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How To: Sour Cabbage

Sour cabbage leaves are used for sour cabbage rolls and sauerkraut. The fermentation process is a lengthy one that takes place over the course of three weeks. If you're looking to make your own sour cabbage leaves, it's worth taking the time to get it right! In this blog post, we'll discuss how to sour cabbage so that you can have delicious homemade food year-round!

Is a big family dinner really a big family dinner without tangy sour cabbage rolls?

I think NOT!

If you're here, chances are you've already mastered making your own cabbage rolls. But have you tried souring your own cabbage for those delicious homemade cabbage rolls?

Many people are intimidated by the fermentation/souring process, but it's actually pretty straightforward.

I'll walk you through all of the steps to make your own sour cabbage leaves and show you how easy it is.

This how-to sour cabbage guide is dedicated to family dinners!

A whole head of sour cabbage.

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Tips + Tricks

No. 1 --> If you can get your hands on flat or Taiwanese cabbage, do it! Flat cabbage is the best for cabbage rolls because it's more tender, and has a sweeter, more delicate taste. Taiwanese cabbage has a more subtle flavor than other types of cabbages which makes it perfect for souring!

No. 2 --> Get yourself a large, dedicated fermentation container. I use a couple of large black recycling totes to ferment my cabbage. It seems like overkill, but for this recipe, we ferment our cabbage whole. I am the designated fermenter for our family, so I ferment about 150 lbs of cabbage at a time - and they all fit in 2 - 32 gallon (121 litre) totes.

No. 3 --> Patience is key with this project! You'll want to open up the containers and stir around the contents every few days and make sure the cabbage is completely submerged, but it's going to take about 3 weeks!

No. 4 --> If at all possible, you'll want to ferment these bad boys outside! They'll make your house or garage smell like rank farts! I cover my bins with black garbage bags and tie them off tightly to keep them protected from the elements, and everyone in the household is much happier to not live with the smell!

No. 5 --> Many, many, many people and their Babas make soured cabbage leaves without calculating a brine, I, however, like to have a concrete plan and recipe to follow, so the directions below are very thorough and I recommend reading them through at least once before attempting this process!

No. 6 --> Avoid using any aluminum when working with your fermented cabbage, whether at the processing stage or even the cabbage roll stage. The acidity of the brine will damage your aluminum baking pans, etc. Ask me how I know! Ha!

Vacuum sealed sour cabbage leaves.

Key Ingredients

Cabbage: I prefer to use flat cabbage for the reasons mentioned above, however, regular green cabbage works just as well, but due to it being tougher, it may take an extra couple of days to become completely soft.

Salt: use pickling salt or coarse salt for this recipe. Salt is used in fermentation recipes because it allows water, sugars, and salts to move into and out of the cell walls. This helps to soften, flavor, and ferment the usually tough cabbage. The salt also inhibits bad bacteria while creating an environment for lactobacillus bacteria to create lactic acid, which is responsible for preserving the cabbage and giving it a tangy flavor.

Water: While fermentation is not particularly picky, I choose to use unchlorinated water for my ferments. We live on an acreage with relatively hard water, and I've always used my well water with success! Alternatively, you could use distilled water.

Ingredients required for sour cabbage.

How To Make Sour Cabbage

Prep:

  1. Determine the size of your brining container. This will vary depending on the size of the cabbage heads and the quantity you'll be souring.
  2. Once you've determined your container size, you'll want to reduce about 20% of the total volume and consider that to be your brine quantity. For example, I use a 121 L tote, so I'll use 100L of brine.
  3. Calculate and measure out the amount of salt, vinegar, and salt necessary for your brine. The amounts are as follows:
  • 200g of salt / 10 litres of water. (For 100L of brine, I needed 2000g of salt)
  • 3 tablespoons of vinegar / 10 litres of water. (For 100 L of brine, I needed 2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar / 10 litres of water. (For 100L of brine, I needed 1 cup)

Get Brining:

  1. Rinse your cabbage heads well to remove dirt and debris. Don't be afraid to remove any particularly ugly outer leaves. If they're split, have holes, or bug bites in them, it's best to remove at the start.
  2. Using a sharp knife with a sturdy blade, cut a rectangular wedge around the core. Ensure you're cutting deep enough to remove the whole fibrous core.
  3. Taking from your previously weighed salt, fill the cavities where you cut the stems out. I like to fill them about 3/4 full. Adding salt into the cabbage itself allows it to better penetrate and soften the fibrous stems.
  4. Stack the cabbages as tightly as possible in your fermentation vessel.
  5. Add the previously measured vinegar, sugar, and remaining salt. If desired, add 1/4 cup of dried dill to the brine.
  6. Start adding hot water to your vessel, ensuring to only add what you've accounted for in the beginning. I used 5x20L buckets of hot water to fill my tote.
  7. Place a piece of board, a large plate, a pot, a fermentation weight, oversized ziplock bags filled with water, or whatever you've got that will fit in your vessel and weigh the cabbages down to keep them submerged.
  8. Cover your fermentation container, and place it somewhere out of the way to ferment. NOTE: If you're using a very large container, it is advisable to place it where you want it to be before filling with water as it will be too heavy to move.

Check it and forget it:

  1. Every 3 - 4 days, wash your hands and forearms well, then turn the cabbage. This will help redistribute the brine, as the most concentrated brine generally settles in the bottom of the container.
  2. Once the brine has been stirred and recovered, forget about it for another 3 - 4 days!

Harvest:

  1. The fermentation process will take between 3 and 4 weeks, depending on your ambient temperatures. You'll know the fermentation is complete when the leaves are soft to the touch and have a slight translucency. The color of the interior leaves will look quite white while the outside may look green or gold. Another great way to tell if the ferment is complete is by tasting it! The flavor of the leaves should be salty but have that characteristic tang, and the texture should be tender, but not mushy. There should be very little resistance along the veins in the leaves when folding and rolling.
  2. When ready to harvest, working one head of cabbage at a time, remove from the brine, and flip upside down to allow the brine to drain as much as possible. I like to place it in a large bowl at this point to contain the fragrant juice!
  3. With the cabbage upside down, gently pull the stems of each leaf to loosen them, working from the outside inward. Once you reach the middle of the cabbage, pull out any leaves that are too small to be rolled into cabbage rolls and set them aside, these are not wasted!
  4. Working from the outside, gently remove the leaves and slice a triangle shape around the stem to remove it.
  5. Layer the de-veined leaves in a colander until you're ready to pack them.
  6. Once the leaves have been placed in your desired container (see more on that below), add 1/2 cup of brine back into the container close it tightly.

Store:

  1. If you're making cabbage rolls within the next 2-3 days, store your leaves in the fridge until you're ready for them!
  2. If you're not planning on making cabbage rolls for a few months, your cabbage should be packed and frozen. See below for options.

What To Do With Damaged/ Too Small Leaves

We aren't wasting anything here! Any leaves that are cracked, torn, or damaged as well as the itty-bitty leaves on the inside of the cabbage are definitely useful! While processing, toss them into a bowl with some extra brine.

These tender little tasty bits are PERFECT for making sauerkraut!

To make sauerkraut from your discarded leaves, simply julienne them then measure 2 cups worth of the discarded leaves and transfer them into a vacuum seal bag. Top the bag off with about 1/2 cup of brine before sealing.

After processing over 150lbs of cabbage, I'm usually pretty lazy and don't chop the kraut cabbage right away, I prefer to pack it and chop when I'm ready to use it, as we generally use our kraut for lazy cabbage rolls.

How To Store Sour Cabbage Leaves

There are a few ways to store your prepared cabbage:

  • Stack them neatly in a container. This method works, but with caveats. Because the container is not "full", even with the added brine, there is a risk of frost damage to the cabbage. After 3 weeks of brewing and hours of prepping, the last thing you want is to have an inferior product in the end! I would recommend this method if you plan to use your cabbage within 1-3 months.
  • Toss them into a ziplock-type bag. This method is better than containers as you can generally remove most of the air, however, ziplock bags are prone to leaking. There's nothing worse than thawing your cabbage and finding fermenting soup all over your counter. Or the bottom of your freezer. Ask me how I know! I would recommend this method if you're planning on using your cabbage within 3-6 months.
  • Vacuum seal the bags. This is my preferred method for storing prepared leaves. I stack the deveined leaves and the extra brine in my 10 x 13" bags and seal shut. I never worry that they'll get frostbite, or leak anywhere. As an added bonus, because the leaves are stored in bags, they can be laid flat in the freezer, taking up less room. This method gives you a bit more flexibility, and I have had luck freezing vacuum-sealed cabbage for up to 3 years.

What To Do With Sour Cabbage Leaves

There are a few things you can do with your sour leaves and kraut!

  1. Sour Cabbage Rolls: naturally this is #1. I love sour cabbage rolls filled with rice and homemade bacon and slow-cooked in the oven for the most delicious holubtsi!
  2. Lazy Cabbage Rolls: All the delicious flavors of cabbage rolls in casserole form. This easy-to-make dish is made with chopped fermented cabbage, sticky rice, and pieces of smoky bacon!
  3. Sauerkraut: If you just can't get enough of the kraut, feel free to chop more cabbage into the delicious probiotic goodness that is kraut! Use your homemade kraut to top your smoked hot dogs, burgers, or Cubano sandwiches.
  4. Get adventurous: Add your Lacto-fermented cabbage to soups and stews, egg salad or deviled eggs, add it to your salads for a tangy zing.
Sauerkraut in a vacuum sealed bag.
  • Fermentation Vessel: this is non-negotiable. Get yourself a clean, sturdy container. It doesn't have to be huge, but it will need to hold however much cabbage you're looking to do. I recommend a non-reactive container for your ferments, like plastic or glazed ceramic. For small ferments, I use a 2-gallon fermentation crock from Ohio Stoneware. For big jobs like this one, I use a couple of 32-gallon Rubbermaid bins that literally have one job - fermenting.
  • Weight: This doesn't need to be anything fancy, it can literally be a rock that you scrubbed really well - this is what we use!
  • Vacuum Sealer: While not strictly necessary, this machine helps to keep your fermented goodness fresher, longer. Putting in all the hard work on the front end makes it worthwhile to use your vacuum sealer. I use, and love, an Avid Armor USV332 chamber vacuum sealer! They've graciously offered a discount for Crave The Good readers, use CRAVE to save!

More Ways To Preserve The Harvest

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📖 Printable Recipe

A whole head of sour cabbage.
Yield: 2

How To: Sour Cabbage

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Ferment Time: 21 days
Harvest Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 21 days 1 hour 15 minutes

If you're looking to get your hands on some homemade sauerkraut, it's worth taking the time and effort necessary to learn how to make it. In this blog post, we'll discuss in detail how you can go about making a fermented whole head of cabbage for recipes like these delicious Sour Cabbage Rolls. Follow along with our easy guide and see just what all goes into getting that perfect tangy flavor--and then try out one of our favorite recipes using this exciting ingredient.

Ingredients

  • 2 heads of flat/Taiwanese cabbage. (See notes for regular green cabbage)
  • 200g of salt / 10 litres of water
  • 3 tablespoons of vinegar / 10 liters of water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar / 10 litres of water
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill / 10 liters of water, optional
  • 10+ liters hot water

Instructions

  1. Determine the size of your brining container. This will vary depending on the size of the cabbage heads and the quantity you'll be souring.
  2. Once you've determined your container size, you'll want to reduce about 20% of the total volume and consider that to be your brine quantity. For example, 12 L tote, so I'll use 10L of brine.
  3. Calculate and measure out the amount of salt, vinegar, and salt necessary for your brine. The amounts are as follows:
    - 200g of salt / 10 litres of water
    - 3 tablespoons of vinegar / 10 litres of water
    - 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar / 10 litres of water
  4. Rinse your cabbage heads well to remove dirt and debris. Don't be afraid to remove any particularly ugly outer leaves. If they're split, have holes, or bug bites in them, it's best to remove them at the start.
  5. Using a sharp knife with a sturdy blade, cut a rectangular wedge around the core. Ensure you're cutting deep enough to remove the whole fibrous core.
  6. Taking from your previously weighed salt, fill the cavities where you cut the stems out. Fill the cavity about 3/4 full.
  7. Stack the cabbages as tightly as possible in your fermentation vessel.
  8. Add the previously measured vinegar, sugar, and remaining salt. If desired, add some dried dill to the brine.
  9. Start adding hot water to your vessel, ensuring to only add what you've accounted for in the beginning. NOTE: If you're using a very large fermentation container, it is advisable to place it where you want it to ferment to avoid moving a too heavy container.
  10. Place your weight on top of the cabbage to keep it submerged in the brine.
  11. Cover your fermentation container, and place it somewhere out of the way to ferment.
  12. Every 3 - 4 days, wash your hands and forearms well, then rotate the cabbage.
  13. The fermentation process will take between 3 and 4 weeks, depending on your ambient temperatures. You'll know the fermentation is complete when the leaves are soft to the touch and have a slight translucency. The color of the interior leaves will look quite white while the outside may look green. Another great way to tell if the ferment is complete is by tasting it! The flavor of the leaves should be salty but have that characteristic tang, and the texture should be tender, but not mushy.
  14. When ready to harvest, working one head of cabbage at a time, remove from the brine, and flip upside down to allow the brine to drain as much as possible.
  15. Gently pull the stems of each leaf, working from the outside inward to loosen them. Once you reach the middle of the cabbage, pull out any leaves that are too small to be rolled into cabbage rolls and set them aside, these are not wasted!
  16. Working from the outside gently remove the leaves and slice a triangle shape around the stem to remove it.
  17. Layer the de-veined leaves in a colander until ready to package.
  18. Once the leaves have been placed in the desired container, add 1/4 - 1/2 cup of brine back into the container.
  19. If you're making cabbage rolls within the next 2-3 days, store your leaves in the fridge until you're ready for them! If you're not planning on making cabbage rolls for a few months, your cabbage should be packed and frozen.

Notes

what to do with damaged/ too small leaves

These tender little tasty bits are PERFECT for making sauerkraut!

To make sauerkraut from your discarded leaves, simply julienne them then measure 2 cups worth of the discarded leaves and transfer them into a vacuum seal bag. Top the bag off with about 1/2 cup of brine before sealing and freezing until ready to use.

how to store sour cabbage leaves

  • Stack them neatly in a container. This method works if you plan to use your cabbage in 3-6 months.
  • Toss them into a ziplock-type bag. Use this method if you're planning on using your cabbage within 3-6 months.
  • Vacuum seal the bags. This is my preferred method for storing prepared leaves. This method gives you a bit more flexibility, and I have had luck freezing vacuum-sealed cabbage for up to 3 years.
  • Nutrition Information:

    Yield:

    20

    Serving Size:

    1

    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 19Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 3963mgCarbohydrates: 4gFiber: 1gSugar: 3gProtein: 1g

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