As the leaves start to whiz around the streets of New York and I unpack my scarves and wool socks, I also start making a lot more soup. That makes me reach back into my treasure trove of food memories. Is it because soup is so comforting — spooned tenderly into our mouths as children, satisfying one-bowl meals as adults — that when I think of soup, I rarely turn to cookbooks and almost always reach way back into my family history for ideas?
This week I thought a lot about a soup my mom used to make when "cold weather" hit our LA house. The "sourgrass" comes from the featured sauerkraut, and it is an early and strong memory of mine to giggle to myself about eating "sourgrass" for dinner. That kraut-y tang permeates the soup in a way that dances with the smoky pork and fills me with comfort. To this day I think there's nothing quite like it.
Listen, this is no haute cuisine dish, nor is it a health bomb. It's a 60s/70s soup for sure; there's no way around that. Made for her originally by a Finnish friend in college, Mom says it was the first time she felt like she understood what the notion of "clean food" meant. We laugh now: a soup whose main ingredients are sauerkraut and smoked pork hardly qualifies as "clean food" these days, though the handful of barley is something you can feel good about.
I mostly appreciate this soup for how comforting it is on a fall evening when I'm missing my mom and I can stretch back into time and remember the sourgrass aroma filling my childhood kitchen.
For the best flavor, the key is to find smoked pork; a good butcher should have it in the form of a loin or chop. Also, seek out fresh sauerkraut; the canned stuff pales in comparison. In a piece my mom — also a food writer — wrote about this soup some twenty five years ago, she suggests a dollop of chilled apple sauce on the side to cut the smoky meat and sharp kraut.
This is dinner tonight.
10 cups water
1 1/2 to 2 pounds smoked boneless pork chop (shredded or chopped)
2/3 cup pearled barley
2 to 3 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 to 3 stalks celery, sliced
1 to 2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley leaves, plus 3 sprigs reseved for garnish
2 cups sauerkraut, drained
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
sour cream, optional
Bring the water to a boil in a Dutch oven or large pot. Add the pork and barley. Simmer, uncovered, until the barley is soft, about 25 to 30 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, potato and parsley. Return to boil then simmer 15 to 20 minutes longer. Add sauerkraut and cook just until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve topped with sour cream, if desired and a pinch of chopped parsley.
(Image: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)