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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

Description

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.


Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  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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    Comments

  • Aniela wrote:

    My Babcia, also made the most amazing Kapusniak. I still make it today for my family. My father was from Poland and I remember travelling over there each summer and having this most wonderful dish amongst others.

    • Martha wrote:

      What a great memory Aniela! 🙂 Thank you for writing to us today!

  • Vicky wrote:

    A favorite! Love this soup!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Vicky!

  • Mary Pultorak wrote:

    My parents and their children were born in Poland. Our kapusta was not a soup but simply cabbage that was rendered down with bacon and onion. I will try this recipe though.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks for writing to us Mary! I’ve learned from all of the comments on this recipe that each family seems to have their own version – or perhaps my grandmother made it into a soup to stretch the ingredients to feed a larger family when money was tight! Hope you enjoy our version!

  • Lee Ann wrote:

    We also spelled her name Babci instead of Babcia. I was told it may have something to do with where in Poland she was from? Interesting! Someday I will also use the name Babci! 🙂

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Lee Ann! (Someday I will use the name Babci too!) 🙂

  • Joan Symecko wrote:

    Hi, just wanted to say how delicious this Kapusta is. Made it the other day and my husband ( both sets of his grand parents came from Poland) raved about it. This recipe is a definite keeper. Thanks for sharing!!!

    • Martha wrote:

      You’re very welcome Joan! So glad you all enjoyed the recipe!

  • Diane and Terrie wrote:

    Your recipie for Kapusta brought back so many memories for my sister and I. It is exactly what we remember our Mom and Babchi used to make (down to the rye bread and butter). The pictures evoked memories of the wonderful aroma of that beloved soup when we walked in the door for a family gathering. The dinner always included all the Polish treasured dishes and ended with a night of dancing in the kitchen to polkas played by our aunt and uncle. Thank you so much for the thought, love (and memories) you put in to resurecting this treasured part of our tradition. Na, zdrowie!

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you Diane and Terrie! Your memories sound wonderful and I’m so glad our recipe reminded you of them!

  • Joanna wrote:

    Hi Steve,
    I came across your recipe site. I am Polish (born and raised), although I now live in Puerto Rico. Just wanted to let you know that the word for grandmother is Babcia (not Babci – Babci means “to (or of) grandmother). Anyway, the soup you have here is actually a variation of Bigos, a polish cabbage soup. Kapusta simply means cabbage. 🙂
    Anyway, thanks for spreading the word about awesome Polish cooking.
    Joanna-

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Joanna!

  • karen mulrooney wrote:

    Martha: So glad I found your website! I grew up on Kapusta soup – Ukrainian/Russian grsndmother from Kiev. She like most of her generation never used recipes – everything cooked by taste and experience. Your recipe is the closest to hers. She used potatoes in hers and no tomatoes. My grandparents grew and canned everything they grew. Made their own sourkraut as well. I have missed her cooking for years and no one in the family has been able to duplicate her recipe – but tried. It was a big deal for us kids to go to Grammy’s for kapusta soup – all cousins no parents allowed for our lunch! Accompanied with rye bread and gsrlic rubbed in salt then rubbbed on the bread crust – delicious.

    • Martha wrote:

      I’m so glad you found us too Karen! Your memories sound really wonderful! The Polish foods I grew up with are so ingrained in my memory (and tastebuds)! I hope you enjoy trying our recipes!

  • Evelinka wrote:

    Hi,
    I am going to make Kapusta for a young man who said he hasn’t had it since he was very young.
    Actually, I am Japanese, but like to make Kapusta for my friends. I use Kielbasa sausage,
    make sure to get the fat out by first boiling it, then sautéing it. The rest is like most of the recipes
    with cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes and onions. A little wine vinegar is added at the end to give it
    a little tang.
    My Polish friends use all kinds of meat. One lady even uses wieners.
    It’s a good cold weather dish.

    • Martha wrote:

      Sounds like a great variation Evelinka! And I agree – it’s a perfect cold weather dish!

  • Peter hirschmanner wrote:

    A very dear friend,RIP, used to make this soup with pork ribs and pork and beans, any recipes with that version, it was lite and soupy and extremely tasty

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks for sharing such a nice memory Peter! I hope you enjoy our version!

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