Part of an ongoing series on unique holiday dishes
My great-great-grandma Mary Dusek kept alive the Czech heritage of her parents and immigrant husband through food. In the one photo I've seen of her, she's wearing a crisp, white apron. Our signature holiday dish comes from Mary's kitchen.
My mom, Dee Dee — Mary's great-granddaughter — is the keeper of the Dusek kraut tradition.
"Sauerkraut has been with us forever — whenever there was a turkey, which was always Thanksgiving and Christmas," my mom says.
Yes, sauerkraut. I know you're probably gagging right now. All my friends do when I tell them how I can't wait for the holidays to eat sauerkraut and turkey. But this is not the stuff you pile on a polish dog at the ballpark. It starts that way, but Mom rinses off the brine, and then it simmers for hours in chicken broth and spices.
I'd sneak into the kitchen as a kid and peek under the lid to get a sauna blast of tangy steam in my face. When I called my mom to get the recipe, she said no one had ever written it down.
"It was just handed down. I watched my mom make it for years and years," she says.
The secret ingredients, she says, are the spices — caraway and dill. "If you don't have those two, you have just sauerkraut, sauerkraut. Not so good," she says.
Oh, but it is divine dribbled with gravy and piled high between the turkey and dressing so you get a bit of kraut in every bite. When new spouses marry into the family — like my brother's wife, Aleisha — they're always skeptical.
"I just remember looking in the pot, and it looked all slimy and nasty. And I thought, 'Mmm, I think I'll pass.' I think I was like that for the first couple years. And now it's like my favorite thing to eat," Aleisha says.
Aleisha's been known to skip the turkey and go straight for the sauerkraut during the holiday meals. To Mom's great satisfaction, we've made converts of nearly every in-law.
"The family has really enjoyed it. I hope it goes on further. I'm sure it will," my mom says.
Especially because we're all hooked on an American twist my mom added to the tradition: After the feast is over and the dishes are done, we savor the leftover sauerkraut in a sweet-and-sour sandwich with turkey, cranberry sauce and a dab of mayo.
I think my great-great-grandma Mary would approve.
Dusek Family Holiday Sauerkraut
2 32-ounce bottles of sauerkraut
1 large yellow onion, sliced in rings
1 1/2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1 tablespoon of dill weed
1 teaspoon pepper
Rinse sauerkraut in colander and drain moisture, and then put in a pot. Pour chicken broth over the sauerkraut until just covered. Add onion, caraway seeds, dill weed, pepper. Stir together, place on stove at medium temp and cover pot.
Cook and stir occasionally for several hours for the best result of blended flavors.
(It really only needs an hour probably, but we love the smell along with the turkey cooking.)
When ready to serve, drain the juice from sauerkraut.
You can add little pieces of dark or light turkey, and also pour on gravy to make it creamy.
(If you're lucky, you'll have enough left over so you can enjoy a turkey sauerkraut cranberry sandwich the next day!)