Sauerkraut vs. Meatballs

Last week, my teenage son mentioned the book I'm "supposedly" (his word) writing... ouch. It's true that I haven't done a blog post in over three weeks. The blog is practice and fodder for the book. I get up before 6am and go to bed around 11pm and in between I work a full-time job, take care of 2 kids 90% of the time and do a LOT of housework. That doesn't leave a lot of time for, oh, let's say, anything else. Sometimes I feel like the only way I'll get the book written is to win the lottery so I can hit the road unencumbered by a day job, children (left with a babysitter), or guilt about not doing the dishes (left to a maid.) On to the current post...

I've been thinking about cabbage lately since the weather has been chilly on and off (for Texas)... sauerkraut, zelniky (what old-school Texas Czechs call cabbage kolaches, not sauerkraut crackers), red cabbage with apples, sauerkraut soup, coleslaw, cabbage with noodles, sauerkraut cake, holubky (stuffed cabbage), pirohy with sauerkraut filling.

In 2008 I had my first recipe published. It was for sauerkraut and it was included in the book Cooking With Les Dames d'Escoffier, which was a finalist in the Compilations category of the 2009 IACP Cookbook Awards. I developed the recipe through much back and forth with my parents, taking thier suggestions, asking about what they considered traditional, but including every good thing I could think of that made me personally love sauerkraut... apples, beer, onions, caraway, bacon, and sugar. I submitted the recipe, never thinking it would actually make it into the book, but it did.

After the cookbook team had started testing recipes, one of the editors sheepishly contacted me and asked how I felt about the sauerkraut being paired with another Dame's Swedish* meatballs recipe. "Yuck" was my gut reaction, but then I thought about it. Both Sweden and Czech Republic have cold climates (Sweden more than the CR obviously), both love sweet-sour flavors, both use caraway seeds. And aren't meatballs just round sausages without the casings? The editor said her team had eaten the two recipes together and that they were wonderful complements. "Why not?", I decided. So we went with it. The cookbook editors named the recipe Eastern- European Sauerkraut because I have a little Polish in me, too. And they made inspired recommendations to round out a night's meal... sides of Farmer's Carrots or Golden Beet Slaw, mashed or boiled potatoes, a starter of Seasonal Mushroom Galette, and for dessert, Gingerbread Dessert Waffles. (All were recipes from the book by amazing women cooks.) I was honored to be in such company.

Growing up, I ate sauerkraut with sausage or roast pork or barbecue (or on a hot dog.) Pairing the sauerkraut with meatballs made me wonder why Czechs didn't have more ground meat recipes besides sausage. But I did like the idea of mixing ethnic foods that naturally went together. I wondered about spooning picnic stew over rigatoni or filling kolaches with smoked pork shoulder, jalapeno and onion relish (a la Zubik House in Austin.)

In 2010, I demonstrated both the sauerkraut and the meatballs recipes in a class at the Austin Central Market cooking school and people loved them together. I hope you will, too. They make a great potluck contribution. I recommend enjoying Shiner's new Wild Hare Ale with them (and in the sauerkraut.)

Eastern-European Sauerkraut (4-6 servings)
Dawn Orsak

One 32-ounce can of sauerkraut, or two 1-pound refrigerated packages (such as Boar's Head) drained
1 small apple, cored, quartered and thinly sliced (no need to peel)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup flat beer or dry white wine
1 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
6 slices of bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (to render 2 tablespoons drippings)
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
10 grinds black pepper

Combine the sauerkraut, apple, water, beer, and caraway sees in a large saucepan. Simmer together on low heat for 10 to 15 minutes. In a medium saute pan, fry the bacon until cooked through but not crisp. Add the onion to the pan and cook until transparent. Dust the flour over the bacon and onions and stir well. Cook for about 2 minutes. Add the bacon-onion mixture to the sauerkraut and stir well. Add the sugar, salt, and pepper. Let the mixture come to a boil and then remove from the heat. If the sauerkraut mixture seems too dry. add a little water until it reaches desired consistency. Serve hot.

Swedish Meatballs (4-6 servings)
Dame Toria Emas of Chicago, IL

1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1 apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
3/4 pound ground veal
3/4 pound ground beef
1/2 fresh homemade fine-textured bread crumbs
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons freshly ground cardamom
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
10 grinds black pepper
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
one 14.5 ounce can beef broth or equivalent amount homemade broth

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large saute pan over medium hear. Ad the apple and onion and cook until soft but not browned. Remove from the heat. In a large bowl, combine the veal, beef, bread crumbs. water, horseradish. cardamom, egg, salt, pepper and apple-onion mixture. Shape into round balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter (you should have about 24 meatballs total.

Dredge the meatballs in flour. Using the same saute pan, heat the remaining oil over high heat. Add the meatballs, a few at a time, so as not to crowd the pan. Reduce the heat to medium high and continue to regulate heat so that the meatballs brown well but not too quickly. Allow them to brown on one side before gently turning them. To aid in browning, as you brown each side, press down ever so slightly to flatten.

As the meatballs appear browned, remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Don't worry aout them cooking completely; they will finish cooking in the broth. When all the meatballs have been browned and removed from the pan, deglaze the pan by adding the broth, bringing it to a boil, and loosening any browned bits that may have accumulated while cooking. Reduce heat to a simmer. Return the meatballs to the pan and cook for about 30 minutes.

Serve with Eastern-European Sauerkraut.

*This post is dedicated to my girlfriend, Laura, who lives in Stockholm, Sweden, in honor of Czech/Swedish relations.


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