If you ever wondered how to ferment cabbage, here it is! Simple formula for a complex result: great cabbage for salad, chockfull of vitamins and nutrients.
Late fall is all about prepping for the winter, so today I’m sharing a procedure for fermenting cabbage (kako ukiseliti kupus) in small quantities, and including a familiar fresh cabbage salad recipe.
Fermenting goes back to the pre-refrigerator days, as it was the best way to preserve fruit and vegetables for the winter. Cabbage has always been a popular choice due to its versatility. You can make a salad out of cabbage, bake it, simmer, or stuff it into what is called sarma in the region.
How To Ferment Cabbage (Small Batch)
- ½ green cabbage head approximately
- 4-5 tablespoons salt
- 2-3 cups water
- Cut the cabbage into a half, then into quarters, and then eights. Take some, and put a layer of it into a mason jar. Pack it in well. Get about a tablespoon of salt and generously pour over the layer. Add another layer of cabbage. Tightly pack. Add a tablespoon of salt. Repeat until the jar is filled.
- Check that the jar is tightly packed. Add water until jar is filled to the top. Place jar on a tray, and add a small, heavier object on the uncovered jar to add the pressure. Leave overnight, uncovered.
- In the morning, add water to top the jar off again (if necessary). Place the lid on, and cover tightly. Leave closed jar in the kitchen at room temperature for 5-10 days to 3-4 weeks.*
- Transfer to fridge, and start eating!
And just so we don't forget about fresh cabbage, here is a simple and familiar recipe for a salad. It's kind of fresh version of slaw, no mustard, no mayo, just salad and a simple lemon vinaigrette. (As I cannot insert 2 recipe widgets in one post I'll just write it out below.)
Prep Time: 10 min
Yields: 4 servings
1 red cabbage head
1 green cabbage head
½ lemon (juiced)
2 ounce olive oil (or vegetable)
salt and pepper to taste
1. Grind red and green cabbage as well as carrots.
2. Mix lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Kristi @ Inspiration Kitchen says
I love cabbage and would've never thought to do this! Come to think of it, you have me crazing cabbage now. 🙂
Glad to hear it! And honestly, feel free to leave it out for a shorter period of time (5 or 10 days). I haven't had problems with it, although I do like it very sour so I usually leave it out longer.
Oh, I have The Art of Fermentation on my list of books to read right now! I've always been so intimidated by the whole process.. love your step by step photos!
Thanks Emily! Glad it helps. Don't be intimidated, it's super simple. Salt, water, cabbage, and you're good to go! If it doesn't work out, just get another head of cabbage, tweak the process a little bit (for example: longer or shorter period for fermentation) and try again.
Phi @ The Sweetphi Blog says
Wow, love this recipe (and your photos are gorgeous)! My mother loves fermented cabbage, and I love how you showed how to make this, I'm totally going to try this!
Lovely! Let me know how it goes.
I love your blog! My husband has been begging me to make this for ages...any tips on how to do whole cabbage leaves so that you can use them for sarma?
Thank you! Like I recommended to Emily (see the comments), just test it out. If you're making it for the first time, ferment it for 5-10 days. Everyone has their preferences over how sour they like it. Obviously if it tastes weird, duck it, and make another batch.
Now to ferment cabbage for sarma you need to ferment the entire cabbage head. For that you'll need a place to store it like a garage, or basement that has some airflow because the whiff will make you faint. 🙂
Then get a bucket, and several cabbage heads to place in it. Take each cabbage head and get rid of the outer green-ier leaves. Then cut out the root of each cabbage, making a small pit on the bottom of the cabbage head. (The root is basically the hard white stem, so just cut it out making a little "cup" in the process). Fill the "cup" with salt. Repeat for each cabbage head. Then fill up your bucket with cabbage heads. (You can also cut up a couple of heads to fill in the empty space in between cabbage heads.)
Make sure you're really pressing everything down well. Finally, fill the bucket up with water and place water bottles, or stones or something heavy on top of the cabbage in the bucket. Close the lid. The next day open the lid up and add more water if necessary (water should always cover all the cabbage heads).
Now some people say to check the water levels for the next few days. Some say to close it down and not open the bucket for 40 days. In either case, after that time your cabbage heads should be fermented for the best sarma ever.
Oh my gosh, thank you so much for this! I can't wait to try it! 🙂
Anytime sweetie. Report back how it turned out!
Thanks for this recipe! I've contemplated fermenting cabbage but didn't know how to! Nice photos 🙂
Thanks Matea! Let me know if you do and how it turns out.
So I love kupus though it's def a far second to shopska which sadly I find near impossible to make in the US as never found proper sirene (non creamy, i.e. the kind you can shred) outside a small market in Cleveland but the question I have is what makes this different than sauerkraut?
And I mean that in a serious manner, not poking fun. Sauerkraut is basically an identical recipe yet much more sour whereas in Bosnia the kupas was always more mellow and sweet so curious why? Different type of cabbage? Just the length of ferment?
Good question. I think they're pretty similar, depending on whose you try. I agree - it's most likely the shorter amount of prep time that makes it less sour. As far as the sir (cheese) for sopska salata, yes, it's made with either sheep or cow milk cheese, unpasteurized. You probably won't find it in the US unless you have your own cows/ sheep. Some people find they like it with feta, so try that.
Wanda Gordon says
I was so lucky to be invited, a number of years s ago, to take 8 of my American students on a 21 day exchange trip to Russia. I fell in love with the marvelous country, and her people. I have craved the simple fermented cabbage salad ever since!!!! I have roamed the Internet with no luck until tonight when I found your recipe.
I am thrilled beyond words, and now I will think of your precious people while I eat this salad for years and years!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Wanda, welcome to the blog!
Glad the recipe could be of help. The fall is a fantastic time to start fermenting cabbage, and it's really easy. Let me know how it turns out. I haven't been to Russia, I'd love to go, but I can imagine what a great time you had over there.
Mary Lou Surgi says
Hello, I hope you are still here! I love this fermented cabbage--I have been eating it almost every day while I am temporarily living in Albania. Of course, I usually buy it! But, I want to be able to make it when I return to the US later this year, so I have followed your recipe and it is just perfect. My question is about that round, white thing like a wheel that you put in the jar to keep the cabbages below the brine. I have seen it or something similar in other videos.
My question is, what is it called? And do you know where it can be bought--on-line or in markets in Europe??
Just hoping you can help me solve this mystery. Thank you.
I know exactly what you're referring to, but I don't know what it's called. However, you can use something heavier like a clean rock or similar to keep the cabbage down.
Natalie Cassin says
Why not purple? Curious 😉
Not sure. Germans do it. Here, purple cabbage is either in a salad, or stir fried.
What about a moldy smell? Is the batch bad?
Fermented cabbage smells very strong due to fermentation. As far as a moldy smell - it could very well be that it went bad. The best way is to test it. If the cabbage is crunchy and sturdy and a little tough then it's good to go. However if it falls apart in your hand, turns a little yellowish, and is mushy then it's no good. (Make sure to add lots of salt when you ferment it next time.) Does that help?
Nicole Artukovich says
Love Kupus! Usually make it this time of year in large crocks in the garage where is stays cool. Not cool enough right now in California but getting there. I made a batch in my counter top crock. I just looked and its a little foamy on the top. What is this? Is it bad?
If you've put enough salt and water to cover the cabbage you should be fine. The foam is formed by fermentation. You can remove it.