When I was growing up, at least one Sunday a month there was a familiar aroma wafting from my family’s kitchen. It came from the large pot of cabbage soup simmering on the stove.
My dad loved that kind of soup and my mom enjoyed making it. I didn’t realize until later in life, though, that beyond filling him up, it sometimes provided him some pain relief from having too much of a good time on Saturday night.
My dad was Latvian and I eventually learned from him that in that part of Europe, and other places, such as Lithuania, cabbage soup is a hangover cure, especially when stocked with something a little sour, such as vinegar or sauerkraut.
It has served that purpose for eons, but folks in those locations were not the first to believe in cabbage’s restorative power. The first were the ancient Greeks and Romans.
According to several sources, they strongly believed in the healing powers of cabbage and its ability to ward off the effects of too much alcohol. They were so convinced, they would eat mounds of it before drinking gallons of wine, which is naturally acidic.
Over time, the belief that cabbage and other acidic foods could help reduce the effects of drinking too much alcohol spread to other parts of the world.
That notion kind of makes sense, because liquids such as vinegar and fermented foods such as sauerkraut are sort of an internal cleanser. Cabbage is very nutritious — some deem it a “super food.” It’s an excellent source of vitamins C, K and B, fibre and many minerals, such as iron, calcium, potassium and phosphorus.
My mom always put other nutritious vegetables into her cabbage soup and some kind of protein-rich meat, such as small balls of ground beef or some form of smoked pork. It’s not surprising that my dad felt better after eating it, hangover or no hangover.
Below is a recipe for my latest version of that soup. It makes a nice Sunday supper served with slices of a dense and hearty bread, such as my whole-grain rye bread with sunflower seeds.
Cabbage Soup with Smoked Pork Hock
This hearty, filling soup is rich with cabbage and other vegetables and bits of succulent smoked pork hock.
Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus hock simmering time
Cooking time: 25-30 minutes
Makes: Eight servings
6 cups chicken stock, plus more as needed
6 cups water
1 (850 gram) smoked pork hock (see Note)
1 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 small to medium onion, diced (cut into 1/4 to 1/2-inch cubes)
1 medium carrot, diced
2 medium celery ribs, diced
1 to 2 large garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chopped green cabbage
2 small to medium red-skinned potatoes, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes
2 Tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
1/2 tsp dried marjoram or sage leaves
• salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• chopped fresh parsley, to taste (optional)
Place six cups stock, water and pork hock in a tall pot (mine was eight inches wide) and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Now lower the heat as needed to maintain that gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface). Simmer pork hock, uncovered, for two hours, or until quite tender.
Remove the pork hock from the liquid and cool 15 minutes. Meanwhile, measure the cooking liquid in the pot. If it’s less than six cups, top it up with chicken stock until you have six cups.
When the pork has cooled 15 minutes, pull the meat off it and discard the skin and bones. Chop the meat into 1Ú4-to 1Ú2-inch cubes and set in a bowl.
Heat the oil in a large pot set over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook four to five minutes. Add the cooking liquid, cubed pork hock, cabbage, potatoes, vinegar and marjoram (or sage) to the pot. Bring the soup to a simmer and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cabbage and potatoes are quite tender. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper, as needed. Serve portions of the soup sprinkled with chopped parsley, to taste, if desired.
Note: Smoked pork hock is sold at most supermarkets and butcher shops. Choose one that’s a little stubbier for this soup, as it will be easier to submerge and simmer in the stock.
Whole Grain Rye Bread with Sunflower Seeds
This is a dense and nutritious bread to slice and serve with cabbage and other soups. The recipe yields one large loaf. If that’s too much for you, freeze half the loaf to thaw and enjoy at another time.
Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus kneading and rising time
Cooking time: 45 to 50 minutes
Makes: One large loaf
1 1/2 cup lukewarm (not hot) water
2 1/4 tsp (one packet) traditional active dry yeast
1 tsp granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups whole grain flour, plus some for shaping (see Note)
1 1/4 cups rye flour
1/3 cup unsalted, shelled sunflower seeds
1 tsp salt
• vegetable oil, for the bowl
Place the water, yeast and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Let yeast stand and dissolve five minutes.
Attach the dough hook to the mixer and mix in the 21Ú2 cups whole grain flour, rye flour, sunflower seeds and salt. Mix and knead the dough on medium speed six to seven minutes. (If dough is overly stiff, add a few more drops of water to it while kneading.)
Lightly grease a large, deep bowl with vegetable oil. Place the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise at warm room temperature until about doubled in size, about 75 to 90 minutes.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly coat a work surface with whole-grain flour. Transfer the dough to the work surface. Shape the dough into a free form, oblong loaf that’s about 10 inches long and four inches wide.
Set the loaf on the baking sheet. Loosely cover loaf with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place 75 to 90 minutes, until about one-and-a-half times to twice as big.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake the bread 45 to 50 minutes. Rotate the bread once during baking. When ready, the bread will be a light golden brown in colour and the bottom of the loaf, when tapped, will sound hollow. Serve the bread warm or at room temperature.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.