Village Life: How To Make Sauerkraut (Kiseli Kupus)

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Post author SJ

Written by our local expert SJ

Sarah-Jane has lived in Croatia for 10+ years. SJ, as she is known, has been traveling the Balkans & beyond since 2000. She now shares her passion for traveling with her husband & kids.

Technically there is no cooking in this recipe. Just fermentation. And actually there is really no recipe to speak of either. What there is, instead is, 50 kilograms {110 pounds} of cabbage, salt, pepper corns, corn kernels, bay leaves and some water.

Yes, you read correctly 50kg of cabbage.

Where do you get such a huge bag of cabbage you may be asking? 1 way is to grow it in your garden or to buy it at the markets.

I had to do a double take, when Mr. Chasing the Donkey (Mr. CtD) came home one morning announcing that he stopped on the side of the road after taking a trip to the local mall and made an unusual purchase.

I was at the sink washing dishes, and was totally shocked when he announced all very casually that he was now in possession of 7 heads of cabbage and 35kg of shredded cabbage. What did you say? I asked rather puzzled. He repeated himself, and I still asked what he was talking about. Cabbage, what cabbage I kept asking him. Some days more than others I really feel like an expat, actually like an alien even.

You see in the lead up to his smelly green purchase there had not been one discussion about buying cabbages of any kind, he had simply gone to the store to run some errands. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Our new expat life here in rural Croatia is seasonal, and just as it was for the summer garden  you eat and cook what is available during the current time of year. It’s now autumn (or fall depending on where you live) and in November it’s time to make sauerkraut. I had no idea, but now I know, each November, we’ll be making sauerkraut.

Loading up 50kg’s of cabbage to make this Croatian food is much easier than it sounds. Here is a video I took at the monthly market, where you can see how quickly you can shred those 50kgs of cabbages!

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So Exactly How Do You Make Sauerkraut?

I am noticing more and more here in my little Croatian village, that there is no such thing as exact. More like a bit of this, and a bit of that and just when you think it’s done – throw in a bit more of this and that and you’re set.

Key Ingredients are:

  • Cabbages (kapus)
  • Salt (sol)
  • Pepper Corns (papar)
  • Dried Corn (suh kukuruz)
  • Bay Leaves (lovor)

As a guide, the amount of salt needed is between 2-3% of the amount of cabbage. In our case, we had a total of 50kg so we used 1.5kg of salt.

Steps To Make Sauerkraut

  • Wash and clean a big barrel / container
  • Throw in a few kilos of shredded cabbage into the barrel, add to that a handful of salt and rub it in.
  • Add a few more kilos and continue to rub in the salt making sure you push down to keep it compact
  • Toss in a few pepper corns and bay leaves, along with a few dried corn kernels
  • Pack in the whole heads of cabbage as you go along (these are to make cabbage rolls /sarma)
  • And repeat until all of your cabbage is fairly tightly packed in.
  • Pour in water so that it just covers the cabbage
  • Place on top a large plastic sheet, and weigh down with something very heavy. We used rocks. Yes, actual rocks. Nothing fancy needed where we live.

Then You Wait

There is always so much waiting when it comes to things in the village. The longest wait, is for our olives to mature, but this one is much quicker. As little as 20 days, and as much as 2 months depending on how the fermentation process goes.

Once it’s ready, you scoop out whatever you need to eat, rinse off the brine, and prepare as you like.

Have you ever made sauerkraut, what would you suggest we do differently next year?

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Comments (24)

  1. I have two large crocks fermenting away at the moment ????. My Mother in law knew a man that used to put horseradish and caraway seed in his zelje (but it was only shredded cabbage, no whole heads)… says it was the best she ever had. I’m going to try and recreate it with a smaller batch this year ????hopefully it works out!

  2. Thank you for the post! It reminded me of my mother who did this when we lived in Zagreb. She was from Benkovac. Her maiden name was Prtenjaca.
    This is exactly how she made it. I would like to make it on the smaller scale!

  3. This looks like a great sauerkraut recipe! I love making my own sauerkraut at home and I love branching out and trying other people’s recipes. People don’t really think about how much time and effort goes into making recipes their own, or the history that comes from being passed down a recipe from a loved one. Thanks again for sharing, excited to try yours!

  4. My husband has a crock at home made specifically for sauerkraut but I am skeptical about trying it ;) I think it might be too warm in our kitchen and since we live in an apartment in the city, our only other option is to keep it on the balcony but now we’re in winter (below freezing temps!) . Any recommendations? he loves the stuff! I always make Rotkohl – the red version – fresh and preserve it in jars.

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