We recently returned from a trip to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida. We had a great time exploring Natchez and New Orleans and were fortunate to arrive during crawfish season, indulging in crawfish po boys and boiled crawfish. We also loved spending time with my Florida relatives, sampling deliciously sweet Florida lobsters that my cousins caught in the Keys, and home made family favorites such as caponata, stuffed pasta shells, and pizza. It is too bad vacations come to an end.
Now, we are back in the West where it has been cold and rainy. Even though it is spring, it is still chilly enough to enjoy this hearty and delicious pork and sauerkraut soup, one of my favorites. The recipe came from my cousin Connie who married into a Russian immigrant family and was taught to make this dish from her mother-in-law. There are many variations on cabbage and pork stew, which is made all over Eastern Europe by Germans, Czechs, Slovaks, Lithuanians, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Hungarians. It can be flavored with sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms, caraway, sour cream, etc. This particular recipe uses pork ribs, potatoes, and sauerkraut as its main ingredients. I prefer to use Steinfeld’s bottled sauerkraut for this recipe because it is thinly cut with a mildly brined flavor. Thickly cut sauerkraut takes away from the delicate and creamy texture. Also, be sure to use bone-in country style pork, since the bone helps add flavor to the soup. It takes about 2 hours to make, but it is worth the time and you can break down the steps by boiling and mashing the potatoes a day ahead, saving the potato water. The soup tastes best when chilled overnight to allow the flavors to mature.
Russian Pork and Sauerkraut Soup
1 (2 lb.) pkg. pork country style ribs (bone-in, 6-7 ribs)
salt and pepper
3 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed = 2 cups mashed potatoes
2 c. potato cooking water
1/2 c. margarine
2 c. chopped onions (1 large or 3 small onions)
1/2 c. flour
3 c. rinsed and drained sauerkraut (3/4 of a 32 oz. jar)
5 c. water
1 Knorr brand chicken bouillon cube
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
Preheat oven to low broiler setting. Place pork ribs on a half sheet pan. Drizzle the ribs with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. Turn ribs over and drizzle with more oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. Brown ribs under the broiler for 4 minutes. Turn ribs over and broil 3-4 more minutes until browned. Place sheet pan with ribs on a rack and set aside. While the meat is broiling place cubed potatoes in a 5-quart stockpot and cover with cold water and a bit of salt. Cover and bring to a boil, remove lid and boil potatoes 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender and soft. Save 2 cups of the potato water and set aside, then drain the potatoes. In the same 5-quart stockpot melt the margarine over medium high heat. Add onions to the hot margarine and cook on medium heat until the onions are soft and straw colored (it should take 10-15 minutes). While the onions are cooking, mash the potatoes, measuring out 2 cups for the soup. Save the rest of the potatoes for another use. Sprinkle the flour over the hot onion mixture and stir for 2 minutes until the flour is golden to make a roux. Slowly stir the potato water into the golden flour, stirring constantly until you have a thick saucy paste. Let cook 1 minute. Stir in the drained sauerkraut and cook 1 minute. The mixture will be quite thick. Add 5 cups water and stir to mix. Add bouillon cube and cover. Bring to a boil. It will take about 5 minutes. Stir in mashed potatoes, then season with 3/4 tsp. kosher salt, 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, and both sweet and smoked paprikas. Stir to mix. Add broiled ribs to the soup. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low and simmer 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. Remove pork ribs, cut into bite-size pieces, and return meat to the soup pot. Taste and adjust salt, pepper, and smoked paprika to taste. Serves 6-8.