Sauerkraut soup (Korhelyleves)

Hungarians traditionally eat this winter soup as a hangover cure following a nocturnal debauch. Bright-tasting sauerkraut, crispy sausages, and a flavorful broth laden with sour cream are meant to soothe the stomach and mitigate the headache.

Ingredients

Yield: 4-6 servings; Total time: 1 hour

  • 500 grams (1 pound) sauerkraut, rinsed and drained

  • Reserved sauerkraut juice

  • 225 grams (½ pound) smoked paprika sausage, sliced thin

  • 2 tablespoons lard (you can render fatback or pork belly fat, but vegetable oil also works)

  • 1 onion, peeled and minced

  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

  • 1 tablespoon Hungarian sweet paprika

  • 1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 2 pinches of ground black pepper

  • Salt to taste

  • 2 liters (2.1 quarts) water

  • 200 grams (¾ cup) sour cream

  • 2 tablespoons flour

  • Slices of crusty bread

Directions

  • Step 1: Place the slices of sausage in a large pan and fry them in their own fat on medium-high until nicely crisped-up on both sides, about 8-10 minutes.

  • Step 2: In the meantime, heat lard (or oil) in a large pot over medium-high, then add minced onion and sauté until translucent, about 6-8 minutes.

  • Step 3: Lower pot's heat to medium-low and add the crispy sausages to it, including the rendered fat. Also add paprika, freshly ground pepper, caraway seeds, bay leaves, and minced garlic. Don’t season with salt at this point. Then place drained sauerkraut in the pot and combine (if the sauerkraut is very salty, first rinse in a few changes of cold water and drain). Reserve some of the sauerkraut juice and put aside.

  • Step 4: Cover with 2 liters (2.1 quarts) of water, place lid on pot and let it simmer until sauerkraut has softened but still a bit crunchy, about 45 minutes.

  • Step 5: In a medium bowl, mix together sour cream and flour (retain a bit of sour cream for garnish). Ladle a few spoons of the hot soup from the pot into the sour cream mixture and stir to combine. Turn off heat and add sour cream mixture to the pot. Then turn the heat back on and stir at a low simmer for 1-2 minutes. The soup will soon start to thicken.

  • Step 6: Taste the soup for salt and add some if needed. You can also pour in a bit of the reserved sauerkraut juice to enhance both saltiness and acidity. Serve the korhelyleves in soup bowls, topping each plate with a dollop of sour cream. Add slices of crusty bread on the side.

Words of advice

(i) Be careful not to oversalt the soup. Both the sauerkraut and the smoked meats are already salty so you may only need to add a little. (ii) It pays off to add the sausages at the beginning — as I describe in the recipe — rather than at the end since they'll add a depth of flavor to the liquid.

I created these recipes with the help of nearly a dozen historical Hungarian cookbooks, adjusting ingredients, cooking times, and methods to reflect my own preferences and tastes of the current day. Do you have any feedback? Please let me know!