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Sweet on Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is never a surprise; its unmistakable odor precedes its appearance on the table. I have known people to take to the road when they discovered that sauerkraut was about to be served.

But to me, sauerkraut is a magnet. Whenever I see it on a menu, I order it.

Its tart and tangy fermented flavor lends the perfect taste balance for almost all cuts of pork, simply roasted (or boiled) beef, duck, turkey and game. And it is an excellent source of Vitamin C and some B vitamins.

Although sauerkraut is generally considered a German invention, Sharon Tyler Herbst writes in “The Food Lover’s Companion” (Barron’s: 1990) that the laborers who built the Great Wall of China more than 2,000 years ago ate it as standard fare. Once Chinese sauerkraut (shredded cabbage fermented in rice wine) made its way to Europe, it was adopted by the Germans and Alsatians and sauerkraut became their signature dish.

You make sauerkraut by combining shredded cabbage, salt and some spices and allowing it to ferment. In the 19th Century, most Midwestern cookbooks included a recipe for sauerkraut. Although homemade sauerkraut can be superior to commercially processed sauerkraut, it is a time-consuming procedure with many steps, and very few people bother to make it any more.

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The best commercially available sauerkraut is sold “fresh” in delicatessens and in plastic bags or jars in refrigerated sections in supermarkets. Canned sauerkraut is limp and less vibrant tasting but it’s acceptable; it’s also less expensive than the fresh.

Because of its high salt content, sauerkraut should be rinsed thoroughly in a colander under cold running water and well tossed, to be sure the salt is washed away. It should then be well drained.

The Reuben sandwich has immortalized sauerkraut; it features corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut all layered in rye bread into a grilled, gooey sandwich that sometimes includes Russian dressing. You don’t need a recipe for that.

These recipes are a little less standard. They include a Midwestern specialty that will add variety to your cocktail fare, a quickly cooked supper, a soup and a side dish.

I would appreciate favorite old family sauerkraut recipes sent to me at P.O. Box 127, Winnetka, Ill. 60093 for my kitchen, and for subsequent columns for fellow sauerkraut fans.

These appetizers are a specialty in many parts of the Midwest, especially Ohio. Paired with beer, they are delicious informal fare along with a variety of sausage and cheese. They can be made early in the day and reheated in the oven. The food processor does a fast job of this preparation by mincing the parsley, bread for crumbs, garlic and onion as well as coarsely chopping the ham and sauerkraut, in that sequence, without a need to wash the work bowl after each step.

SAUERKRAUT BALLS WITH MUSTARD MAYONNAISE

Oil

1 medium clove garlic, minced

1 small onion, minced

6 ounces cooked ham, preferably honey-baked, coarsely chopped

1 pound sauerkraut, rinsed, patted dry, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 1/2 to 1 2/3 cups fresh bread crumbs, finely textured

Freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons minced parsley

1 large egg white, frothed with fork

1/2 cup flour

1 large egg, beaten with fork

Mustard Mayonnaise

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in small non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion. Cook until tender, about 3 minutes, stirring often. Transfer to 1-quart mixing bowl along with ham, sauerkraut, dry mustard, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, pepper to taste, parsley and egg white. Mix well. Add up to 2 2/3 tablespoons bread crumbs if mixture is too wet. Use hands to shape mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls.

Place flour, egg and remaining 1 cup bread crumbs in separate shallow dishes. Lightly coat each ball first in flour, then dip into beaten egg. Lightly coat with bread crumbs.

Heat 2-inch depth of oil to 375 degrees (or to test temperature, drop bread crumb in oil and make sure it sizzles). Fry balls, in batches, until brown and crisp, about 3 minutes, turning as necessary to brown evenly. Place balls on double thickness of paper towels.

Keep warm in 200-degree oven while frying remaining balls. (Balls can be fried in advance, cooled and refrigerated several hours. Reheat in 350-degree oven in single layer on baking sheet until sizzling and crisp, about 20 to 25 minutes.) Serve hot with mustard mayonnaise. Makes 2 dozen 1 1/2-inch sauerkraut balls.

Mustard Mayonnaise

2/3 cup light mayonnaise

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Combine mayonnaise and mustard in small dish. Can be made 2 days ahead and refrigerated, covered airtight. Serve with sauerkraut balls.

Here’s a great supper dish that’s ready to go in fewer than 15 minutes. Serve with a green salad and dark beer.

SAUERKRAUT-BRATWURST BAKED POTATO

2 large baking potatoes

1 tablespoon oil

2 (4-ounce) bratwurst (casings removed, if desired), cooked and sliced

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cups rinsed and drained sauerkraut

1/3 cup chicken broth, about

2 teaspoons light-brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds

Freshly ground pepper

Salt

Wash large baking potatoes well. Pierce all over with fork. Wrap with paper towels. Place on microwaveable dish and microwave on high (100% power) 11 minutes or until done.

While potatoes are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon oil in 8-inch non-stick skillet over high heat. Add bratwurst and quickly brown about 2 minutes, stirring often. Remove bratwurst with slotted spoon and set aside.

In same skillet, stir in onion, sauerkraut, chicken broth, light-brown sugar and caraway seeds. Season to taste with pepper. Bring to boil, then simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes until onion is tender. Add more chicken broth if mixture is too dry. Stir in browned bratwurst. Heat through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, slash potatoes and spread open. Place on 2 dinner plates. Divide sauerkraut topping evenly on potatoes, letting it spill over onto plate. Makes 2 servings.

Many 19th-Century regional cookbooks contain recipes for sauerkraut soup. This notable version was adapted from a recipe submitted by Nancy Kriplen to “Sesqui-Samplings: 150 Years of Cooking in Indianapolis.” Because sauerkraut is an acquired taste, she suggests first checking with guests to make sure they like its distinctive tang. Serve the soup with a bread and an array of cheeses, with a bowl of apples and butter cookies for dessert.

SAUERKRAUT AND SAUSAGE SOUP

4 slices bacon, diced

1 1/2 cups diced onion

1 large clove garlic, minced

2 pounds sausage (such as smoked Thuringer), cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1/4 ounce dried mushrooms

6 cups chicken stock or broth

1 bay leaf

3 medium carrots, cut into 1/2-inch diagonal slices

2 stalks celery, cut into 1/2-inch diagonal slices

4 new potatoes, quartered

1 pound sauerkraut, rinsed and well drained

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until half-cooked, about 5 minutes. Add onion and garlic. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Increase heat to high. Add sausage and cook until lightly browned, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

Meanwhile, combine mushrooms, chicken stock and bay leaf in 4-quart pot. Bring to boil and simmer, covered, 20 minutes.

Drain off fat from skillet and add contents of skillet to broth along with carrots, celery, potatoes and sauerkraut. Cook, partially covered, until vegetables are just tender, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Can be refrigerated up to 3 days and frozen up to 3 months. Makes 12 cups.

This dish, quickly made, is an ideal accompaniment to meat loaf and mashed potatoes, sausage, bratwurst, grilled chops, pork, poultry, duck, ham or cold cuts. It can be served hot as a side dish or chilled as a condiment or salad. It keeps several days in the refrigerator; the recipe can be easily cut in half.

SKILLET SAUERKRAUT WITH TOMATOES AND OREGANO

1 tablespoon oil

2 large cloves garlic, minced

1 large red onion, minced

2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans chunky pasta-style stewed tomatoes, drained

2 pounds fresh sauerkraut, well rinsed and drained

3 tablespoons light-brown sugar, packed

2 tablespoons dry white wine or dry vermouth

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

3/4 teaspoon salt

Crushed hot red pepper

2 small green onions, thinly sliced

Heat oil in 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion and saute until tender, about 4 minutes. Add stewed tomatoes, sauerkraut, brown sugar, white wine, oregano and salt. Season to taste with crushed hot pepper.

Cover and cook over medium heat 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in green onions and immediately remove from heat. Adjust seasonings to taste. (Can be made 3 days ahead. Gently reheat on stove top or in microwave oven.) Serve hot or chilled as salad or condiment. Makes 8 servings.

Note: Stewed tomatoes (Del Monte) are seasoned and quite sweet. If using other tomatoes, increase sugar and seasonings to taste.


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