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Kapusta (Polish Cabbage Soup) - A Family Feast

Every Sunday, as a child growing up, we spent the afternoon visiting my Babci.  Babci means grandmother in Polish,* and she was my mother’s mother.  Like most women of her generation, she often made dishes that originated from the ‘old country’ and the distinctive tastes and flavors of those dishes are hardwired in my memory.

Even today, I can immediately go back in time whenever I smell certain foods or certain dishes cooking.  One of those dishes is Kapusta**, a traditional Polish cabbage soup.  We were always really psyched when Babci made her delicious Kapusta for us for dinner.

Years later, I discovered that my husband Jack – who pretty much loves all-things cabbage – had never eaten Kapusta!

Kapusta (Polish Cabbage Soup) - A Family Feast

Since I didn’t have my Babci’s actual recipe (it was one of those recipes that was cooked from memory and never written down), I’ve done my best to recreate it from my own memory, and I think I’ve gotten it pretty close with this version.

Although not traditionally a Polish ingredient, my Babci added canned stewed tomatoes to her Kapusta which gives it an additional layer of flavor and really enhances the other ingredients in this dish.  Served with rye bread and butter, Kapusta is one of those dishes that just sends me back in time.  And Jack, who can’t get enough of this, wonders how on earth he missed out on this terrific Polish classic until he met me!

This post was originally published on A Family Feast in November 2012.

*Since originally publishing this recipe, several comments below have let me know that “Babcia” is the correct word for grandmother in Polish.  In my family, we simply called her Babci.

**Since originally publishing this recipe, a reader has let us know that this soup is also known as Kapusniak, or according to Wikipedia, Kapusta kiszona duszona.  Kapusta is the name that many Polish-American families like mine have given this soup.

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Kapusta (Polish Cabbage Soup) - A Family Feast

Kapusta (Polish Cabbage Soup)

  • Prep Time: 20 mins
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 45 mins
  • Total Time: 2 hours 5 minutes
  • Yield: 8-10 servings


A traditional Polish cabbage soup made with pork, cabbage, sauerkraut, onion, carraway seed and my Babci’s secret ingredient…stewed tomatoes to really enhance the flavors in this soup.


  • 34 pounds of meaty pork ribs such as country style ribs
  • 6 ounces diced salt pork (4 ounces after removing skin. The fatty type not the meaty type)
  • 1 ½ cups onion, about one large onion
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 pound fresh sauerkraut with juice (found in the refrigerated section of most supermarkets)
  • 1 medium head of cabbage, shredded (about 1 1/22 pounds)
  • 2 14½-ounce cans of stewed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 pounds all-purpose potatoes
  • Rye bread and butter


  1. Place pork ribs in a large 8 quart heavy pot and cover the ribs with water almost to the top. Bring to a boil uncovered, lower to a fast simmer (low boil) and cook for 45 minutes, skimming off foam as they start to boil. Shut off burner and let them sit in the water for 15 minutes.
  2. While the pork is cooking, in a medium frying pan, cook the diced salt pork on a medium high flame for 2-3 minutes or until just starting to brown. Add onion to the pan and sauté for 2-3 minutes until just starting to get tender. Reduce to medium heat, stir in the flour and sauté for 3 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.
  3. Once cooked, remove ribs from the pot and let cool. Save the liquid in the pot.
  4. To the pot of liquid, add the sauerkraut and juice, shredded cabbage, stewed tomatoes, caraway seeds and salt as well as the cooked salt pork and onion mixture.
  5. Cook over medium high heat until cabbage is cooked, approximately 30-35 minutes. While the cabbage mixture is cooking, remove the meat from the bones, shredding the meat into bite-sized pieces. Return the cooked pork to the pot once the cabbage is tender and heat to serving temperature.
  6. Peel and quarter potatoes and place in cold sated water while cabbage mixture is cooking. Bring to a boil and over a medium boil, cook potatoes for 5-10 minutes or until tender. Drain water and cool potatoes to room temperature. Once the cabbage mixture has finished cooking, cut cooked potatoes into bite sized pieces and either add to the finished cabbage dish or serve on the side. (cooking in quarters and cutting after the fact will make them more firm and less mushy since less of the surface touched the boiling water.
  7. Serve with rye bread and butter for a traditional Polish meal.

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 Kapusta (Polish Cabbage Soup) - A Family Feast

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  • Vicky wrote:

    I made this last night for dinner[even though it was 85 dgs.], and it was delicious! I didn’t use the carraway, but I did add 2 bay leaves to the simmering pork and discarded when the pork was tender. Although I didn’t use all of the zaprashka[sp? the onion roux] it was very thick and almost stew like. I added some water to thin it out a bit. We had leftovers tonight, and I felt like it needed a little something, so I added a few shakes of red wine vinegar which I always add when I make my version of cabbage soup, and it was over the top with a tangy taste.. That is what my mother and grandmother always did. The soup was very thick tonight. My 11 year old grand daughter loved it. I am of Slovakian decent, so I know cabbage soup! Thank you for sharing your recipe.


    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you Vicky! I love the way you’ve adapted the flavors – I will definitely have to try that the next time we make this dish!

      • Vicky wrote:

        Making again tonight since it’s 60 dgs., raining, and windy! So fall. I love it! I’m also making a Slovakian potato dish with hard boiled eggs, sour cream , boiled potatoes, Polish sausage, and butter. Pumpernickel bread on the side. YUMM!!

        • Martha wrote:

          Sounds delicious Vicky!! 🙂

  • Lauren wrote:

    Thanks for reminding me of a meal I haven’t had in a long time ! We did not use tomatoes but used mushrooms, and we had potatoes that we made with salt pork and onions, we would render the fat from the salt pork and carmilize the onions in the fat then we would mash the potatoes with the fat the onions and the fried bits of salt pork !! Heaven in a pot, and serve it with the Kupusta

    • Martha wrote:

      Oooh – your potatoes do sound heavenly Lauren! I think we’ll have to try that ourselves! Thanks for taking the time to write to us!

  • Margaret wrote:

    I just made a big pot of Kapusta. I was hoping for the best as I had not made it in some time. My husband’s Mother showed me how to make it. She used pork steak as her choice of meat and always added cooked Keilbasa at the end. I do not care for Caraway. I use fresh cabbage sliced thin with enough water to cover it and add sour kraut with juice. I brown the pork steak and chop up a couple of onions and let them cook together till the meat is tender. I usually add a touch of gravy master and water to the pork while cooking. I like to taste test to make sure flavor is to my liking. The longer it sets, the better it tastes.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks for sharing your recipe Margaret! It sounds delicious – and I totally agree! Kapusta DOES seem to taste better the longer it sits. Thanks so much for taking the time to write to us today!

  • steve wrote:

    i absolutely love this soup ive been eating it for many years now…my family owned a polish/american restaurant in utica ny for years…my variation of it is using a pork butt in a slow cooker instead of rib meat…it cuts out the salt pork n is much healthier…the tomatoes r genius it adds an acidity to the dish…i also use polish dried mushrooms that i get at the polish specialty store in my area…called polaski’s….theyre kielbasa is amazing and the polish ham krukuska is as well….i also add shinkova..(i know i didnt spell that right but its a ringed meat served cold) to my soup……love this recipe!!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks so much Steve! We love your suggestions and definitely want to try adding mushrooms the next time we make this soup!! Thanks for writing!

  • charlotte Pekrul wrote:

    I agree with many of the writers, kapusta is cabbage, cooked usually with onions and some pork, pork fat and even better sausage. used as a side dish or stuffing in pierogies.

    My grandmothers soup, cabbage, light sourkraut and pork was reserved for just after wigilia, prior to that it was fish and fruit pierogies.

    I think that her receipe is most close to the truth, it was a clear light broth of vegetables light on the raw cabbage,onion carrots celery parsley simmered with pork riblets or pork buttons for a longer period of time,pork meat set aside, drained of the stock vegetables. added with a touch of sourkraut and small amount of barley cooked slowly but not til cloudy
    home made jarred wild mushrooms slices were set on top of the soup with a cube of boiled potato, and a small amount of the pork (cleaned just to the meat)
    the only spices used were a touch of marjoram, salt and pepper during cooking

    MAGIC !

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Charlotte!!

  • Oksana wrote:

    I happened to come across your website from a pinterest email, and I have got to say I will be trying your recipes!! They all look so good, and my husband loves soups so I am always looking for something new too. Im Ukrainian and this soup has its twists because we make a similar one! (im currently using and to make recipes that remind me of my childhood as well) Im pretty sure you will find some foods there that are similar to what your grandmother had made as well.
    I look forward to trying out your recipes. Thank you 🙂

    • Martha Pesa wrote:

      Thank you so much Oksana! I will definitely check those sites for some familiar recipes! We’re glad you found us and thanks for writing to us!

  • Elizabeth Insley wrote:

    Being Polish myself, I came to the US when I was 5 years old. As you described, we called it kapusta. Kapusniak was more of a broth soup with very little cabbage in it. It had more of a sauerkraut taste as was made often for Wigilia (Christmas Eve dinner with no meat)
    My correction will be with “Babci”. Here is a great internet explanation I found. “Babcia in polish language means Grandmother. Babci is used with other words such as: “od babci” (from grandmother), “do babci” (to grandmother), “u babci” (at grandmother’s place) and few others. In english you must add words such as “from”, “to”, “with” while noun’s or verb’s form stays the same. In polish despite using the same words as in english you must change form (precisely the ending) of noun, verb or any other part of speech. Both forms exisist in polish but they’re being used in different situations.”

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks so much Elizabeth! I’m enjoying hearing from so many readers in response to this post! I remember my mother and grandmother talking about my great grandmother and calling her Babcia. Perhaps it was shortened to Babci for my grandmother in an attempt to Americanize it a bit – but I’m not entirely sure, and unfortunately my mother is no longer alive to ask. Clearly I don’t know or pretend to be an expert on Polish language or foods – only what my family taught us and the names we used on a day to day basis. Thanks again for writing! Martha

  • Bette I wrote:

    Today I am making our version of Kapusta. No tomatoes in our version or onions. It contains cabbage, sauerkraut, barley, sprinkle of black pepper and pork. I make it more like a stew, more thick than soup. My husband’s mother used to make it whenever she came to visit us. It is one of the few recipes I make to remember our family’s Polish heritage. I am sure that my version has become Amerianized. My son (now 50 years old) requests a “Polish feast” for his birthday presents– I make and freeze packages of kapusta,stuffed cabbage rolls and pierogis, he is thrilled!

    • Martha wrote:

      Sounds wonderful Bette! And your “Polish feast” sounds very much like the ones my family ate! Thank you for visiting our site! Martha

  • Suzie wrote:

    :)) Look really tasty. When I was a child I really hated that soup, but when I get older and grandma’s meals stop being usuall for me I missed it so much.
    BTW. It’s not Kapusta. Kapusta means cabbage and it’s one of ingredients. The name of the soup is “Kapusniak”

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Suzie! My family and others we knew all called it Kapusta but I’ll update the post to reflect the correct name for the recipe! Thanks for visiting our site! Martha

  • Sandi and David wrote:

    That’s a very sweet story. Food has a way of bringing you back in time.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Sandi! It really does…have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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