Our continuing coverage of the 100 foods a DC omnivore must try looks at sauerkraut.
My love affair with sauerkraut probably dates back to the decade I lived in Chicago. Heaping piles of this wonderfully shredded cabbage onto my foot-long hot dogs was a guilty pleasure of my high school and college years – much to the detriment of my friends’ noses, I’m sure.
Funny thing is, at the time I always thought kraut was just a condiment. Yes, yes, sheltered food upbringing here. I could bore you with stories of the oft-boring foods I devoured growing up, but I’m sure you don’t really care.
So when I moved to Pittsburgh and got married, I truly found out the wonders of this simple sour-tasting cabbage.
Sauerkraut is traditionally a German, Croatian, Slovak and Czech food – which explains why it dominates Pittsburgh home kitchens. We couldn’t visit at least one friend’s house without being invited to some concoction involving kraut. Plus, my mother-in-law makes a fantastic pork and sauerkraut dish that to this day I firmly request when they come down to visit.
Properly prepared kraut has a distinct sour odor as well. The sourness actually comes from the fermentation of the sugars in cabbage, rather than vinegar (which you find in cole slaw recipes). It’s a healthy food, high in vitamin C and lactobacilli, which helps convert lactose and sugars into lactic acid. People who are not used to acidic foods may find kraut to be slightly unsettling; I suggest if you marry into or are good friends who love kraut, you can easily adjust to the acids simply by eating a small amount of sauerkraut every day until your system compensates.
There’s a wide variety of dishes and uses for sauerkraut in cooking – amazingly, as I’ve discovered, even across cultural food lines. Aside from the eastern European stalwarts of Shupfnudeln (German potato noodles), kapusniak (Polish soup) and pierogis (Polish dumplings), it can also be found on Argentinian menus and in Chile porgusto bread (french bread made with kraut, water and eggplant), as well as on plates in the Netherlands, mixed with mashed potatoes, gravy and smoked sausage. And of course, among the Pennsylvanian Dutch, pork and sauerkraut is a traditional New Year’s Day dish.
So why not break out that can sitting in your cupboard and mix it up with some pork, slap it on a Reuben or pile it on a grilled brat? Just make sure you brush afterwards – unless you like not having co-workers or family talk to you…