Sauerkraut Soup

MAKES: 4 servings

TIME: About 1 hour, mostly unattended

Surprising things happen when you base a soup on sauerkraut: it instantly creates a complex broth that mellows its distinct sourness and emphasizes its crisp texture and bright flavor.

The first thing to do is start with good sauerkraut, which is never canned (plastic, refrigerated packages are pretty good if you don’t have the option of buying it in bulk) and contains nothing but cabbage and salt. Here I balance the sharp taste with sweet ingredients like caramelized onion, green apples, and floral spices. The little bit of grain in this recipe helps bring all these flavors together and give the soup some body.

2 tablespoons neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn

1 onion, chopped

2 Granny Smith or other tart apples, peeled, cored, and chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound sauerkraut (about 2 cups), drained and rinsed

6 cups vegetable stock or water

2 tablespoons millet or fine-grind bulgur (optional)

2 bay leaves

6 cloves

5 or 6 juniper berries (optional)

01 Put the oil in a deep skillet or medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Add the apples, sprinkle with a little salt and lots of pepper, and continue cooking and stirring until they start to release their liquid, about 3 minutes more. Turn the heat down to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions and apples are very tender and golden, about 15 to 20 minutes.

02 Raise the heat to medium-high and add the sauerkraut. Keep cooking and stirring until the mixture is dry and starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the stock, scraping up any little bits that may have stuck to the bottom.

03 Add the millet if you like, the bay leaves and cloves, and the juniper berries if you wish, and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat so that the soup bubbles gently; cover and cook until the sauerkraut and grains are very tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Fish out the bay leaves, cloves, and juniper berries if you used them. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then serve. (You can make this soup in advance, then cover and refrigerate for a day or two. Reheat gently before serving.)

Variations

Creamy Sauerkraut Soup. Omit the millet or bulgur. Five minutes before the soup is ready, add 1 cup half-and-half, turn up the heat a little, and cook without boiling until the soup has thickened slightly, about 5 minutes more.

Cherry Sauerkraut Soup. Wonderful in summer: Instead of the apples, use 1 cup pitted sweet cherries (frozen are fine).

Mushroom Sauerkraut Soup. More substantial: Instead of the apples, use 1/2 pound sliced button, cremini, or shiitake mushrooms.