A few days before New Years, Gourmenator migrates to the kitchen in search of his Slovak roots. Sauerkraut soup (which, as we tell people, tastes infinitely better than it sounds) fills the house with an enticing aroma, rich with sausage and smoked meats, tangy from sauerkraut, a touch of fire from peppers, and silky from the addition of a small amount of sour cream. Friends and neighbors gather on New Years Day to share a bowl of kapustnica (ka-poost-nitza) and other accompaniments to start the year.
We don’t intend for this in any way to be a “health” soup, just a really delicious way to ring in the New Year and unload all those holiday cookies and sweets on unsuspecting guests. One of our neighbors got right into the Slovak spirit of things and treated us with homemade, still-warm poticza – a delicious bread swirled perfectly with nuts and butter. Thank you, Patty! We confess that we didn’t share this with the guests – but oh what a delicious breakfast treat!
2 1# bags of sauerkraut (or 2 jars)
handful of dried assorted mushrooms
1 seeded dried chipotle or other smokey chile to taste
1 T of mild, freshly ground, seeded dry chile
1 ham hock or smoked turkey leg
1 large smoked polish kielbasa, sliced in circles
1 T freshly ground black pepper
1 heaping tsp caraway seed
4 bay leaves
2 T sweet paprika (adjust to taste)
Drain and rinse sauerkraut briefly in cold running water if it is very salty. Rinse dried mushrooms briefly in a bowl of water to remove any sandy bits. Place all ingredients in a heavy 8 quart stock pot. Fill 2/3 full with filtered water. Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium- low and partially cover. Simmer gently for 1 hour. Remove turkey leg or ham hock to a plate until cool enough to handle. Strip meat from bones and chop into 1/2 inch dice. Add meat back to soup.
8 oz. Sour cream
2 Tbs. white unbleached flour
Whisk sour cream and flour together in a separate bowl until smooth.
Gradually add a ladle full of hot soup stock to sour cream mixture, whisking to blend and keep flour from lumping. When mixture is warmed, slowly add to soup kettle, constantly stirring to prevent lumping. Turn heat on to medium and bring to a simmer while stirring. When soup thickens a little, it is ready. Taste to adjust any seasonings. This soup keeps well, freezes well and gets even better with age. Make a few days before serving.
Note: We used a polish kielbasa that is carried at Whole Foods. It has no preservatives and the pork is not raised with antibiotics. There is also a turkey version. The idea is to have a fair sprinkling of meat in each bowl of soup. If you go to the grocery store in Bratislava, the line for the sausage counter far exceeds any other line in the store! This is a once a year treat in our house.