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Kapusta is a Polish dish that primarily consists of cabbage that has been made into sauerkraut and is then mixed with other ingredients such as ham and onions. This is then cooked to a desired consistency, and can be thin like a soup or thick and more like a stew. In this latter form, it is similar to the Polish dish bigos and can be reheated and enjoyed over a fairly long period of time. Kapusta is an important dish in Polish cuisine and is often eaten in the winter and as part of holiday dinners.
The name for this dish can simply refer to sauerkraut in some regions, though the more elaborate version is typically meant. Sauerkraut is generally just pickled cabbage that takes on a fairly distinct odor and flavor, which is quite sour and may be an acquired taste for some people. This pickled cabbage is the base of kapusta, however, and a number of other ingredients can be added to this dish. Different cuts of meat are quite common, especially pork and sausage such as kielbasa, and onion, mushrooms, and various seasonings and spices are often added as well.
Once the kapusta is assembled, it can then be cooked until it reaches a texture and flavor desired by the cook. If cooked only briefly, the flavors will mingle somewhat and the natural liquids from the sauerkraut and other ingredients will create a final dish that is fairly thin and similar to a soup. When cooked longer, the liquids will cook off and the flavors will intensify to create a thick dish that more closely resembles a stew. This version of kapusta is similar to a Polish dish called bigos, which is the national dish of Poland.
When kapusta is cooked into bigos it is typically served with some type of starch, such as potatoes or a fairly dense loaf of bread. This is a dish that is commonly served throughout the winter months, due to the availability and vitamins found in cabbage. In this heavier form, it can also become a perpetual stew that is cooked and added to over great lengths of time. A traditional kapusta can be prepared and enjoyed, and left on the heat to slowly cook, with additional ingredients and liquid added when necessary to keep the stew growing and edible for days or weeks at a time.
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