(Slovenian bean and sauerkraut soup)
This thick, smoky, and sweet-sour soup is from the Primorska region of Slovenia--close to if not on the Adriatic Sea. I had different variations in every city I tried it--some with sauerkraut, some with pickled turnips (re'pa), all delicious. It's fragrant with fresh bay leaves, wonderfully varied in textures and chewiness, delicious served with a traditional rosé wine. Like many Slovenian soups, its main ingredients are cooked separately and assembled at the end. For a wonderful variation called Kaula, Mr. Drago Telic of Cerknica advises "Kaula is the best soup in the world. It's like jota, but special to here with beans, potatoes, and, most important, kohlrabi." Serve hot to 4 people as a meal.
Garnish: dollops of sour cream
Drain the soaked beans, then put in a large pot and cover with water, several inches over their tops. Immerse the pork or ham in the pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, then cook until tender (depending on the size of the bean, 30 minutes to an hour). Do not drain!
Meanwhile, in a saucepan, cook the cubed potatoes in salted water to cover until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Again, don't drain. Have the drained sauerkraut at the ready. When you're ready to begin assembling the soup, remove the pork piece from the beans: cut away the bits of meat and put them back in the pot with the beans.
In another pan, fry the bacon over medium heat until most of the fat is rendered. Stir in the flour and cook for a minute, then whisk in the hot water until the sauce is smooth. Stir the sauce into the beans, then add the potatoes and their liquid and the sauerkraut and stir well. Add the bay leaf, crushed garlic, and tomato paste. Bring the soup to a boil, let simmer ten minutes or so, then ladle into bowls. Just before serving, top each bowl with a spoonful of sour cream.