There is a Polish soup called kapusniak with potatoes, cabbage and kielbasa. It’s hearty and chunky, and the interplay of shapes, colors and textures makes it so inviting. This Polish-style cabbage, potato and sausage soup was inspired by kapusniak.
What makes kapusniak different from other cabbage and potato soups? The addition of sauerkraut, for one thing. You won’t believe how a few tablespoonfuls of sauerkraut can alter the flavor of a dish. And the surprising thing is that you don’t really know it’s there. You don’t taste the acidity and the finely shreds of pickled cabbage practically disappear into the soup during the long and slow cooking. But the overall flavor of the soup is mysteriously different. You feel there’s something in it aside from the visible ingredients but you can’t pinpoint what it is exactly. Just lovely.
So, yes, this soup has sauerkraut. Still, it isn’t traditional kapusniak. Why? What tweaks did I make to turn this soup into a not-so-traditional version of kapusniak? The addition of ham bone, bacon and cayenne. Chicken broth is good but add ham bone to it and you get something that is beyond good. The richness, the aroma, that lovely smoky flavor… And a hint of cayenne adds a kick without scorching your mouth with intense heat.
We had this Polish-style cabbage, potato and sausage soup on a day when the rains were lashing against the window panes and the wind was howling so loudly that it drowned out the repetitive croaking chorus of the frogs. I put everything in the slow cooker at 4.00 o’clock in the afternoon and, by 9.00 o’clock, we had it for dinner.
Why is a hearty soup with lots of crusty bread feel so comforting on cold days and nights? Whether the reason is psychological, anthropological, sociological or all of them together, I have no idea. But there was a typhoon, it brought torrential rains and strong winds and all I could think of was soup. My original plan was so make a chicken cabbage and tomato soup but it would have taken an entire day and night to thaw the chicken in the fridge (you’re really supposed to thaw chicken in the fridge rather than on the kitchen counter at room temperature). So, I cooked this Polish-style cabbage, potato and sausage soup instead. And I am making it again, typhoon or no typhoon. It’s just so terrifically good.
Polish-style Cabbage, Potato and Sausage Soup
- 150 grams streaky bacon rashers
- 400 grams smoky sausages
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 onion
- 4 tomatoes
- 200 grams waxy potatoes
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 small head white cabbage
- 6 to 8 cups chicken broth
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 to 4 heaping tablespoons sauerkraut with the liquid (I used store-bought)
- 1 ham bone
- chopped dill to serve
Cut the bacon into thin strips.
Slice the sausages diagonally, about 1/4-inch thick.
Peel and mince the garlic.
Peel and roughly chop the onion.
Dice the tomatoes.
Peel the potatoes and carrot. Cut into half-inch cubes.
Cut the cabbage into half-inch wide strips.
Heat a saute pan, add the bacon and cook until fat has been rendered. Add the sausage slices and cook until both the bacon and sausages are lightly browned. Scoop the bacon and sausages into the slow cooker.
In the remaining fat in the pan, saute the garlic, onion and tomatoes until softened. Add, with the fat, to the bacon and sausages in the slow cooker.
Throw the potatoes, carrot and cabbage into the slow cooker.
Pour in the chicken broth. Sprinkle in some salt (not too much because both the bacon and sausages are salty) and pepper. Add the cayenne, paprika, bay leaves and sauerkraut. Stir. Push the ham bone into the contents of the slow cooker.
Set the slow cooker to HIGH. Cook until simmering (it takes about an hour). Set the heat to LOW and cook for three to four hours or until the vegetables are soft.
Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings.
Sprinkle your Polish-style cabbage, potato and sausage soup with dill before serving with crusty bread.