Traditional Polish design by Rejke
Darlings! Because of my Italian last name of Lafata (which means "The Fairy" in Italian!) and the Italian name of my company (La Diva Cucina means "The Diva Kitchen!"), many people think that La Diva is a nice, sturdy girl with Italian blood lines, and they are not wrong. But equal to my Italian heritage, my genetic make up and bloodline also comes from Polish roots, along with German (Bohemian) and Scotch-Canadian. An interesting mix to be sure, especially when it comes to cooking!
And it is from these humble roots that helped La Diva decide on her dish for BATTLE CABBAGE!!!
When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, Easter was one of the holidays I spent with the Polish side of our family, usually at my Great Aunt Irene's place outside of Detroit. Each year, our cousins, great aunts and uncles would fill my Aunt's tiny home and celebrate Easter and Spring with traditional Polish food, drink and loads of laughter and merriment!
The dessert table would be laden with dyed Easter eggs and sweets including my great Aunt Alice's delicious and buttery tea cake, which was really a divine walnut roll in the shape of a ring encased in a bread-like dough. Smeared with creamy butter and not overly cloying, it was my favorite offering on the sweets table! Auntie Alice would make it on other occasions as well, but only if I begged her to! Also on offer was a huge tray of light as a feather angel wings or chrusciki and prune filled kolaczki cookies with chocolate Easter egg candies scattered in between. Easter at my Auntie's was always a holiday my siblings and I really looked forward to.
The butter lamb is a Polish Catholic tradition and symbolizes the Lamb of God. It graced Auntie's table each year and I always loved seeing it, her lamb always had eyes made of cloves. Click HERE to learn more about Catholic Polish Easter meal and see loads of butter lamb photos!
But the real feast was the dinner table, always overflowing and always with the same traditional Polish dishes, year after year: a large ham, Kowalski Polish kielbasa sausage, pork chops, pierogi of cheese, cabbage and meat with sour cream and my Aunt Barbara's kapusta, my very favorite dish of all!
Kapusta means simply "cabbage" in Polish (AND Hungarian, Russian, Ukrainian and Slovakian!) but kapusta is also the name of a classic Polish dish. Just like many traditional ethnic dishes, every family has their own version. But one thing is for certain, kapusta always has two ingredients: some sort of cabbage, either pickled as sauerkraut, fresh or both and smoked sausage, usually kielbasa. The dish was hearty, filling and full of nutrients to warm and nourish the hard working Pole through the cold winter months.
When I was thinking of a cabbage dish for Battle Cabbage, the first one to come to my mind was a favorite stir fry using Chinese cabbage with mushrooms, snow peas, bean sprouts and carrots encased in a flavorful Asian omelette. Sadly, I realized I had POSTED IT BEFORE back when I first started my blog! As I thought hard about some of my favorite ways to use cabbage, I remembered my Aunt Barbara's kapusta. Since I knew cabbage was in season at the Farmer's Market, I wanted to try my Auntie's recipe using fresh cabbage instead of with the usual pre-made sauerkraut. Darlings, I give you....
La Diva's Warm and Comforting Kapusta
1 head fresh cabbage
1 lb. Polish kielbasa
1.5 lbs of pork chops (this time I used boneless pork loin country style ribs, just make sure the meat is not too lean)
2 large tomatoes (or small can diced tomato)
2 large peeled, potatoes cut into bite size chunks
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
1 T caraway seeds
2 bay leaves
sprig dried marjoram or thyme (optional)
salt and pepper
In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil and when very hot, add seasoned pork.
Brown meat on all sides, throw in a couple of bay leaves.
Take washed cabbage and core and chop evenly. Toss into pot with the meat.
Add two chopped tomatoes (you can certainly used canned, Florida tomatoes are in season now and they are sooo good!)
Then add: a dash of salt, caraway seeds and vinegar, the herbs and a half a cup of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until pork is just tender, 1.5-2 hours, making sure to stir occasionally.
When the pork is fork tender, add peeled and cubed potatoes. If the stew is drying out, keep adding small amounts of water and DO NOT let it scorch, but keep stirring occasionally. Cover and continue cooking another hour until meat begins to fall apart easily when pulled and potatoes are soft. Adjust the seasonings but remember, you will be adding kielbasa, which has a lot of salt, so don't over salt, you can always add more!
Slice the kielbasa into 1/4 inch disks and stir through kapusta. Do not add the kielbasa until everything is cooked, you are adding flavor and don't want to take all the good juices from the sausage by adding them too early and boiling it to death! Kielbasa is already cooked so all you are really doing is warming up the sausage and allowing its fat to melt into the stew. Bring to a boil again (if necessary) and add more water if needed. (The kapusta should not be dry.) Once the kielbasa is warmed through, taste again and adjust seasonings if needed.
Put the kapusta into bowl and add small dollops of butter over the top. Serve with fresh rye bread or simply as is.
RESULT: Oh dear! I think I did my Auntie Barbara proud! Even though her original recipe calls for sauerkraut, I think that the fresh cabbage simmered with the vinegar was wonderful as the cabbage's texture was retained. The tomatoes adds a really mellow flavor, not too sharp or acidic, which is surprising considering the vinegar that's in the dish as well. The pork is fall apart tender, the keilbasa gives that hit of smoky, saltiness and then you bite into a buttery potato with the caraway! *sigh* This is a delightful dish that even cabbage haters would enjoy....there is no strong cabbage taste or bitterness, just comforting, warm deliciousousness! La Diva is wondering if my Polish great grandmother Cashmira would approve?
To check out all the other uber creative entries to BATTLE CABBAGE, go to Hostess with the Mostest and TOFU battle winner GRUMPY GRANNY to check out the entries, there are some really talented people out there! Good luck to the other competitors and for now, La Diva wishes you DOBRANOC!