Polish Potato, Kielbasa, and Cabbage Soup (Kapusniak) Recipe

Simple, delicious, and deeply nourishing.

Polish potato, kielbasa, and cabbage soup in a blue bowl, with torn bread on the left periphery.

Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Why It Works

  • Adding the ingredients to the same pot in stages allows you to build up flavors in a short period of time.
  • Bacon and kielbasa bring a rich, porky, smoky flavor to the soup.

My mom has never been the greatest cook in the world, but I really liked a few of the dishes she made when I was a kid. I had no idea where her recipe for hot dog and cabbage soup came from—I figured it was a 1970s Betty Crocker cookbook's idea of what Polish food might be—but I did like it. I quizzed her about it, and she said that she had vague memories from childhood of her mother making a sauerkraut and sausage soup. (What my Japanese grandmother was doing making Central European food, in Japan, in the '50s, is a mystery to me.) This was my mom's own version made from supermarket staples, and it was really, really straightforward: Fry hot dogs and bacon; add onions, cabbage, and potatoes; then boil it all in chicken stock until acceptably soft and mushy. I asked her about the addition of bacon, to which she said, "I think I put it in because your sister likes bacon."

Makes sense to me.

The finished dish was simple but comforting, the kind of meal I could imagine Charlie Bucket eating on the best day of his life. (I mean, the best day before he inherited the chocolate factory and all.)

It's stuck in my memory enough that it seemed like a worthwhile recipe to recreate in my own kitchen, so I did exactly that.

White bowl filled with sausage and cabbage soup on a wooden table

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

I typically do some quick internet searches any time I'm about to start cooking something new. I'm especially glad I did this time, because, as it turns out, my mom had accidentally "invented" what is more or less a Polish kapusniak, a simple soup made with pork, onions, cabbage (in the form of sauerkraut), and potatoes. Kapusniak recipes seemed like a good way to glean some insight into how I might alter my mom's dish.

I poked around various recipes online (thank god for Google Translate) and watched a whole slew of Polish grandmothers on YouTube making the dish. No surprise that, just like with almost any "traditional" dish in the world, the variations on it are many. Some use fresh pork in addition to bacon and have you cook the soup until the pork falls apart. Some call for finely grating carrots and onions on a box grater so they nearly disintegrate into the soup. Some thicken up the soup with a touch of flour added toward the end, while others rely solely on the starchy thickening power of the potatoes to give it extra heartiness. (Rachael Ray shoehorns beer, crème fraîche, and allspice into hers.)

This was all good news, because it meant that I felt absolutely no compunction about making up my own recipe, based partly on how I remember my mom's version tasted and mostly on what appealed to me personally.

For mine, I start with slab bacon (or well-rinsed salt pork) and Polish sausage, which I brown in a little oil. Next, I add sliced onions and carrots cut into small dice, allowing them to soften somewhat in the rendered pork fat from the sausage and bacon. With straight-up sauerkraut, I found the dish a bit too bracing and intense, so instead I cut mine with a mixture of fresh cabbage and sauerkraut. Once the vegetables are all softened, I add some chicken broth, a couple of bay leaves, the stems from a few sprigs of dill (I save the dill fronds to garnish the soup at the end), and a russet potato, letting the whole thing simmer together until the potato is tender.

Rather than a flour roux, I like to use a light cornstarch slurry to thicken the soup ever so slightly. A tablespoon of cornstarch for over two quarts of soup gives it some more body, without making it goopy. To incorporate the cornstarch, I make the slurry with a little bit of cold water and add some ground paprika and white pepper to the mix.

The dish takes about half an hour to make (and it's a tasty-smelling half hour). It may not be quite as simple as the traditional Nakanishi-family hot dog and cabbage recipe, nor as authentic as some other kapusniak recipes floating around, but it's easy and delicious, and destined to become a classic in at least one household I can think of.

If you like creamy soups (like my wife), check out my other version of the same soup. It was a fun exercise in seeing how slightly different techniques and ingredients can produce vastly different results.

January 2016

Recipe Facts

4.9

(9)

Cook: 35 mins
Active: 20 mins
Total: 35 mins
Serves: 6 to 8 servings

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Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) vegetable oil

  • 6 ounces (175g) slab bacon, cut into 1/4- by 1/2-inch pieces

  • 12 ounces (350g) kielbasa or other smoked Polish sausage, split lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced (about 6 ounces; 175g)

  • 1 medium carrot, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 4 ounces; 120g)

  • 1 small head cabbage, cut into 1/2- to 1/4-inch shreds (about 12 ounces; 350g)

  • 8 ounces sauerkraut with juice (1 cup; 240ml)

  • 8 cups (1.9L) homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1/4 cup (60ml) chopped fresh dill, stems reserved separately

  • 1 large russet potato, peeled, split in quarters lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 10 ounces; 280g)

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon (10g) cornstarch

  • 2 teaspoons (8g) paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon (2g) freshly ground white pepper, plus more for seasoning

  • Fresh crusty bread, for serving

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add bacon and kielbasa and cook, stirring, until fat is rendering and bacon and sausage are browning in spots, about 5 minutes. Add onion and carrot and cook, stirring, until softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add cabbage and cook, stirring, until lightly wilted, about 3 minutes. Add sauerkraut with its juice, chicken stock, bay leaves, dill stems, and potato. Season to taste with salt.

    A four image collage. The top left image shows the bacon and sausage inside a Dutch oven, once fat is rendered and bacon and sausage are browning in spots. The top right image shows onion and carrot softened but not browned inside Dutch oven with bacon and sausage. The bottom left image shows cabbage lightly wilted inside Dutch oven, with the other ingredients. The bottom right image shows sauerkraut with its juice, chicken stock, bay leaves, dill stems, and potatoes added to the Dutch oven.

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

  2. Increase heat to high and bring soup to a boil. Reduce to a bare simmer and cook until potato is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir together cornstarch, paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon white pepper in a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon (15ml) cold water and stir to form a slurry. Pour slurry into the soup and stir until evenly distributed. Return to a boil (soup should thicken very slightly). Season to taste with more salt and white pepper as desired. Stir in chopped dill and serve with bread.

    A four-image collage. The top left image shows the soup coming to a boil inside the Dutch oven over high heat. The top right image shows the soup reduced to a bare simmer inside the Dutch oven, showing off the tender potato. The bottom left image shows the slurry evenly distributed into the soup, which is being brought to a boil. The bottom right image shows chopped dill being stirred into the soup.

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
511 Calories
24g Fat
50g Carbs
25g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 8
Amount per serving
Calories 511
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 24g 31%
Saturated Fat 7g 37%
Cholesterol 54mg 18%
Sodium 2153mg 94%
Total Carbohydrate 50g 18%
Dietary Fiber 4g 16%
Total Sugars 8g
Protein 25g
Vitamin C 32mg 161%
Calcium 116mg 9%
Iron 5mg 25%
Potassium 909mg 19%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)