culinary cliff dives

March 28th, 2011

Several years after the Velvet Revolution freed Slovakia from Russia’s perverse over-lording, the exit from the bus stop in Bratislava was lined with 4-5 makeshift food kiosks selling a variety of wares; shriveled potatoes, stray pieces of pork, homemade cheese (the kind that never melted) and bright red hot dogs whose flavor came from the fiery mustard slathered on them.

At the end of the row sat an old and rotund woman next to an old and rotund cask, both without the mercy of umbrella or plastic lean-to.  From the cask she scooped sauerkraut for her clientele into whatever vessel or slightly used bag they brought with them.  Over time, I noticed that at the end of each day, the old woman’s spot would acquire a fairly large queue of customers, sometimes as many as five, waiting patiently in the snow.

In true lemming fashion, one day, did I join this queue for the unknown culinary cliff dive waiting just ahead.  The old crone handed me a crusted and chipped mug, half filled with the remnants of the day’s victual, to whit, sauerkraut swill.  I swallowed it down in one brave gulp, handed her back the mug along with three pennies, and continued on my way to the bus.

After about twenty yards or so, the magic began to unfold.  My frosty fingers became warm, my posture straightened and my gait became downright bouncy.  Best of all, the smile that swill gave birth to helped light up the dark journey home to Dunajská Lužná.  I’ve been a rabid fan of sauerkraut ever since.  Na zdravie – nech slúžiďakujem!

Righteous Reuben

Related Recipes

Righteous Reuben Sandwich

The success of this simple open-faced sandwich depends on two elements, quality and freshness of its ingredients.

For each sandwich:

  • 1 large slice of rye, pumpernickel or marble rye bread, cut from a boule
  • 4 ounces pastrami or corned beef, thinly sliced, trimmed as needed
  • 1/3 cup fresh sauerkraut, or less or more to taste
  • 1 large slice Baby Swiss cheese
  • generous slather of Snarling Russian Dressing or your favorite mustard
  • several grindings of black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Toast bread slice to desired crispness.  Layer on meat followed by sauerkraut followed by dressing followed by cheese and black pepper.  Place sandwich on a baking sheet and cook for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.  Switch oven to broiler setting and continue to cook until cheese has browned slightly.  Serve immediately with a small side of dressing for the dunking the sandwich in.

Snarling Russian Dressing

Brilliant on a Reuben sandwich, or as a dip for fries, or topping a wedge salad.  Recipes easily doubles and triples.  For a dressing that snarls less, reduce the amount of garlic-chili sauce.

For ¾ cup:

  • ½ cup mayonnaise (Hellman’s or homemade)
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced dill pickle
  • 1 tablespoon minced green onion
  • 1 teaspoon horseradish
  • ½  or 1 teaspoon Asian garlic-chili sauce, subject to your heat level
  • ½ teaspoon dried dill
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon dried tarragon
  • several grindings of black pepper

In a small bowl, add all ingredients and stir well until combined.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Copyright © Katherine Stetson, all rights reserved.