If you’re a German you gotta love sauerkraut. That’s just how it is.
But you take it for granted.
I grew up helping my mom shred and pound crocks full of the stuff every fall and never paid much attention to it. In fact, I groaned severely if I had to lend a sauerkraut-making hand when I’d rather be out with my friends, or reading in my room…or even cleaning my room.
I stepped around the bubbling, fermenting crocks of it, and other lacto-fermented vegetables, like pickles, green tomatoes and even apples, when I snuck down to the cold room to find the treats or pop that were sometimes stashed there. I rolled my eyes and apologized when I brought friends home after school and smelled the tangy cabbage aroma wafting from the kitchen (even though it made my mouth water). I ate my mom’s delicious sauerkraut simmered with smoked pig skin, her addictive sauerkraut salad, and our favourite sauerkraut-and-prune-stuffed Christmas goose, without really thinking about them.
And the health benefits of fresh raw sauerkraut? Who cared?
(There’s an old saying that if the Germans ate as much sauerkraut as the French think they do, there’d be no disease in Germany.)
For many years after I had my own family, I received my yearly supply of canned or frozen sauerkraut from my mom every fall without much real appreciation for the gift I was getting. Yes, I liked it, and it was a handy quick side-dish for sausages on the days when I forgot to take dinner out of the freezer. And when I was pregnant I once ate a whole quart of it – cold, with a fork, and straight from the jar. (What can I say about pregnant women and their cravings? -Except that maybe a whole jar of sauerkraut isn’t the smartest idea.)
It isn’t really until the last few years that I have truly begun to appreciate it. And last fall, under my mother’s guidance, I made my first batch myself. I brought the 5-gallon pail of sauerkraut home the 8-hour drive from my parents’ place and rinsed and nurtured it until the day we could have our own first taste.
I think I’m hooked.
Where has it been my whole life?
Now I enjoy finding new ways to use it. This week I had a bag of sauerkraut defrosting and I was thinking of potato salad, when the two melded in my mind and this dish was born.
It was an immediate hit.
It was even better this morning for breakfast.
Sauerkraut Potato Salad
(I love the taste of caraway seeds, having grown up with them in my mom’s homemade rye or whole wheat bread, but if you don’t, try using mustard seeds.)
2 lbs (1 kg) small potatoes
1 1/2 cups (325 ml) drained sauerkraut (save the juice)
2 tsp (10 ml) caraway seeds
1/4 cup (60 ml) grapeseed oil
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 cup (125 ml) sliced chives or green onions
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) coarsely ground black pepper
3 Tbsp (45 ml) reserved sauerkraut juice
Steam the potatoes in a steamer basket, or steamer insert in a pot, until they are just tender.
While the potatoes are steaming, plunk the pile of sauerkraut onto a cutting board and chop it roughly so there are no long strands. (Don’t go crazy and chop it too fine – just a series of slices 1/2 inch apart horizontally, then vertically). Put it into a large bowl and toss it with the grapeseed oil, dijon mustard and caraway seeds. Leave it to sit until the potatoes are finished steaming, so the caraway seeds can soften a bit and release their flavour.
Cut the cooked, potatoes into quarters or halves, depending on their size, and gently toss them, while still hot, with the sauerkraut mixture. This allows them to absorb more of the flavour.
Sprinkle with the chives, pepper and reserved sauerkraut juice, then toss gently once more.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Feeds 6 (4 if they are hungry Germans)
Throw some bratwurst on the barbeque, crack open a cold beer and summer supper is served.