It’s that happy time of year when we can all go a little (or a lot) too far on party drinks. A cautious return to in-person office parties seems imminent in many places, and with that in mind, I’ve added various hangover remedies to my weekly shopping list, knowing that November turns into December, we just might. need it.
As a foreigner in Russia, my faith in over-the-counter drugs such as Alka-Seltzer and Beecham’s Resolve often makes me look down on the natives. And to be honest, after more than two decades of living in Russia, I have developed a genuine respect for the hangover remedies that emerge from the kitchen. Whatever the symptom: dry mouth, headache, nausea, dizziness or fatigue, a combination of lots of fluids combined with various combinations of salt, spice, fat, protein, acid and most of the time , more alcohol will often do the job faster than any drugstore equivalent.
Case in point: on a recent trip to Portugal, a pleasant afternoon of port tasting ended in a somewhat painful morning. I should know better: red wine of any kind gives me back shellac, and my offhand assurances (to myself) that all bets are off if the grape is local have turned out to be deeply flawed. Still believing in the idea of ââdrawing on local wisdom and traditions, I put myself in the hands of the natives and ended up with what is called a Francesinha. It was the door of a sandwich: roast beef, ham and several spicy sausages, all topped with gooey melted cheese and a fried egg. It was as if a Croque Monsieur had gone mad. It hit my system hard, but it did the trick.
La Francesinha is the Portuguese interpretation of the fat + protein + spice approach for a culinary cure against hangovers. Canadians offer poutine, that glorious mix of fries, cheese curds and gravy. Hawaiians swear by âLoco Moco,â a large bowl of rice topped with a fatty meat patty, several fried eggs, and gravy. These are all very commendable, but for my money each lacks the sour / salty Russian element that makes a hangover cure really effective, especially when combined with a good long sweat in the banya.
This week’s dish combines these elements: fat + protein + spice + acid + steam in a soup that almost instantly relieves anything that hurts you, overnight to the common cold. It is kapustniak, or sauerkraut soup, that is popular in all its forms throughout Eastern Europe. Similar to shchi, or cabbage soup, the base of kapustniak is fermented cabbage and a hearty broth made from smoked or salted meats like bacon, salo, or ham shanks. This smoky undertone creates a wonderful contrast to the sweet and sour taste of fermented cabbage and a hint of sweetness from tomatoes in the broth.
It’s a recipe that invites adaptation and improvisation once the key elements are in place. I use a combination of spices to enhance the flavor, allowing the smoked paprika to dominate. Let this soup sit overnight so the flavors can develop. Then put it in the fridge for that inevitable moment when you – or someone you love – needs a helping hand. The relief will be yours in a moment.
Kapustniak: Sauerkraut soup
- 10 oz (300 grams) smoked bacon or salo
- 1 pound (500 grams) kielbasa (ideally spicy, smoky and garlic) cut into Â½ inch half moons
- 1 large yellow onion
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 5 medium carrots, peeled and cut into thin sticks
- 3 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into thin sticks
- 3 cups (710 mL) sauerkraut, juice included
- 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
- 12 ounces (350 grams) chopped tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons of coriander seeds
- 3 teaspoons of smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons of caraway seeds
- 1 tsp of juniper berries
- 3 quarts (3 liters) chicken or beef broth
- Fresh dill or parsley to serve
- SautÃ© bacon in large pot or Dutch oven until most of the fat is melted. Throw away everything but 2 tablespoons of melted fat. Add the kielbasa half-moons and sautÃ© for 3 minutes.
- While the meat is frying, toast the juniper berries, paprika, caraway seeds and coriander seeds in a small skillet over medium-low heat for 2 minutes until the flavor sets. amplified. Grind them in a spice mill and set aside.
- Remove bacon and kielbasa with a skimmer to a paper towel-lined plate. Throw away everything but a tablespoon of melted fat. Return the pot to medium heat and sautÃ© the onions and garlic until soft and just beginning to brown. Add the carrots and parsnips and mix. SautÃ© for 3 minutes until the vegetables soften.
- Add the tomato paste to the pot and toss to coat the vegetables well. Add the toasted and ground spices to the pot and sautÃ© for 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and horseradish, then lower the heat and simmer, using the back of a wooden spoon to scrape the pieces from the bottom of the pot.
- Add the sauerkraut and its juice to the pot, along with the bacon / salo and the broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover and cook for 45 minutes. Let the soup sit, uncovered, overnight to allow the flavors to develop. Garnish with generous amounts of fresh dill before serving.
There are many ways to improvise with this soup. To make it vegetarian, omit the meat and use vegetarian broth, and perhaps substitute mushrooms or lentils for added flavor and weight. The Polish and Baltic versions of this soup use potatoes rather than parsnips, and some versions add barley or farro. There are many versions of this soup without tomatoes, but I think the contrast with the smoked meat and tangy cabbage works really well.