Can I just say, that as a kid who grew up in eastern central Pennsylvania eating sauerkraut in many forms on many days because it was cheap and cultural and mostly cheap, that no one was more shocked than I was when sauerkraut became the health food du jour. What I used to scrape off the side of my plate at dinner in 1992 as the lowest form of cabbage one could possibly ingest, I now pay $9 a jar for at Whole Foods and eat with that glowing feeling of superiority that "wellness" brings us. (That's why we all love wellness, right? No? Just me?) It really goes to show you never can tell.
So, here I give you two ways to eat sauerkraut that isn't just plopping it on the side of your plate as a health food tonic, but in which it is cooked straight into the dish as if it's a required component. First, we eat it with dough bread balls, in which the chewiness of the baked bread is offset with the tanginess and slight crunch of the cabbage. Second, we eat it in a soup mixed with mushrooms and beans, where all the vitamins, minerals and fiber we are eating are hidden beneath the silkiness of butter and heavy cream.
Bread and soup! What could be more perfect for the weather that is crushing most of North America right now?
Nowadays, the fancy way to make sauerkraut is to make it at home. This seems to be simple (my Mom's been fermenting!), but so far I've been terrified of giving myself botulism - which might not even be a possibility and more a fiction I tell myself - and so I buy mine at the grocery store. Sauerkraut is a preserved cabbage that lives a long life in a well-sealed jar, and I'm sure for millennia everyone was making it at home. If you cannot find this at your grocery store (it will either be in the canned vegetable section or in the refrigerated section near bacon and/or kimchi), here are three price points at Amazon for you to get some: $4.88, $9.99, and $14.95. You may always want to check your local farmer's market or CSA delivery service; it's becoming a more popular offering and if you've got the fridge space, you can really stock up.
Speaking of things I didn't enjoy as a small child, these bread balls served in sauerkraut were also on this list. Bobalki did make an appearance at most of our family holiday dinners and as a child I thought it was beyond disgusting - the bread got soggy and slimy and I was still off the kraut at the time. For some reason, this became the dish I feel the most nostalgia about in all the annals of family cooking history. I cooked this myself our the "Holy Supper" we hosted at the end of December, and we managed to avoid the sliminess by mixing the sauerkraut with the bread balls just before serving rather than preparing them ahead of time. Problem solved.
A note about the bread here - this recipe makes an extremely simple loaf of white bread (verging on French but not authentically), so you can follow any recipe for French or Italian or white bread you like. You can also go to the store and buy some frozen bread dough, which is actually what the recipe I am in possession of calls for, but we visited two grocery stores in East Los Angeles, couldn't find any frozen dough and I finally gave up and made my own.
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
7 grams active dry yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp unsalted butter
25 oz sauerkraut
Mix flour, yeast, salt, and sugar together.
Add butter in center of dry mixture.
Add water, kneading with a dough hook (or by hand) until soft bread dough forms.
Place in a greased dish and let raise for 1 hour or until doubled. I proof mine in the oven on the "proof" setting. If you've got this function and you haven't been using it, give it a go!
Form dough into 1 inch balls.
Place balls on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until cook through but still soft (8-12 minutes - keep an eye on them!).
Store bread balls in the fridge until ready to serve.
To serve, heat up your sauerkraut on the stove and when hot, add bread balls to heat through. I also loaded mine with black pepper to add some complexity to the flavors.
We eat a lot of soup around here and frankly this one is a lot more laborious than most of our soups, which result almost entirely from emptying several items from our vegetable drawer in the fridge into a pot with some stock and blending them into a puree. This a mushroom soup I put together to round out this year's Russian Christmas dinner, because mushrooms are a classic Hungarian soup ingredient, though I do not recall specifically ever eating this in my family home. Could be that I did not eat mushrooms until I was well into my twenties (which is absolutely true), or perhaps they were really not included.
Mushroom Sauerkraut Bean Soup
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp unsalted butter + more as needed
1 white onion (medium)
6 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp chopped thyme
3 bay leaves
4 lbs mushrooms (mixed, of your choosing)
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken stock
2 tbsp Hungarian paprika (to taste)
1 can cannellini beans
25 oz sauerkraut
1 cup heavy cream (to taste)
Heat onion and butter in a soup pot together on medium.
When melted, add diced onion. Cook until translucent, then add crushed garlic.
Cook until garlic is fragrant and onions are beginning to brown. Add thyme, bay leaves and paprika.
Add sliced mushrooms to the onions and garlic. Hot tip on mushrooms - don't wash them if you can avoid it, as it makes them slimy. Dust them off as needed with some paper towel or a mushroom brush.
Add butter in small amounts to the mushrooms as needed, as you cook them over medium-high heat. The goal is to cook all the moisture out of the mushrooms. This can take some time - it easily took me 20-30 minutes working in batches add to the pot as they shrunk down to clear more space on the bottom. I drank two glasses of my cooking wine and listened to 90s hip-hop whilst stirring.
Once the mushrooms are cooked, add the white wine and cook at a boil until it is evaporated.
Add stock to the pot, and follow with the drained canned beans and jar of sauerkraut. Cook on a simmer until the beans are warmed through, adding salt and pepper as desired.
Add heavy cream to taste as a final step. Temper 1/4 cup of the heavy cream in a bowl mixed with one ladle-full of the hot stock. Add to the pot and taste. Continue adding as needed until you've got a taste you like. Salt and pepper as desired.
I store this in the fridge for 48 hours until serving, at which time I simply reheated it on the stove and had it ready as an appetizer for our guests, who (and I apologize for this!) had to watch me cookie pierogis for nearly 3 hours before they were ready for consumption. More on that another time.