetables like cucumbers, beets, and carrots require an acidic liquid in which to be preserved.  The liquid prevents the growth of aerobic pathogens by keeping air away from the vegetables and filling the space with acid, salt, and sugar.  Once the vegetables are gone, this delicious liquid can be used in a number of applications.

If this sounds at all gross to you, think about what is in dill pickle juice: water, garlic, black pepper, mustard seed, coriander, bay, cider vinegar, salt, and sugar.  The liquid has been cooked out and over the course of a few weeks or months has had time to mellow and balance.  It really is fantastic stuff.

My day to day use of pickling liquid is in dressings.  Thinning out mayonnaise with a bit of dill pickle juice makes a great dressing for slaw.  Thinning crème fraîche with pickled beet and horseradish liquid makes an elegant accompaniment for smoked fish.

I recently came across a traditional Ukrainian dish called kvasivka selians’ka that uses the brine from the sauerkraut crock to make soup:

[The soup] makes a thrify use of the sauerkraut juice that would otherwise be left in the barrel.  It seems appropraite for Pentecost celebrations, since by late spring the supply of last year’s sauerkraut would probably have run low.[1]

It may only be November, but I’ve already gone through a few jars of preserves.  Today I had some dill pickles out, so I decided to make pickle soup.

For this particular version, I browned carrots, onions, and the garlic cloves from the pickle jar in butter.  Then I added all-purpose flour and cooked the roux until aromatic and starting to brown.  Then I poured in some of the pickling liquid and whole milk, which I cooked gently until the mixture thickened.  At this point I added some boiled, chopped, russet potatoes, and some of the pickles themselves.

Some notes:

  • Consume very hot, with a healthy dose of black pepper, and a drizzle of cold-pressed canola.  I don’t know why, but the flavour of cold-pressed canola goes extremely well with this soup.
  • The exact amount of pickling liquid you use will depend on how acidic the liquid is.
  • The starches (the roux and the potatoes) temper the acidity of the pickles.
  • Browning the onions and roux brings out their sweetness, which compliments the sweetness of the pickles.

Dill pickle soup finished with cold-pressed canola

1.  Pisetska Farley, Marta.  Festive Ukrainian Cooking.  ©1991 University of Toronto Press.  A very good read.

Wheat Pudding – Kutia

A sheath of wheatI don’t cook rice very often, but I used to work at a restaurant that let me take home large amounts of leftover rice, and over the years I have developed a taste for rice pudding. My favourite version is
made with a blend of brown and wild rice (which adds a satisfying chew to the dish), and dried saskatoons.

Lately I’ve been wondering if I could make a similar dish with a starch that is more common in my kitchen. Take that fifty pound bag of wheat berries in my closet, for instance. The one that I keep threatening to grind into flour if it doesn’t make itself more useful.

I was wary of trying to adapt wheat to a rice pudding dish. When I first started cooking with wheat berries, I thought I could treat them like rice. I made some disastrous attempts at “risotto-style wheat” and “wheat pilaf.” No matter how long I cooked the berries, they never seemed to burst like wild rice, or release their starch like short-grain rice, or stick to each other like pilaf. They were tasty and enjoyably chewy, with a little pop as you bit through the bran, but they just rolled around on the plate, and didn’t form a cohesive starch like rice.

Lately I’ve been reading about the traditional Ukrainian Christmas dinner, a meal of twelve meatless courses, looking for ideas on winter meals. When reading about the main ingredients in their feast, I kept thinking, “I have that in my pantry… I canned tons of that this fall… I know where to find that…,” items like dried mushrooms and fruit and sauerkraut and potatoes. It sounds like the Ukrainian landscape is very similar to ours, which makes the Ukrainian culinary repertoire a useful resource.

The first course of the dinner is usually a dish called kutia: boiled wheat berries, sweetened with honey, often flavoured with poppyseeds, served cold.

Kutia recipes gave me a method for bursting the kernels of wheat and shortening their cooking time. The key is to dry the wheat in a low oven for an hour. I’m not sure exactly why this works. Maybe drying the berries weakens the cells walls and lets the boiling water penetrate more easily. I don’t know. But after drying for an hour, then soaking overnight, the berries burst after only a couple hours of boiling.

Once the cooking liquid is reduced, the dish has a great texture. I half expected the mixture to be gluey, but it’s surprisingly creamy, with the exploded bran giving a good chew-factor.

At the end of cooking, I added honey, salt, dried cranberries, and a bit of butter. For a looser pudding add cream.

My only qualm is the slightly grey colour of the pudding, a flaw that I’m willing to overlook simply because it’s so tasty.

A bowl of wheat pudding, or kutia, with dried cranberries