Sauerkraut is as important an ingredient in Slovak cooking as olive oil is in Italian or tofu in Asian. We grow up eating sauerkraut in both the raw form or cooked in our most typical and oldest dishes, like a sauerkraut soup or strapatchki. Indeed, all these ancient recipes come from the times when sauerkraut, alongside the potato, was the only source of vitamin C in our latitudes, especially throughout our long, frosty winters.
The Slovak name for sauerkraut is kyslá kapusta, which literally translates as ‘sour cabbage’ into English. Sauerkraut is made by white cabbage fermentation and its by-product is sauerkraut juice. The latter is the main ingredient for the traditional fasting dish from eastern Slovakia, which I have enhanced by adding red lentils. If you decide to give it a go, please remember that both sauerkraut and its juice are not only packed with vitamin C and natural probiotics, but they’re also high in sodium, so there’s no need for additional salt in the recipe below.
Red Lentil and Mushroom Dip
- 1 – 2 handfuls dried forest mushrooms
- 100 g red lentils
- 1 small onion
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 litre water
- 250 ml sauerkraut juice
- 2 tablespoons fine four
- 2 bay leaves
- black pepper to taste
- Break large pieces of the mushrooms and soak them in cold water for about an hour. Drain them on a sieve.
- Rinse the lentils under running cold water and put them in a large saucepan together with the mushrooms. Pour in the water, stir well, and bring to the boil. Add the bay leaves and season with black pepper. Turn down the heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes, checking every now and then, as the mushrooms tend to overflow.
- Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion. Pour the oil in a small pot and put over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Throw in the flour and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring all the time. Put aside to cool down. Pour in the sauerkraut juice and stir well until a smooth mixture (roux) has formed.
- Pour the sauerkraut mixture (roux) into the simmering mushrooms and stir constantly until the mixture comes to the boil again and thickens. Remove from the heat.
- Divide into soup bowls and serve with slices of fresh bread.
Sauerkraut is still made traditionally in many Slovak households by pressing finely shredded white cabbage in earthenware crocks together with salt and other condiments, like caraway, black peppercorns or bay leaves. As it is Slovakia’s staple food, quality sauerkraut (kyslá kapusta) is also available in all supermarkets and small shops around the country. It comes in plastic bags of 500g – 1000g, including sauerkraut juice.