Machanka is a traditional Slovakian dish served on Christmas Eve in the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church, or any time a meatless dish is needed. This recipe comes from my sister's former mother-in-law, who went by Baba, a nickname for Babushka - or Grandmother. We looked forward to this rich, hearty, slightly sour soup every Christmas, and I could never believe it was made without any meat. Baba used to order her dried mushrooms from relatives in the Old Country, but they are pretty widely available in stores or on line now. Baba passed away last year, but family traditions - and recipes - live on as their legacy to us.
Thoroughly rinse the dried mushrooms, removing any sand, dirt and twigs. Place dried mushrooms in a bowl, cover with 4 - 5 cups of cold water to cover well and soak 6 hours or overnight.
Strain the mushrooms through a cheesecloth lined collander set over a large stockpot to remove any remaining grit and capture the mushroom water. Add the drained mushrooms to the strained mushroom liquid in the pot, along with the fresh mushrooms. Add another 4 - 5 cups of water, along with the garlic, onion powder, salt and pepper. Bring to soup to boil, reduce to heat, cover and simmer gently for 2 hours.
Add 1/2 cup of flour to a dry skillet over moderate heat. Stir constantly and cook the flour to a dark brown color, making sure not to burn the flour. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
In the same skillet, heat the oil and add the remaining 2 cups of flour, and stir constantly to make a roux. When the roux is the color of a dirty blonde, add the onions, and continue cooking to deep brunette. Add the browned flour and mushroom powder to thicken and brown for 1 minute.
When the soup has finished simmering, add a cup of hot mushroom broth to the roux to dissolve the flour. Stir constantly while roux simmers. Add more broth if needed.
Add the roux mixture to the soup and stir until the roux is completely dissolved and the soup is thickened - about 5 minutes. Add the sauerkraut juice and stir well. Take the soup off the heat and let the soup "set" for 3 hours. "It's better when it sets!"
Before serving, brown the potatoes in the last 2 TBL of oil, salt to taste and place in a serving bowl.
To serve, reheat soup as necessary, adjust final seasoning, ladle into large bowls, and sprinkle with fried potatoes. It's also terrific with a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche and dill.