Home » Sauerkraut shines in this Reuben-inspired crispy tofu dish

Sauerkraut shines in this Reuben-inspired crispy tofu dish

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I spend so much of the summer thinking about hot dogs, one of the most quintessential summer foods. And thinking about hot dogs also has me thinking about sauerkraut. And thinking about sauerkraut makes me wonder why we so often limit ourselves to enjoying it only on hot dogs, bratwurst and the occasional Reuben sandwich.

But why stop there? Sauerkraut is crunchy, funky and good for us, and it goes well with so many things.

And when I think about celebrating sauerkraut, I think of my friend Emmet Moeller. I don’t think I know anyone who loves it as much as he does, or who makes better homemade kraut. If Emmet’s name sounds familiar to regular readers of the Eat Voraciously newsletter, you might remember that, a couple of months ago, I shared a tofu piccata recipe that I developed for Full Fridge Club, the prepared-food service I work on with Emmet. Every Monday, we make a bunch of dishes for our clients to take home, and for every customer we cook for, we put at least one meal into one of the Community Fridges in Kingston, N.Y. Since September 2022, we have contributed more than 1,800 meals to those fridges, where people who need it can pick up free food.

Get the recipe: Crispy Tofu Cutlets With Russian Dressing and Sauerkraut

This week, I thought it would be fun to share another Full Fridge Club-inspired tofu recipe, this time from Emmet. Sauerkraut is the key ingredient in this Reuben-inspired recipe for marinated tofu cutlets that get breaded, crisped and served with Russian dressing and kraut. It’s delicious, and it happens to be completely vegan.

I spoke with Emmet about homemade sauerkraut and the wonderful unpredictability of fermented foods. Here’s our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

This recipe features sauerkraut, which I know you love to make yourself. Why do you think more people should consider making their own?

I’m all about demystifying kraut. … When I tell people it’s just cabbage and salt, they’re often pretty stunned. I’m also not a big “should” guy, so if buying sauerkraut from a local purveyor feels awesome to you, then do it! But the experience of making sauerkraut is both wildly satisfying and extremely affordable, and you can make a lot at once and have it in your fridge for a long time. It’s good for your gut, and it’s good on everything, so why not make a ton of it with a $4 head of cabbage rather than spending $15 on a 12-ounce jar?

What do you love about fermented foods in general?

I love fermenting, because it’s a little unpredictable. The ingredients you use really dictate the way the final product comes out, and there’s no real way to know what it will taste like until you set up the ferment, babysit it a bit and eventually try it. The taste and texture and funkiness and zippiness are all affected by temperature and how long you let things sit and the water content and whatever yeasts are on the vegetables you’re fermenting, and there’s this great sense of letting go that can come along with it. Not to get too deep, but it’s freeing to roll the dice and see what happens every now and then, and fermented foods are such a fun and low-stakes way to do that. Sometimes they turn out weird, which is really okay, and also a lot of the time they turn out amazing, and it feels so good!

How do you make your own sauerkraut?

I learned this from watching the one and only Sandor Katz do a demo on how to make sauerkraut many, many years ago. I had followed recipes that had really led me astray, but when I saw Sandor set up kraut live and in person, something clicked for me.

Here’s the gist: Get a pretty fresh cabbage. (Red, green and savoy are all great choices. The fresher it is, the more water content, which is a plus.) Cut out the core and shred the cabbage with a knife or mandoline. Put the cabbage in a big bowl and sprinkle it with some kosher salt. Toss it all together so the salt is distributed evenly, then taste it. The amount of salt you need is up to you; the cabbage should taste like it’s seasoned right, and like you could eat it as is (even if you wouldn’t want to).

Let the mixture sit a few minutes, then start massaging and squeezing the cabbage with your hands. Don’t be afraid to really get in there; the goal is to break down the cell walls, so the cabbage releases liquid, which will become the brine for your kraut. Keep squeezing and massaging. You’re done when you pick up a handful of cabbage, squeeze it and a bunch of liquid runs out of it. You can mix in a little bit of caraway seed, juniper berry or coriander seed (or leave it plain).

Pack the cabbage, a handful at a time, into a swing-top jar with a rubber gasket (this is the first jar I ever made kraut in), pushing it down with your fist so there aren’t air pockets. Pour all the liquid from the bowl into the jar, too, pushing down on the cabbage until the liquid rises above the top of the cabbage. Seal the jar up and put it on your counter in a cool spot. Release the built-up gas from the jar daily, and push the cabbage back down as needed. After a week, start tasting your kraut.

Let it ferment until you like the way it tastes. The longer you go, the funkier and softer it will get. I like mine at about 2 weeks, when it’s still got some crunch but is pickley and delicious. (Unless it’s super hot out, in which case I do less time.) Stash it in your fridge, and put it on every single sandwich and salad and hot dog you eat.

Besides the crunchy tofu recipe you’ve shared with us, what are some other ways you enjoy sauerkraut?

I use my sauerkraut liberally! It can stand in for a pickle in most situations. I put it on sandwiches: Turkey, avocado and sauerkraut with some arugula or crisp lettuce is a good one, or throw it in a grilled cheese to give it some crunch and a fermenty snap. I eat it with scrambled eggs in the morning, just on the side, or pile it on buttered toast with a runny egg on top. In the great macrobiotic tradition, sauerkraut is wonderful served with a whole grain (rice or farro or quinoa, etc.), beans and green veggies (a.k.a. the modern “grain bowl”). It’s also brilliant in a sushi roll; my favorite combo is marinated, seared tempeh, ruby sauerkraut and avocado.

Get creative, be proud of your homemade pickle, and put your sauerkraut on whatever strikes your fancy. Your gut will thank you for the extra probiotics, too.

Get the recipe: Crispy Tofu Cutlets With Russian Dressing and Sauerkraut

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