So yeah, cabbage can be really good, and it gets a bad rap. Thus, my goal was to conjure the Charlie and The Chocolate Factory image of the watery cabbage soup of soup kitchens, and then whack people on the head with a really delicious soup, all in the name of cabbage. Of course the kielbasa didn't hurt; but I promise that the soup would totally stand on its own without meat in it.
And it was easy, too. I diced and fried the kielbasa (which I got cheap, 2 pounds for about $7, and good stuff from Bobak's) in a touch of olive oil until it was seductively browned and crispy. I poured it into a strainer, along with all the fat that rendered out of it. I then returned a bit of the fat to the pot and sweated onion, carrot, celery and garlic in it for a really long time. I mean like 20-30 minutes. I do this when making soup; it really brings out the sugars and essence of the vegetables, and helps to build multiple flavor levels in the soup. I splash a bit of water when needed to keep the vegetables from burning (EGGHEAD TIP: this is a good trick when sweating vegetables or rendering something like bacon for lardons, because the cooking process is a bit gentler, as the temperature in the pot never rises above 212 degrees Fahrenheit--the boiling point of water. Since sugars tend to brown via the Maillard Reaction at 310 degrees, a longer, slower cooking process is possible, allowing deeper, more complex flavors to develop. Once the water has evaporated, browning can begin if so desired at that point.).
Now gets added a head of chopped cabbage which, like so many old men with their birch bark in the Russian Bath House on Division Street, sweats with the rest of the veg for another 15 minutes or so. Stock or water makes the soup, well, soupy and everything is simmered for another 20-30 minutes, then pureed. I then adjusted the seasoning with salt, as well as vinegar. (SIDE NOTE ON ACID: Acid seems to be neglected and underused as a seasoning agent. In my opinion, good vinegar or lemon juice should always be used to fine tune food at the last stage of cooking; acid helps open the palate to other flavors in food that the salt is enhancing. In fact, I'm all for replacing the obligatory pepper shaker or mill with a lemon or bottle of vinegar on every table. Keep the pepper in the kitchen by the stove.) As I pureed and seasoned, I added a bit more of the rendered fat to the soup--this really added a backbone I thought necessary in a soup advertised as having a wonderful Polish sausage in it. When all was adjusted, I put the fried kielbasa in, and the soup was ready to go.
I should warn you, though, that you will encounter a problem when making this soup. See, when the kielbasa is in the strainer, and you are doing everything else for the soup, a siren song of sorts slowly starts seeping out of its smoky, crispy goodness. The kielbasa winks at you and wags a seductive finger; a better person than me would be able to resist. I folded after about 15 seconds, and must have eaten about a pound of the stuff before the soup was done and sealed and in the fridge. I have no will power.
The Soup and Bread event went well. Money raised for the food bank, soup stories exchanged, friends I hadn't seen in awhile showed up, I met a dog, I heard a great story about a crazy odyssey to D.C. for the inauguration, and an acquaintance from the farmer's market kindly and unexpectedly brought me a mason jar of his great homemade apple butter. Isn't that what it's all about?