The mercury plunged to -16ºC last night, which is not uncommon for January, especially in the northern parts of Slovakia and most of its valleys. Do you know what we do to survive such harsh winters? We have a list of old recipes and potent ingredients we return to when those nasty bacteria are getting at us, though it’s far from the only reason why we like to cook the Sauerkraut Soup or Kapustnica. As with most recipes, the soup has many variations, but what it can’t be short of is sauerkraut, garlic, dried forest mushrooms, and in some regions paprika, too.
Sauerkraut is finely chopped white cabbage that is layered with salt and left to ferment in crocks (earthenware pots). Properly cured sauerkraut has a wonderful microbial composition, is high in calcium, magnesium, iron, to name but a few minerals. It’s the richest and most natural source of C vitamin in our latitudes, which explains why all the stores in Slovakia are stocked with this staple all through the winter. Sauerkraut is also a very good source of fibre and antioxidants, it balances pH levels in the stomach and helps break down proteins.
I always put a wad of sauerkraut aside when cooking, and eat it raw. Delicious!
Decadent Sauerkraut Soup
Serves 8 – 10
- 700 g sauerkraut
- 2½ l water
- 2 handfuls dried forest mushrooms
- 1 small onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 black peppercorns, 3 allspice corns, 4 cloves
- 4 large potatoes
- 100 g dried cranberries or prunes
- 200 ml cooking cream (12% fat content in Slovakia)
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- salt & pepper to taste
Soak the dried mushrooms in cold water for about an hour. Strain on a sieve and place in a large cooking pot.
Pour in the water and bring to the boil. Add the bay leaves and the whole spices enclosed in a tea strainer. Adjust the heat and let simmer.
Meanwhile, peel and wash the potatoes. Dice and add them to the simmering mushrooms. Peel the onion and the garlic. Rinse the cranberries/prunes on a sieve under running cold water.
When the potatoes are tender, stir in the saeurkraut and the cranberries/prunes. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the cream with the flour until smooth. Add to the simmering stock and stir until it comes to the boil again. Throw in the paprika, stir well and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bear in mind the salinity of the sauerkraut.
Serve hot in soup bowls.
Don’t throw away the leftovers. The Sauerkraut Soup gets tastier the following day or afterwards, so keep it in the fridge and reheat it as many times as you need. It is a proven fact that this brings out even more of its flavours.
For festive occasions, we cook traditional kapustnica (Sauerkraut Soup) with home-made sausages or smoked ham, and often replace ‘single’ cream with crème fraiche (33% fat content in Slovakia).