It’s a special talent, overthinking something so simple as a peasant dish of cabbage with split peas. My goal, however, was to make a tasty vegetarian version of the usual porkified soup. I must say, it was a success. Dried borowik mushrooms imported from Poland add depth of flavor and color, while the sweetness of the fresh cabbage and sourness of the sauerkraut add some complexity. The yellow pea soup–I made my own–adds the perfect balance, mellowing out the cabbages’ assertiveness.
I actually prefer the vegetarian version, but you might not agree, so I am including both kinds of soup in this post.
Since I was making the two kinds of soup, I used a multi-step process, although some could be merged for ease. Start by soaking 1 ounce of dried Polish borowik mushrooms in plenty of water overnight. You’ll need this for the vegetarian version of the kapusta.
The next day, get the peas going. You’ll use this for both recipes.
Yellow Split Pea Soup
1 pound yellow split peas
1 onion, cut into chunks
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
1 stalk celery, with leaves, cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, lightly smashed with the flat of a knife
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Salt and pepper, to taste
Put first six ingredients in a soup pot with 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, stir, lower heat and simmer, partially covered, for 1 hour. Mash the vegetables and add back to the soup. Season with salt and pepper.
For the non-vegetarian kapusta, you’ll need some broth.
2 tablespoons bacon fat or olive oil
1 1/2 pounds beef marrow bones
1 pound country style pork ribs, boneless
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt the bacon fat or olive oil in a pot large enough to hold the meat. Brown the bones and meat on all sides. Season with salt and pepper. Add water to cover and simmer, partially covered, for 90 minutes. Drain meat and bones, reserving pork for another use (you can add it to kapusta that is not being served at Wigilia–why not?). Give the bones to the dog as a special treat. Chill the broth for an hour or two and skim the fat that congeals on the top.
Meatless kapusta (makes about 2 quarts)
2 tablespoons butter
1 ounce borowik mushrooms, soaked overnight in water, and very thinly sliced
Reserved mushroom broth, about 1 1/2 cups
1 large clove garlic, lightly smashed with the flat of a knife
1 small onion (about 1/2 cup), thinly sliced
3 cups shredded fresh cabbage
2 cups sauerkraut, drained, rinsed with hot water, and squeezed dry (I used Ba-Tampte New Kraut)
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 cups homemade split pea soup (above)
Melt the butter in your soup pot and add the thinly sliced (matchstick) mushrooms. Add the garlic and stew, until the mushrooms are tender and the garlic is very soft. Season with salt and pepper. Remove the garlic cloves at this point, if you like, although it’s perfectly fine to leave them in. They’ll soften more and melt into the soup. Add the onion and the fresh cabbage and saute until softened and starting to brown slightly, about 20 minutes. Add the reserved mushroom broth and about a cup of water, and simmer. Add the sauerkraut, bring to a simmer, cover the pot partially, and cook for one hour. Add split pea soup and simmer for another 15 minutes.
Almost-meatless kapusta (makes about 6 quarts)
4 tablespoons butter
3 large cloves garlic, lightly smashed with the flat of a knife
1 large onion (about 1 1/2 cups), thinly sliced
11 cups shredded fresh cabbage (about 1 1/2 heads), shredded
6 cups sauerkraut, drained, rinsed with hot water, and squeezed dry
Meaty broth (above) and enough water to equal 8 cups
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
5 cups homemade split pea soup (above)
Melt butter is a large stockpot. Add onions and garlic cloves and saute until the onion begins to soften and brown slightly. Add the fresh cabbage and saute until the cabbage is wilted and softened, about 20 minutes. Add the sauerkraut and stir well to combine. Heat through and then add the broth and water. Cover the pot and simmer for one hour. Add the split pea soup and simmer for another 15 minutes.
The finished product: Vegetarian kapusta on the left; meaty broth version on the right.