Some time ago I was invited to a specific dinner in a restaurant in Kraków. The event was designated to discovering ancient Polish recipes from the 17th century. After the New Year, I will publish a post about the old “gingery” Polish cuisine. That cuisine was so different from what we eat today. For example, one today’s most popular food product – which is sauerkraut – was not so common back in those old days.
Nowadays sauerkraut is served with numerous food items: meat, fish, sausages, mushrooms and vegetables.
We have sauerkraut soup – “kapuśniak” which is good for hangovers; in the south of Poland, people eat “kwaśnica” - a type of sour soup which base is sauerkraut juice. My recipe for this traditional soup from the Tatra Mountains will be published in a coming post.
We eat salads made with red and/or white sauerkraut. We cook “bigos” (hunter's stew). Contemporary bigos is cooked with sauerkraut and meat. Three hundred years ago sauerkraut was not added at all – bigos consisted exclusively of meat or fish.
We bake “kapuśniaczki” - in the Kraków region, which is a type of savory cake with, for example, a sauerkraut -mushroom filling inside. We cook or bake “pierogi” (dumplings) with sauerkraut / mushroom stuffing.
We roll croquets – “krokiety” – which may be stuffed with sauerkraut. I even tasted a savory tart with sauerkraut filling.
You can braise sauerkraut with beans, raisins and mushrooms or even with pumpkin and honey – my last discovery.
Want to read more about sauerkraut? Sauerkraut in this country is everywhere. Pork chops with potatoes and sauerkraut (raw or braised) is still the most common Sunday meal, although it became popular after the Second World War. Sauerkraut is not only used for everyday cooking, but also for the preparation of Christmas dishes. That is why the smell of cooked sauerkraut can be felt especially before Christmas Eve. This smell is strong and it penetrates the whole building. On Christmas Eve, most of the people do not eat meat – instead, they eat sauerkraut, fish and mushrooms. In my family, we usually have 3 dishes with sauerkraut: pierogi stuffed with sauerkraut and dried mushrooms; braised sauerkraut with raisins and braised sauerkraut with dried ceps. When I was younger, my mum used to braise sauerkraut with beans, but it was too much for our stomachs. The mixture of sauerkraut and dried mushrooms is very tasty (especially when eaten once per year, on Christmas Eve) but it is not so easy to digest.
And what one can do with leftovers of Christmas sauerkraut? It may be used for the New Year's bigos (hunter's stew).
The best is to buy sauerkraut on open air food markets. I have also heard about a chocolate cake made of sauerkraut. When you buy sauerkraut, try to choose one that is white, sour but not bitter in taste. Of course, when you buy sauerkraut abroad you are limited to pasteurized one usually, so you cannot see really what you buy (usually in Poland you can taste a bit before buying). When sauerkraut is too sour, you should rinse it under running water before cooking it to get rid of the excess of acidity. The best is to buy sauerkraut which is sold straight from large barrels or containers, instead of pre packed items. Regarding fermentation: more and more often the cabbage is not fermented 100 per cent naturally meaning exclusively with salt; frequently vinegar is added and that is not right. Also, remember not to choose sauerkraut mixed with carrots (at least not for Christmas dishes) – and if this is all you can get, discard shredded carrots and reserve the sauerkraut.
Today I will not bother you about home-made sauerkraut, but I assure you that it is very easy.
Although the picture that you can see in this post was already published on this blog, the recipe itself was not, that is why I am using it again today.
Cabbage with dried ceps – Christmas Eve recipe
400 g sauerkraut
40 g dried ceps
750 ml water
1 large onion, peeled and washed, finely chopped
3 tablespoons butter
Prepare dried ceps: soak mushrooms in water overnight. On the next day, cook them until soft for around 30 minutes. Strain the mushrooms. Reserve the liquid. Cut the mushrooms into strips 0.5 cm wide and put them aside.
Prepare the sauerkraut: Cut the sauerkraut into smaller pieces. Then squeeze it in hands and remove the excess of sour liquid. In a hot frying pan melt 2 tablespoons of butter and fry onions until soft over low heat. Do not let the onions burn. Put the cabbage into a sauce pan; add onions and half of the mushroom liquid. Cook over minimum heat until soft, for around one hour and a half. Mix often, so the cabbage does not burn. If necessary, add little by little the remaining mushroom liquid or just water. Add mushrooms and mix well. Cook for another 30 minutes and eventually add a bit of water and mix. At the end, add one spoon of butter, salt and pepper. Mix well.
Cabbage with raisins – Christmas Eve recipe
400 g sauerkraut
200 g sultan raisins
1 big onion, peeled and washed, finely chopped
3 tablespoons butter
Prepare mushrooms: soak raisins for around one hour in 750 ml of warm water. Strain the raisins. Reserve the liquid.
Prepare the sauerkraut: Cut the sauerkraut into smaller pieces. Then squeeze it in hand and remove the excess of sour liquid. In a hot frying pan melt 2 tablespoons of butter and fry onions until soft over low heat. Do not let the onions burn. Put the cabbage into a saucepan, add onions and half of the raisin liquid. Cook over low heat until soft, for around one hour and a half. Mix often, so the cabbage does not burn. If necessary, add little by little the remaining raisin water. Add raisins and mix well. Cook another 30 minutes and eventually add a bit of water. At the end, add one spoon of butter and mix.
Serve both types of braised sauerkraut with potato crockets or as an accompaniment to a dish of meat or fish.
Bon appétit !