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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

  • Helaine wrote:

    Fantastic

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Helaine!

  • Gloria Maley wrote:

    I visited my Babci every Sunday also, and spelled Babci as you did. Many special meals and memories will remain with me forever.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks for writing to us today Gloria – special memories for sure!

  • Paul wrote:

    Excellant! My wife is Polish and always talked about her Babci’s cabbage soup and apple-raisin pudding. Soup came out almost excactly as she had remembered it. Thanx for recreating one of her childhood memories. The tomatos added a nice taste addition to the broth. Any recipes for the pudding?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Paul – So glad you and your wife enjoyed the recipe (and the memories with it!). I don’t recall my own grandmother or mother making an apple raisin pudding unfortunately. I also looked in an old Polish cookbook that I inherited from my grandmother/mother – no luck either. We do have an Apple Pudding recipe on our site (my husband Jack’s recipe) and we have a Sour Cream Pudding Cake (with raisins) – maybe one of those could be adapted to match the version your wife remembers? Hope that helps!

  • Monica VanBeekum wrote:

    I can’t wait to try this! My mom changed most of her traditional recipes to be easier and healthier. Our kapusta is served with kielbasa and isn’t soupy. Every family has their beloved recipes. I stopped using saltpork because my dad and sister couldn’t tolerate the fat. I use a little olive oil instead.

    • Martha wrote:

      We hope you love the recipe Monica! We also have a Bigos recipe on our site (that recipe includes kielbasa) that you might enjoy too!

  • Leo E . Sancho (Szenko) wrote:

    We don’t eat Pork. Can we substitute some other meat .? Has someone tried it with beef?, Chicken? ….

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Leo – Pork is traditional but I think some meat beef ribs could work (you’ve peaked our interest!). Please let us know how it comes out!

  • Sam wrote:

    I’d love to make this tonight, I have a bunch of pork chops in the fridge do you think I could use those in this recipe? I’m very excited to try this at home, thanks for sharing!

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Sam – In a pinch they will work but ideally, you’d want the rib bones for the best flavor.

  • Katherine wrote:

    I grew up Russian-Ukrainian and we called my grandma babci (like babcia) and we called our sauerkraut soup kapusta. My dad used to use pork spare ribs in his

    • Martha wrote:

      Very interesting Katherine! We’ve received a lot of comments about calling our Grandmother ‘babci’ instead of ‘babcia’ – I always assumed it was our Americanized version of the name. Sounds like there are a lot of similarities with our family’s names and kapusta recipe! 🙂

  • Aniela Meyer wrote:

    Amazing recipe, by the way it is Babcia not Babci –

    • Martha wrote:

      Thank you!

  • Charlotte Vasil wrote:

    My grandmother was from Lithuania and on Christmas Eve she would serve a similar soup with shrimp instead of pork ribs. Does anyone have a recipe?

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Charlotte – I hope someone reading this has a recipe for you! I did Google Lithuanian cabbage soup and found several versions, but none with shrimp. Sounds delicious!

  • Maggi wrote:

    Just like my grandma’s. Every recipe I have of hers includes fry an onion in salt pork or chicken fat. Stuffed cabbage, kapusta (and yes we called it that also). Nothing was written down I went to my mother’s and watched and wrote. My grandma died when I was 16 she was 86.

    • Jack wrote:

      Oh yes! Fried onions and salt pork are must-include ingredients in the best Polish cooking! 🙂 Thanks for writing to us today Maggi!

  • Bill Jones wrote:

    I love cabbage soup but never tried a Polish recipe. I will give it a try. By the way my mother is 100% Polish and she taught me years ago that the word for grandmother is Babushka:)

    • Martha wrote:

      I hope you love the recipe Bill! 🙂

  • Gwyneviere wrote:

    Hi I’m glad I found your website. I’m a huge fan of making my own bone broth; so when I cooked bbq spare ribs last night I couldn’t bear to throw them out! They are simmering now and I wonder if the broth would work as a base for your soup? It definitely has a bbq flavour to it. Also there is not meat left, what would you suggest to add as some extra meat…I don’t want anything to fatty as there is enough from the bones and trimmings. Thanks so much for any suggestions!

    • Martha wrote:

      Hi Gwyneviere – Absolutely – you can use the leftover broth. I think a smokey BBQ flavor would be a nice addition. If you want to stay with pork – you could add in some chunks of lean, pre-cooked tenderloin. I would just add it in right before eating since it will get tough if over cooked. (Alternately, it would still be delicious as more of a vegetable soup!) Hope that helps!

  • Jennifer Fryc wrote:

    I had two “Babcis” and they both signed their names as “Babci”. I love this recipe – I have kapusta in my freezer and I was just wondering if it could be a soup. Thanks for posting!

    • Martha wrote:

      You’re very welcome Jennifer! Hope you enjoy the recipe!

  • Alessia wrote:

    It’s KAPUŚNIAK not kapusta. Kapusta means solely “cabbage” 😀

    • Leslie Kelley wrote:

      Yup-it is Kapusniak and kapusta. This recipe is very similar to my Bachia’s but I am also adding some peppercorns as I remember those in her recipe and adding alot more diced tomatoes in addition to the stewed tomatoes as it looks way too thick at this point. No kilbasa which she also did not use in her recipe just pork which I browned vs boiling. I think I have way too many potatoes also! Thanks so much for posting this recipe as it is cold in FL today-think it is 60 so soup for us today!

      • Martha wrote:

        You’re welcome Leslie! Hope you enjoy the recipe!

  • Liz wrote:

    I looked at the recipe above again and realized that it actually resembled bigos or hunter’s stew more than kapuśniak (a soup). To compare below is a link to a wonderful recipe I tested several times. It is by Anne Applebaum from her book “From the Polish Country Kitchen”

    http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/02/from-a-polish-country-house-kitchens-hunters.html

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks again Liz! We recently posted a Bigos recipe on our site and agree – our family recipe for Kapusta does resemble Bigos but different meats and flavors. We appreciate you sharing all of this great info with our readers!

  • Liz wrote:

    Because of Polish complicated grammar, both “babcia” and “babci” are correct. I recommend
    an article on Polish language to anyone interested.
    Polish language has as many as 7 grammatical cases and because of that the word “babcia” can
    have several endings:
    This is my grandmother To jest moja babcia
    This is my grandmother’s recipe To jest przepis mojej babci.
    I am going to visit with my grandmother Odwiedzę moją babcię
    I need to talk to my grandmother Muszę porozmawiać z moją babcią.

    The polish equivalent of “my” has different endings, too.

    “Kapusta” means “cabbage” in Polish. “Kapusta kiszona” or “kapusta kwaszona” is
    sauekraut” Soup made with cabbage and/or sauerkraut is “kapuśniak”

    • Liz wrote:

      I forgot to add that the article on Polish language is available on Wikipedia.

    • Martha wrote:

      Thanks Liz!

  • Andreina wrote:

    My grandma kapusta is more like a stew. It has no tomato, just pork, cabbage, onions, pepper. I think i will try this version someday. Thanks

    • Martha wrote:

      Hope you enjoy our version Andriena! (Your grandma’s version sounds delicious!)

  • Walt wrote:

    Kapusta means cabbage, not cabbage soup.
    That soup is called Kapuśniak.

  • Julie wrote:

    For some mysterious reason, this morning I had a hankering for Kapusta. My friend Pat gave me her family recipe years ago and we loved it on cold Chicago winter nights. I just spent an hour looking for her recipe in my old recipe box, without success. Sadly, I’ve lost track of my friend over the years, and remember searching online for the recipe several years ago, but coming up empty. Pinterest came to my rescue with your recipe! This is it, complete with the tomatoes, except Pat used bone-in pork chops. Thank you – I can’t wait for dinner tonight!

    • Martha wrote:

      I hope you love the recipe Julie!

  • James Nault wrote:

    The original owners of the crocus restruant in milwaukee Andy and ella were the providers of the best of the polish dishes and soups. alas they have retired and with them the great recepies that wont easily or cant be duplicated by those who come after to replace them. Only the polenez restruant on the south side of milwaukee still stands to serve the taste buds of these tasty polish delights.

    • Martha wrote:

      Sounds like a wonderful restaurant James!

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