[Or Polish cabbage soup from a Ukrainian Jew]
I haven’t posted for a while, I know, but changes in my life urge me to find that thread that leads to writing.
I’ve had trouble cooking, too, but for that I’ve found a trick: pretend that I’m cooking for company, for neighbors and friends. Then, when I’m done, I can invite them to share — or not. Here’s a recent example.
My late husband, John, was taught by his mother, Mary Urzendowski Perreault, to cook kapusta, cabbage soup. Hers is a Polish version, natch, yet not too far in taste from the Ukrainian, the kind I have ordered at the East Village’s Veselka for decades. That’s called kapusniak. I’m a kapusniak maniac.
The Polish may have kielbasa as well as or instead of cubes of fatty pork, and that’s what my recipe uses.
A number of Out Theres back I wrote a three-part series about pasta vazool/fagioli, and though its happy ending took the form of a recipe, the foreplay overcame the climax. Not so here.
Polish cabbage soup, serves 4 to 6 for supper
- 1-2 lbs. pork with bone: can be any number of cuts, pork neck, pork butt, ribs (traditional), even cheap chops. A hambone will work, bacon or salt bacon, too, chopped into pieces.
- ½ -1 lb. kielbasa, cut in half lengthwise, then into bite-size pieces
- 1 large 27 oz. can or jar (or two small, around that amount) of shredded sauerkraut, needn’t be the best. Drain and save liquid. If not shredded, just cut it up.
- ½ green cabbage, shredded (food processor makes it easy)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large white, yellow or Spanish onion, or two small, chopped fine
- 4 or so peeled carrots, cut into bite-size pieces
- A few potatoes, 1-inch dice. Options are peeled russets, red, Yukon, the usual. Amount is up to you. Some cooks use flour to thicken kapusta, but potatoes add body plus flavor. Can be boiled separately and added at end, or cooked in soup, where they may fall apart to good effect.
- At least ½ bulb (yes, bulb, not clove) peeled garlic or more to taste, chopped or crushed
- Optional : 2-3 stalks celery, cut into bite-size pieces
- Vegetable oil or bacon fat to cover bottom of pot
- Hot and/or smoked paprika (not Polish, but I like it) to taste, at least a teaspoon or two
- 1 tablespoon or more caraway seeds
- ½ teaspoon sour salt (citric acid)
- 1 cup, or even a whole bunch, chopped dill, divided
- Optional : ½ teaspoon dried marjoram
- 1 quart broth: chicken works best, but vegetable or water OK
- At least 1 quart water
- Black pepper
You can do a vegan version, and it’s quite cabbagy, but the logic here is to make a broth flavorful with the pork that complements the kraut. On medium-high heat, sear pork of choice in a large soup pot (at least 8 qt.) with oil or bacon fat so that meat on bone is cooked through and fond develops. Remove pork from pot, and put aside to cool (you needn’t remove bacon, just don’t burn it).
Add onion to same pot and sauté until just turning brown at edges, scraping it around. Turn heat down if onions start to burn.
Then add garlic, carrots, paprika, a few turns of the pepper mill, bay leaves, caraway, kielbasa, (celery, marjoram,) scraping bottom of the pot to get all the dark fond into the mix. Stir till fragrant.
Note: don’t throw in any plain salt. Sauerkraut has plenty, and you can add reserved juice at end if you want more.
Add diced potatoes now or boil them in salted water separately to add before serving.
Take pot off heat. Add cabbage and sauerkraut. Stir carefully to mix ingredients.
Pick meat off reserved bones, trim fat, cut pork into pieces if necessary, reserve and add bones to pot.
Add broth, water, sour salt (citric acid). Return pot to medium-high heat and stir, scraping bottom of pot to release what’s left. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 min., stirring occasionally. An hour is better. Add ½ dill. Add pork pieces. Stir. Check to see if carrots (and potatoes) are cooked. You can let partially-covered pot simmer for hours. House mouths will water.
Remove hot bones and dig out bay leaves. Taste for seasoning and add sauerkraut juice, black pepper, sour salt if necessary. Add broth or water as needed. Stir and simmer. Top with rest of dill before serving.
Soup will improve with simmering and gets better day after day in fridge for at least a week. Just be sure to reheat thoroughly.
Mary and her darling John would be proud.