I know, I know – I’ve been promising to post this recipe for, like, ever. When I made it for Christmas this year, I finally remembered to make some notes as I went along, although I apparently got distracted halfway through and didn’t write down the entire process. Nonetheless I will attempt now to recount it for you in great detail.
This method is based on what I observed my father-in-law doing on one Vigilia years ago, with a few tweaks stolen from other cultures’ cuisines. (Frying the caraway seeds in oil is straight out of Indian cooking). The exact amount of ingredients is not critical, but I generally aim to use roughly equal proportions of cooked cabbage and saurkraut to keep the sourness in balance. From what I can remember, a 2-lb cabbage cooks down to about 5-6 cups.
It’s a little time consuming but doesn’t require a lot of attention. You can make the kapusta one day, bake it with the kielbasa the next, and serve it on the third day.
I usually prepare this as a component for a main course (baked kielbasa and kapusta), but you can serve it on its own as a side dish. Of course, if you do bake it with the sausage, it begins to resemble choucroute garnie, and if you add another four or five types of meat, presto! you’ve just made bigos (Polish hunter’s stew). So this kapusta is a versatile thing.
Bernie’s Kapusta and (Optional) Mushrooms
1 to 4 tablespoons fat (ideally, rendered bacon fat or lard, but schmaltz or olive oil will do)
Up to 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 pinch of cumin seed, optional
1-2 big onions, cut in half and sliced from top to bottom
A fresh green cabbage, cut into 2” wide wedges then sliced crosswise into 1/3” strips
about 1/2 cup dry Vermouth or dry white wine
Saurkraut, ideally homemade, or at least fermented (look for the stuff in the plastic bags), or in jars from the Polish market
Optionsl: 1-2 oz dried mushrooms soaked in hot water until soft (Polish ones are ideal but porcinis will do)
1. Heat the fat or oil in a very large pot. Add the caraway and optional cumin seeds and cook, stirring, until the seeds start to “pop” in the hot oil.
2. Add the onions and stir. Lower the heat and cook until the onions are soft, about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Here’s a picture of the seed-onion mixture, just after adding the onions, to give you an idea of the relative seed-to-onion ratio that you’re aiming for:
3. When the onions are soft, add the cabbage and stir well. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is completely wilted and soft. This may take a while, 30-45 minutes. If the cabbage gives off a great deal of liquid you can take the cover off of the pot and raise the heat a bit until the extra liquid boils away.
4. Now it’s time to add the saurkraut. Drain it (I don’t bother with rinsing) and add it to the cooked cabbage/onion mixture in an approximately equal volume. Add the vermouth, too. Stir well, cover the pot and simmer for a few more minutes until everything is well heated. There should be a bit of liquid in the pot – it shouldn’t be soupy, but not completely dry either.
5. If you’re serving this as a side dish, it’s time to eat. You can make it a day or two ahead of time and reheat – it’s just as tasty. But if you’re planning to make baked kielbasa and kapusta, read on…
I’ve made this five or six times and I’ve finally learned to use a LOT more sausage than I think I should. People love kielbasa…so buy an extra pound and find a way to fit it into the pan.
Bernie’s Kielbasa and Kapusta
At least 2 lbs of smoked kielbasa (Bernie uses Hillshire Farms. If you want to go lower-fat, try Hillshire Farms low-fat or Trader Joe’s Turkey Kielbasa)
A vat of kapusta
1. Transfer the kapusta to a large covered baking dish or pan. When I make a really big batch, I use my roasting pan.
2. Cut the kielbasa into sections. If you are making this for a party, cut the sausages into 3” lengths and slice them lengthwise, for ease of serving. If you are cooking for the family you can leave the sausages intact for single-sausage servings.
3. Arrange the kielbasa on over the kapusta, nestling the sausage into the cabbage as needed to make it all fit into the pan.
4. Cover the pan with the lid, or with some foil, and bake at 350 F for 45 mintues or so, until the kapusta is bubbling hot and there are little browned bits around the edges of the pan.