Robin Anish | The Table is Set: A great-sounding name for a great-tasting dish
Aloha, bonjour, hola, ciao, hello! Kapusta!
The word has such a friendly sound to it, doesn't it? And it's kind of fun to say like a greeting, "hello," maybe in Polish? Well, the Polish part is correct, but if you're walking down the street and start greeting people with "kapusta," it's quite likely eventually someone will toss a cabbage your way!
Kapusta does not mean hello, it's the Polish word for cabbage. I love the word and I love cabbage. But for years, I only knew of kapusta as a particular dish made with sauerkraut, pork, mushrooms and yellow split peas and cabbage — a dish my mother made in the fall when cabbages were abundant and local. I'm a bit reluctant to admit, given my father's Polish heritage, for the longest time I had no clue that kapusta was the Polish word for cabbage and not just the name of a delicious one-pot meal. My Polish aunts are rolling in their graves with that admission!
My father was Polish; my mother was not. Her interest in cooking was inspired by her French grandmother, so she had no exposure to Polish food until she married my father. My mother's repertoire of Polish recipes was limited to stuffed cabbage, pierogi and this Polish cabbage dish the family referred to as "kapusta."
Although she has long passed on, I have to thank my Aunt Sophie for teaching my mother how to prepare her version of kapusta — hearty, satisfying fare perfect for an autumn dinner when served with buttered boiled potatoes, garlicky kielbasa and a good Polish rye bread.
Aunt Sophie's kapusta
3 medium cabbages
2 27-ounce cans sauerkraut
3 large onions, sliced
3 pounds pork loin or meaty ribs (do not use a lean cut of pork, such as the tenderloin or center cut roast)
1 cup yellow split peas, rinsed
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced and sauteed
Salt and pepper
cooking oil, butter or bacon drippings
Cut out the core and slice the cabbage about 1/2-inch thick. Drain the sauerkraut and rinse well.
In a large pot, over medium high, heat enough oil, butter or drippings to generously cover bottom of pot. Brown pork well on all sides; remove and set aside. Add onions to the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring until translucent and beginning to caramelize. Add cabbage to the pot and cook, covered, stirring occasionally just until cabbage begins to wilt. Add sauerkraut and split peas along with 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of black pepper and 2 cups water. Bury the pork in the cabbage. Cover and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Remove pork and cut into bite-sized pieces. Return to pot. Stir in the mushrooms and taste for salt and pepper. Transfer to a large open roasting pan. Bake, uncovered at 375 degrees, stir occasionally, for about an hour or until liquid has reduced significantly.
Note: The kapusta always taste better the next day and freezes well.
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