I'm about as WASPy Americanized as you can get. My family's "old country" is California. We had not a single hardy babushkaed ancestor arrive on Ellis Island, as far as I can tell. Our "teeming masses yearning to breathe free" jumped ship in San Francisco (true family story, I think). But this soup, with its hardy–and hearty–Eastern European ingredients makes me wish I had some more paprika- and cabbage-rich family recipes to draw upon.
There's just half a pound of meat in this recipe–great if you're feeling thrifty, abstemious or just a bit empty of refrigerator. I imagine it would probably work well with a stewing cut of beef (or lamb, yum), were that what you had on hand.
Try this trick of pureeing some of the beans with broth whenever you make any bean-based soup. It thickens the final result just perfectly and gives it a wonderful stick-to-your-ribs quality without sticking unwontedly to your, you know, belly or thighs or whatever.
The paprika flavor is so critical to this soup's success that I strongly urge you to get the real thing–that would be Hungarian sweet paprika, available in small quantities (the best way to buy it, since it loses its aroma/flavor so quickly) at natural foods stores (New Seasons is where I got mine) or Penzeys.
Also, if the only sauerkraut you have available is the canned sort, then absolutely do not make this soup. That stuff will ruin it, as it ruins everything else it touches. (Fortunately, making your own sauerkraut is ridiculously easy, should you not have Bubbies on offer near you.)
Vernie (our official Picky Soup Taster) gives it two thumbs up (and two bowls down the hatch).
Hungarian Sauerkraut and Bean Soup
Adapted from The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors
Serves six to eight
Pink beans, sorted and well rinsed (you'll only need a cup of uncooked beans for this soup, but you might as well go ahead and make a full batch)
2 Tbsp bacon fat or olive oil
1/2 pound boneless pork ribs, butt or shoulder, diced into about 1/2" cubes
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 or 7 cups beef broth (if you're making it from Better than Bouillon, make it a bit less than full strength; if you're using canned, go for about a 3:1 ratio of broth to water)
1 Tbsp Hungarian sweet paprika
3 cups Bubbies or other bottled-in-glass (or homemade!) sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
Salt and (plenty of) pepper to taste
Sour cream and chopped fresh parsley for serving
Put the pink beans in a large-ish pot. Add enough water to cover by a couple of inches. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer until half tender, about 40 minutes. Add a good palmful of salt and continue simmering until beans are fully tender but not falling apart. Drain beans; reserve 3 cups for this recipe and put the rest, with some of their cooking liquid, in the refrigerator or freezer.
Heat the bacon fat or olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add pork and cook, turning occasionally, until browned on all sides. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until just translucent, about 6 minutes. Add garlic; cook, stirring, one minute more.
While pork and onion are cooking, puree 2 cups of the beans with 1-1/2 cups of beef broth until fairly smooth.
Add remaining beef broth, bean puree, whole beans, paprika and sauerkraut to the pot. Bring just to a simmer (you don't want to boil the sauerkraut or you'll destroy its magical lifegiving properties, or something). Cover and keep at a low simmer for about an hour.
Taste and add salt and pepper as warranted. Serve in shallow bowls, passing plenty of parsley and sour cream.
Image by Flickr user Istvan. Used under a Creative Commons license.