The 4-Ingredient Soup Czechs Can't Live Without
Sauerkraut soup is not one of those delicacy dishes that it takes a few tries to grow a real taste for. This briny, umami-rich, intensely satisfying cabbage stew is as approachable and versatile as chicken noodle soup, but may have more health benefits and be less costly than the alternative.
For most of my upbringing in the US, I knew sauerkraut as the stinky, slimy condiment that came out of a five gallon container and topped over-boiled Dodger dogs at baseball games. In recent years, the fermented cabbage salad gained popularity among health bloggers and diet fanatics as a probiotic-rich topping for macro bowls and other instagram-worthy dishes. In Czech cuisine, however, sauerkraut is an essential dish that highlights one of the staple vegetables using an age-old preservation technique. Czechs have always been highly innovative cooks, utilizing local ingredients and adapting to blockages and challenges limiting food access (i.e. communism). Preservation practices like canning and pickling are deeply engrained in Czech culture, because Czechs value eating locally year round. Preserved foods like sauerkraut, jams, and some sauces extend the shelf life of ingredients that may otherwise be unattainable out of season.
In addition to being a pillar of traditional Czech cookery, sauerkraut soup is the perfect dish for a sudden cold-snap between Summer and Fall. With just four ingredients and a handful of pantry items, this recipe can be made on the fly, and is both easy on the wallet and simple enough for even the most novice cook.
The recipe I used was adapted from Czech Recipes by Alzbeta Novak. The most amazing thing about this dish is that it does not call for fresh tomatoes or a large cut of meat, but has a pungent kick that lingers like a slow-cooked red wine beef stew. That flavor is thanks to one of the star spices of Czech cuisine, caraway seeds. Caraway is similar to fennel and cumin, but lends a more earthy anise taste than its relatives. During the cooking process the kitchen fills with a rich, smoky aroma that is similar to a campfire.
While the original recipe is the most traditional style, I put my own spin on the dish by cranking up the heat and subbing with the ingredients I had on hand. Perhaps the most interesting point about the recipe is that it does not call for any salt. I can’t remember the last time I cooked a dish that didn’t include even a sprinkling of salt. I gave the recipe a shot, but after tasting the soup once it was finished, I decided to add in both salt and chili flakes to enhance the sour flavor of the cabbage.
1 (1-pound) package sauerkraut, drained
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 extra-large potato, peeled and cubed
1 small onion, chopped finely
2 sausages, cut into bite-size pieces (I used thick-cut bacon)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more for a spicier soup)
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon chili flakes
4 cups of water
Sour cream, for topping
(p. 26). Kindle Edition
In a large bowl, add sauerkraut and enough water to cover. Keep aside till serving.
In a large pan, heat oil and sauté potato and onion for about 4-5 minutes.
Add sausage and garlic and cook for about 3 minutes.
Stir in caraway seeds and bay leaf and cook for about 2 minutes.
Stir in paprika, cayenne, black pepper, salt, chili flakes, and water and bring to a boil.
Drain sauerkraut and add into soup.
Simmer, covered for about 45 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Remove from heat and rep aside to cool for about 10-15 minutes before serving.
Serve with the topping of sour cream.