When I was in Prague more than 15 years ago, I had a soup made of cabbage and beer that has haunted me ever since. Of course, it helped that there was plenty of country-style sausage in it to add to the flavor.
Several times I’ve attempted to recreate its rustic beauty. Most of the time I used pilsner, which originated in the Czech Republic, with cabbage in various forms, including sauerkraut.
I thought of that soup recently when a friend gave me a ham bone with plenty of meat on it. So, I used what I had on hand in a pantry to whip up the simplest version I’ve made yet. It wasn’t quite what I had all those years ago, but it was perhaps the closest version I’ve made yet.
I really was limited with what I had on hand, which did not include the onion I thought I had picked up at the market. Don’t you hate it when you think you have something like an onion in your pantry and can’t find it? Still, here is a simple yet flavorful soup that filled the house with the sweet smell of cooked cabbage and the wheat in the beer. Serve this with a thick slab of sourdough rye covered with a bit of butter.
1 medium onion, minced (optional)
Olive oil (optional)
1 ham bone
3-4 bottles Shiner Wild Hare Pale Ale or other pale ale, pilsner or IPA (see note)
1 head green cabbage, shredded
Cooked ham, diced, to taste
Salt, to taste
Crushed red pepper or smoked paprika (optional)
If using onion, soften it in a splash of olive oil in the bottom of a 1-gallon stockpan. When the onion is translucent, add ham bone and beer and let simmer for about 20 minutes. Add cabbage and ham. Fill the pot to the desired level with water. Bring just to a boil and lower immediately to a simmer. In 30 minutes, taste to see if the soup needs any salt. (I also added a dash of crushed red pepper to give it a slight kick of heat.) Let cook for another hour. Remove bone and remove any meat still stuck to it. Separate the meat from the fat, and return the meat to the soup. Serve.
Note: Boiling the beer will cook out the alcohol, but the flavor will still be strong. The addition of water tempers the beer flavor somewhat, so use as much or as little as you like.
Makes up to 1 gallon soup.
From John Griffin