The original Romanian soup is called ciorbă de porc, which features beef, pork, sausage, meatballs or even just vegetables. Beans and smoked meat are a common pairing, and that is included in this version.
No matter the headlining ingredient, the defining characteristic of ciorbă is a distinct tanginess that comes from the addition of a souring agent. Here, white wine vinegar is used, but other options include pickle brine, sauerkraut liquid, or even the juice of sour plums. Quick-pickled red onion garnishes individual bowlfuls of this ciorbă, adding a sharp, punchy flourish. Make the pickles a day ahead or while the soup simmers so the onion has time to steep in the vinegar mixture.
Don’t forget to soak the beans, as directed in the first step of the recipe, for at least 12 hours before you plan to begin cooking. Soaking the beans in water that is salted tenderizes them as wells as seasons them throughout.
It is recommended smoking the sausage at home in a roasting pan, but for ease, go ahead and use a smoked ham hock and bulk out the soup with the meat from a half-rack of baby back ribs. Topped with quick-pickled onions and fresh dill, this bright, brothy stew encompasses the hallmarks of Romanian cuisine—tangy, smoky and rich with flavor.
Romanian Pork and White Bean Soup with Vinegar and Caraway
- Kosher salt and ground black pepper
- 1 lb. dried great northern beans
- 2 Tbsp. grapeseed or other neutral oil
- 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
- 2 medium celery stalks, chopped
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 medium red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
- 1-lb. smoked ham hock, OR 1 lb. smoked pork neck
- 1 1/2 lbs. pork baby back ribs (½ rack), cut between the bones into 3 sections
- 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, finely crushed by hand
- 2 tsp. caraway seeds
- 1 qt. low-sodium chicken broth
- 3 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh dill
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- Pickled red onions to serve, if desired
- First, soak the beans. In a large bowl, combine 3 quarts water, 1½ teaspoons salt and the beans. Stir until the salt dissolves, then soak at room temperature for at least 12 hours or up to 24 hours. Drain the beans and set aside.
- In a large pot over medium-high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onions, celery, carrots and bell pepper, then cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to brown, 5 to 8 minutes.
- Add the soaked beans, ham hock, ribs, tomatoes with juices, caraway, broth and 1 quart water; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high, then cover, reduce to medium and cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat as needed to maintain a simmer, until the beans are tender and a paring knife inserted into the meat between the rib bones meets no resistance, about 2 hours.
- Remove the pot from the heat. Using tongs, transfer the ham hock and ribs to a large plate. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from both and shred into bite-size pieces; discard the bones, fat and gristle.
- Return the meat to the pot and bring to a simmer over medium, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, then stir in the dill and vinegar. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with pickled red onions, if desired.
Original recipe by Diane Unger for Milk Street