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Never was a soup with so many names. In Hungarian “korhely” means drunkard, someone with excessive   tendencies. Indeed this soup is pretty indulgent, as it may contain not one, but up to four types of smoked meat products. If served on New Years Day, it is “Újévi Leves” or New Year’s Soup. If served at dawn it is “Éjszakai Bagolyleves” or Night Owl Soup. Back in the days, before the wide use of coffee, this was fashionable to serve in the wee hours of the morning to revive inebriated party guests. The idea was to stop the pains of hangover and to get people to leave. [This can be a challenge after a big party.] I cannot vouch for the validity of such claims, all I know is the soup is deliciously restorative.

When I cook with sauerkraut, I never rinse it, I combine it with fresh salted cabbage instead. The fresh cabbage tames the acidity of the sauerkraut and the two become indistinguishable. One of the meat products used in authentic drunkard soup is smoked pig-knuckle. Except the pig knuckle one can get in a mid sized Canadian city is a faint shadow of Hungarian pig knuckles. Our pig knuckles remind me of local “not quite breads” and the reason I bake my own. Why pay $18.00 for a tiny smoked pig knuckle that is devoid of flavour? Might as well put in a chunk of ham. If you are able to get your hands on some flavour rich smoked pork, use it. Otherwise, ham is the best alternative. With full fat sour cream and an artisan bread, this soup makes a great meal for six people. Served in cups it can feed up to sixteen.  

Drunkard Soup – Korhelyleves

3 cups thinly sliced fresh green cabbage
1/4 cup water
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp lard or oil
1-1/2 cups diced good quality bacon
1 cup diced onions
3 cups wine sauerkraut
3 cups diced smoked boneless pork meat or ham
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
4 cups water
3 cups sliced franks or kielbassa sausage
2 sticks dry Hungarian sausage or landjaeger sausage
2 Tbsp lard or oil
1 heaping Tbsp flour
3 cups water
salty cabbage brine
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp Hungarian paprika
freshly ground black pepper for taste
1 tsp Hungarian paprika
14% sour cream and fresh artisan bread for serving

  • Thinly slice the green cabbage, don’t grate it.
  • Place the sliced cabbage in a large bowl.
  • Add 1/4 cup water and the salt. Toss to coat well. [The small amount of water makes the cabbage penetrable and the salt draws the moisture out much faster than from dry cabbage.
  • While the cabbage is letting its juices, dice the bacon and the onions.
  • After twenty minutes, squeeze out as much liquid from the cabbage as you can. Cabbage should be limp at this stage.
  • Reserve the salty cabbage juice for use later.
  • Keep in mind not to add salt to the pot during cooking. The salted fresh cabbage and the sauerkraut are both salty as the reserved cabbage juice.
  • Next, place lard or oil in a medium sized dutch pot and add the diced bacon.
  • Slow fry on medium heat stirring often. Don’t let the bacon brown.
  • When the bacon begins to get a golden color, add the diced onions and sauté ‘till soft.
  • Do not brown the onions.
  • Add the squeezed out fresh cabbage and the sauerkraut to the pot.
  • Add the diced smoked pork meat or the ham.
  • Add the caraway seeds.
  • Stir and add 4 cups of water to cover the pot’s content.
  • Bring the cabbage mixture to a slow steady simmer and maintain it for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile chop the remaining sausages and set them aside.
  • In a non-stick skillet, melt two Tbsp of lard on medium heat and add 1 heaping Tbsp of flour.
  • Stir and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add 3 cups of water.
  • Next, pour this into the pot with the cabbage.
  • Add the reserved salty cabbage liquid and the chopped sausages.
  • Season the soup with 1 Tbsp Hungarian paprika and the minced garlic.
  • Bring to a simmer again and maintain the simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Taste it. The soup should have a pleasant flavour, neither bland nor too salty.
  • Don’t add more salt to the pot. If there is any leftover, it will be saltier the following day anyway.
  • If the soup is too salty dilute it with water, but this is always at the expense of flavour.
  • If you must add salt, salt at the table.
  • Just before serving, stir freshly cracked black pepper and an extra teaspoon of Hungarian paprika into the soup.
  • Serve the drunkard soup with plenty of good sour cream and a fresh artisan loaf.

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