The Winter That Wasn’t

Setting record highs and feeling for all the world like early spring, this is easily the most mild January in recent memory. Though likely the sign of the impending apocalypse, I can’t help but rejoice in this unusual weather pattern. Being cold is simply not a state conducive towards my general well-being, and when the thermometer dips below 40 degrees, like a wind-up toy at the end of its run, I simply stop functioning. Crawling into bed just to keep warm, not a useful thought in my brain, it’s easy to understand the attraction of winter hibernation.

Snowless, sunny, and merely brisk, these days have been ideal. Undoubtedly the lucky streak will end, leaving me scurrying for cover once again beneath layers of knitwear and blankets, but for now, 2012 has been a gracious visitor. Lest I find myself completely unprepared for those brutal days that certainly lay ahead, it doesn’t hurt to work on the repertoire of warming soups.

Inspired by an odd find while perusing a grocery store in Germany, this hearty bowlful of mushrooms and potatoes has an unusual secret ingredient: Sauerkraut juice. Sold not just as the liquid packed with pickled cabbage, it’s actually available as a wholly separate beverage, sold in bottles as if to be drank in place of the morning OJ. So intrigued by this novel concept, I couldn’t resist smuggling home an aseptic package to play with in the kitchen. Salty, tangy, a little bit odd- It sounded perfect for livening up the standard bowl of starchy soup.

A definite belly-warmer with a bit of German flare, it would still be highly tasty without the sauerkrauter saft. Additional mushroom broth or standard vegetable broth would both make for welcome, savory substitutions.

Sauerkraut Saft Suppe

3 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Medium Red Onion, Chopped
1 Large Clove Garlic, Minced
10 Ounces Mixed Mushrooms, Lightly Chopped if Needed*
3 – 4 Cups Chopped Savoy Cabbage
2 – 3 Medium Yukon Gold Potatoes, Peeled and Diced
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 1/2 Cups Sauerkraut Juice
2 1/2 Cups Mushroom Broth
1 Bay Leaf
1/2 Teaspoon Fennel Seeds, Ground
1/2 Teaspoon Caraway Seeds, Ground
1/2 Teaspoon Celery Seeds, Ground
1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika

3 Scallions, Sliced
1 Tablespoon Dried Parsley
1 Teaspoon Dried Dill
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste

*I used a frozen mixture by Woodstock Farms that included shiitake, shimeiji, field mushrooms, and abalone mushrooms.

Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium heat, and the onion and garlic together until softened and aromatic, but do not brown. Introduce the mushrooms, cabbage, and potatoes next, stirring lightly until the cabbage has wilted down a bit; 5 – 8 minutes. Mix the tomato paste into 1/2 cup of either the sauerkraut juice or broth to break it up into a smooth mixture before adding all of the liquids in. Add in the bay leaf, fennel, caraway, celery seeds, and paprika.

Bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 – 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are very tender. Turn off the heat and mix in the scallions, parsley, dill, and pepper to taste- But for the love of food, do not add salt! As one might imagine, the sauerkraut juice is intensely salty, and it doesn’t need any additional seasoning in that regard.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

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