Why It Works
- Cooking the leeks in the rendered fat from the kielbasa adds a porky, smoky flavor to the base of the soup.
- A combination of fresh cabbage and sauerkraut gives the soup good kraut flavor without making it overly sour.
I have written about my mom’s hot dog and cabbage soup, one of my favorites from childhood. It’s comforting and simple, and as it turns out, is a riff on a classic Polish soup called kapusniak. Here’s a second version I developed.
The idea for making the second version of the soup creamy came to me, indirectly, from my wife, who has a serious thing for creamy soups. As it happens, potato-leek soup is one of my all-time favorites. (And, in fact, the very first recipe of my own devising that a chef allowed me to put on a public-facing menu!) In my version of the soup, I cut the classic milk and cream base with buttermilk, which adds some acidity and brightness to a soup that I otherwise find a bit too starch-on-fat heavy. With the array of ingredients I had in front of me, I wondered: What would happen if, instead of buttermilk for acid, I used a good amount of sauerkraut?
I started by sautéing sliced kielbasa in a little vegetable oil until it was nicely browned. I then removed it from the pan and saved it to use later as a garnish, leaving that kielbasa fat in the pan to add flavor to the soup. Next, I added plenty of butter and leeks, reducing the heat to allow the leeks to gently soften without getting any color on them. (The sweetness of caramelized alliums was not what I was after in this dish.) Once they were properly softened, I added chicken stock, sliced cabbage, and bay leaves. Though I typically use russet potatoes for my potato-leek soup, I found the creamier texture of Yukon Golds worked better here.
On my first attempt, I immediately dumped in a full pound of sauerkraut with its liquid. Bad idea. As it turns out, acid can inhibit the breakdown of pectin, the carbohydrate glue that holds plant cells together. In the tart liquid provided by the sauerkraut, my potato chunks never softened. I had to fish them out and replace them with potato chunks I had cooked separately in boiling water.
The way to do it instead is to simmer the soup until the potatoes are completely softened, then add the sauerkraut and its liquid.
Once it comes back up to a simmer, it's ready to hit the blender. Some soups can be blended directly in the pot. Not this one. Even with the winner of our hand blender testing at my service, the soup remained unappetizingly chunky. A spin in the countertop blender and a pass through a fine-mesh strainer are necessary for a silky-smooth texture.
To serve the soup, I add back some of the browned kielbasa slices and garnish the whole thing with chopped fresh dill and a few drops of really great olive oil.
2 teaspoons (10ml) vegetable oil
1 (12- to 18-ounce) link smoked kielbasa sausage, split in half lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch slices (350 to 500g)
4 tablespoons (60g) unsalted butter
2 medium leeks, white and pale green parts only, split in half lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 8 ounces; 225g)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound (450g) Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
5 cups (1.2L) homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
8 ounces white or green cabbage, shredded (225g; about 1/2 medium head)
2 bay leaves
1 pound sauerkraut with its liquid (450g; about 2 cups)
Chopped fresh dill and extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
Fresh crusty bread, for serving
Heat oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until well-browned, about 5 minutes. Remove sausage from pan using a slotted spoon, leaving any rendered fat behind. Set sausage aside.
Add butter and leeks to sausage fat in the saucepan. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until leeks have softened but not browned, about 3 minutes, reducing heat if necessary. Add potatoes and chicken stock, scraping up any browned bits from the sides and bottom of the pot. Add cabbage and bay leaves. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a bare simmer and cook until potatoes are completely tender, about 10 minutes.
Add sauerkraut and its liquid to the pot and bring to a simmer. Discard bay leaves. Working in batches, transfer the soup to a blender and blend, starting at lowest speed and slowly increasing to maximum speed, until soup is completely smooth, about 2 minutes per batch. Transfer the soup to a fine-mesh strainer set over a clean pot, using the back of a ladle to push it through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Garnish soup with browned sausage pieces, chopped dill, and olive oil. Serve immediately with crusty bread.
If you'd like more pork flavor, add eight ounces of well-rinsed salt pork or slab bacon, cut into 1/2- by 1/4-inch lardons, to the kielbasa.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 27g||34%|
|Saturated Fat 11g||54%|
|Total Carbohydrate 28g||10%|
|Dietary Fiber 5g||18%|
|Total Sugars 6g|
|Vitamin C 44mg||219%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|