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Cook the Book: Slovak Sauerkraut Soup

[Photograph: Caroline Russock]

Out of all of the hearty, meal-worthy soups in The Best Soups in the World by Clifford A. Wright this Slovak Sauerkraut Soup was one of the most appealing of the bunch.

I love choucroute garnie, a big steaming dish of juniper-scented sauerkraut cooked for hours with all sorts of cured pork and sausages, and this Slovak Sauerkraut Soup appeared to be the Eastern European soup version of the Alsatian classic. I had to try it out.

After assembling all of the ingredients from my local Polish market I prepared for what I knew would be an (let's just say) aromatic cooking process by opening up my kitchen windows. The smell of simmering sauerkraut and pork is a fantastic, but I had the feeling that it would linger for few days without some circulation.

Once the ham hocks and spareribs are boiled to the point of falling-off-the-bone tenderness, they are taken out of their simmering liquid, chopped, and placed back in the pot with a pound of sauerkraut, white wine, dried prunes, dried mushrooms, and a few other aromatics. Once the mixture got boiling, the smell emanating from my kitchen was incredible—sweet, sour, plenty porky—and more than enough to make me curse the additional hour that it would take before I could sample the soup.

To add to my olfactory impatience, an entire kielbasa is added to the soup and cooked for another 45 minutes, increasing the smell factory infinitely. After the alloted amount of time passes I sliced the kielbasa and made the paprika-infused roux that finishes the soup. It's a dark red mix of flour, butter, and paprika that cooks to a dark rust color before being swirled into the soup.

The final pot of soup was a rich rusty color with a layer of fat on top that made sure that you knew about all of the pieces of pork that were in the mix. The sauerkraut had nearly melted away into the thick red broth, but the slices of sausage, ribs, and ham hocks were still happily intact. The soup was distinctly Eastern European in flavor, just waiting for a dollop of sour cream, maybe a sprinkle of dill and a slice or two of pumpernickel.

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