Potato and Sauerkraut Hotdish

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This is the crowd pleaser of all crowd pleasers – the “MUST HAVE” on the holiday table, the easiest thing to bring for a potluck, and well, AMAZINGLY delicious. Let’s just say this is one old-fashioned, the-way-it-used-to-be-before-canned-soup HOTDISH! But potatoes with sauerkraut? This lesser known concoction was brought to the Midwest by our creative German ancestors and usually contained sausage or bacon. (I know, I can hear you right now, “Ooh bacon, that’s a good idea!” Don’t even think about it!) My mother learned of the recipe from a neighbor who originally hailed from the Pierz area of Minnesota – a German stronghold. Hotdish tends to be very provincial as each kitchen cook has their own secret ingredient. If you prefer to call it a casserole then we’ll know you’re not from Minnesota!

Midwest church-goers are famous for their potlucks where you can find Tuna, Hamburger, Tator Tot as well as other noodle, meat and canned soup concoctions. For some reason my family always called these things casseroles, and tuna was the only one I was familiar with thanks to Grandma’s inability to cook, and my parent’s strict adherence to the edicts of food improvisation.

Unfamiliar, that is to say, until I entered the hot lunch program at my local Elementary School. I took a brief foray away from vegetarianism and learned the nuances of true Midwest Culinary Cuisine. Not only did I enjoy the hotdish repertoire, but it was in those cafeterias that I learned of “Shit on a Shingle” – otherwise referred to as “Chipped Beef on Toast.” I also had the pleasure of discovering Spam, American Cheese slices, and Corn Dogs. You must remember, I was a child of the “Back to the Land” movement. I knew where food really came from so this highly processed stuff was totally foreign to me. It also drove me quickly back to the comforting lap of the vegetarian diet.

Don’t get me wrong, I love hotdish. I am by nature, a lazy cook and lover of all things comfortable. I love the ease of the one pan meal and the idea that I won’t have to cook for a few days as with casseroles, if you’re not feeding a crowd, there are leftovers.

A couple of years ago my mom came to one of the family dinners with this potato and sauerkraut casserole thingy. It got high approval ratings from everyone, especially my potato loving husband. I’ve never had to make it only suggest that Mom bring it for our gatherings, but as the red potatoes from the CSA keep rolling in, I decided it was high time to make my own hotdish. So I called Mom for the recipe. My mother cooks like I do – it’s always a creative process, there is never a recipe and if an interruption occurs during the preparation, the meal is terrible!

Here’s my mom giving me the “recipe.”

“Well, you just need to drain the sauerkraut and boil the potatoes. Then I saute the sauerkraut in a lot of butter with garlic . When the potatoes are done, break them up; Don’t really mash them, just smash them, and add them to the sauerkraut. I like to put jalapenos in it and some cheese. That’s it, then you bake it.”

“What kind of cheese do you use?”

“Whatever I have. I always have lots of cheese. I might use feta or mozzarella. I always put parmesan in it- whatever you have. I wouldn’t use cream cheese or sour cream because I don’t like those.”

Thanks, Mom!

Making this casserole really got me excited about making sauerkraut as well. I have a huge cabbage from the CSA so I think I’ll give it a try. Here’s a great link showing how to make Sauerkraut. I was interested to find that during WWII it was considered patriotic to make your own sauerkraut. I never knew sauerkraut to be a particularly political pickle.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large jar or bag of sauerkraut – 32 oz.
  • 5 pounds new baby reds
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 jalapeno diced
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup parmesan
  • 1 cup chopped green beans (optional)
  • Idea Note: Chopped herbs would be fabulous to add to the top or incorporate into this dish.

Directions:

Boil the potatoes until tender. When they are cool enough to handle, smash them with a potato masher. Drain the sauerkraut well and meanwhile saute the garlic in melted butter. When the garlic releases its fragrance, add the sauerkraut and saute for a few minutes. Mix the sauerkraut with the potatoes in a big bowl. Use a food processor to chop the jalapeno and mozzarella. Mix everything together. Pour it all into an oiled baking pan. Sprinkle the parmesan on top and decorate with green beans. Bake for 1 hour at 375 degrees.

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Freezer Sauerkraut – Good Gut Bacteria

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How to make fast Sauerkraut

Last year I made sauerkraut in August, and because it was so warm out, I decided to only let it ferment for one week (Not sure that’s logical, really!) Then being completely lazy the day I decided it was done, I packed it in 1 quart Mason jars, and FROZE it! That’s right, I threw the jars in the freezer, and let me tell you, this made the BEST sauerkraut ever. By freezing it the kraut tastes fresh, keeps a nice color and doesn’t get that indescribable “bleh” taste and texture of canned kraut. Here’s the coolest thing – when you take it out of the freezer to defrost, you can watch it begin to ferment again! It’s just a little bit fizzy and effervescent for the first few days – beautiful!

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To answer your question after looking at these pictures, yes, I freeze a lot of food in canning jars. A few years ago I started putting all my tomatoes, salsas, pasta and pizza sauce, chimichurri, banana ice cream…really anything that fits in a jar makes a good candidate for freezing in jars. And, NO they DO NOT BREAK as long as you don’t overfill them or bang them around! I stack them as you can see – safe and sound.

So, haul out your giant food processor, grab as many cabbages as you want to make into kraut, put in the slicer attachment to any thickness you like, dump the stuff in a fermentation vessel or big bowl, and sprinkle with salt. For every cabbage use about 1 TABLESPOON of salt. Mix the salt into the cabbage well using your bare hands, gloved hands or a big set of tongs – whatever fits your comfort zone. Then all you do is cover it well, leave it in a dark place for a week and pack in jars for the freezer.

How do you cover it while fermenting? That is a BIG discussion in the world of fermentation and everything seems to be pesky, but it doesn’t need to be. Some fermentation vessels have ceramic discs made just for the sole purpose of pushing down the fermenting veg to help keep it under the brine, others have lids that have a liquid seal, and some have both. If you are budget minded, or simply don’t want to invest in a big heavy crock, there are alternatives.

DIY Fermenting Vessels

One method to make fermented veg is to use a big bowl with a plate on top. It’s great if the plate fits down inside the bowl just a little, but not imperative. Some of your veg is going to float to the top of the brine and that is okay. With a week of fermenting and salt to protect it, you won’t have any weird stuff growing other than the weird stuff we want! If you do leave sauerkraut to ferment in a cool place for longer than a week, you might see a little harmless white mold grow. The pros say to just scrape it off. Eww! I’m a little squeemish about that idea, so I prefer to get the fermenting done before any molds grow!

Another great way to submerse the bulk of your veg is to use large pieces of the veg you are fermenting as weights. So, if you are making sauerkraut, keep some of the large outer cabbage leaves to use as a protective cover under your plate. Or, if you want to weight it down, cut out the core of the cabbage and lay those on the top. Regardless, cover the veg the best you can so that it is submerged under the brine. I like to add a plastic bag over the top if the fermented veg is in a bowl as some veggies, like cabbage and radishes, can get a little pungent after a couple of days. Farm Curious gives some great budget-minded tips for other ways to ferment and protect your veg.

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I splurged a couple years ago on a fermenting crock from Poland – it’s fat and heavy! Since owning the farm it has been great fun because it holds A LOT of veg. I can pack 25 heads of cabbage into this baby! Of course, I have trouble eating that much sauerkraut, but it is fun to make. As you can see from the red cabbage, this year’s sauerkraut is going to be PINK!