Taking Comfort in Polish Food: A Recipe for Kapusta

Last week I traveled to Upstate New York with my parents to say a much too early good bye to my cousin, who left behind three beautiful daughters.  Over 1,200 people attended her calling hours, which will give you an idea of the kind of person she was, and how many loved her. I have never seen anything like it.

It was an emotional few days that were filled not only with tears, but with laughter and smiles too.  Funny how even though I  may not see my extended family on a regular basis, when we all get together again we pick up just where we left off. When  it counts,  we are all there for each other, and there is comfort just in knowing that.

There is also comfort in the foods that surround this type of gathering, at least in my family anyway. Maybe it’s just an Italian thing? I don’t know, but I can tell you that from the moment we arrived there was food (really good food)  in front of me, and one of my aunts or cousins asking “Did you get something to eat?” or ” Make sure you grab a plate before you go…”  There were pasta dishes, sausage roll,  greens, tomato pie, antipasto, garlic knots, meatballs, and endless platters of Italian cookies; all familiar dishes to the small neighborhoods in which they are from. These familiar foods conjer up memories of family gatherings and help to soothe the sorrow in their own special way.

Okay, why don’t I have an Italian recipe for this post? You might be wondering that by now, with the first few photos (clearly not Chicken Riggies). Well you see, there are  Polish roots in my family too. Following my cousin’s funeral service, a reception was held at a nearby restaurant. When we walked up to the buffet, I was pleasantly surprised to see an assortment of some of my Polish favorites,  like pierogies, kielbasa, kapusta, mashed potatoes, and golumpkis. A flood of family memories rushed over me just seeing them all together in one place. This is the kind of Polish feast my grandma would put together when we all came to visit years ago. On that dark and  gloomy funeral day,  this was the stick- to -your- ribs kind of meal that offered us comfort and lifted our souls as we said our good byes.

 So today’s post is about remembering those we love, tradition, and the recipes that keep us connected to our past. While most  of what you see here on Table Talk is geared towards entertaining and dinner party fare, I still like my family comfort food, and will share it with you from time to time along the way.

Kapusta (Kah-POO-stah)  is the Polish word for cabbage. There are many variations of this dish; some using fresh cabbage, some with mushrooms and potatoes, etc…but this is not the style I grew up eating. I don’t have my grandma’s original recipe, and actually, I don’t know that she ever wrote it down. But I remember the flavor very well; it was kind of on the sweeter side. I  have made kapusta from memory like my grandma several times,  but this time around I jotted it down on paper.  So here it goes, my family recipe for kapusta. For those who share Polish roots and memories of grandma’s cooking away in the kitchen, you may like this one as much as the Golumpki recipe I posted  a few years ago. Those golumpkis continue to draw hits to my site from Google searches, so I guess I’m not the only one who loves Polish food and the memories that go along with it.



Kapusta may be served as a side dish, or used as a filling for pierogies. It is best when simmered over low heat for several hours, and even better when served the next day. For additional flavor, add smoked kielbasa (my favorite is Hapanowicz Brothers) to the kapusta during the last hour of simmering. Kielbasa (served with mustard and horseradish), kapusta, and mashed potatoes are a Popular Polish trio. 

2 tablespoons bacon drippings

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups finely chopped sweet onions, such as Vidalia

2 (32 ounce) packages sauerkraut, rinsed well and drained

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 3/4 cups water

Heat bacon drippings and butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onions, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are very soft and beginning to caramelize, about 15 minutes. Add drained sauerkraut, brown sugar, and water, sirring well to combine. Bring mixture up to a boil over medium high heat, then cover, reduce heat to a very low simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for 6 hours, adding additional water if necessary to keep mixture from sticking to bottom of pan. Adjust seasonings.

6-8 servings


11 thoughts on “Taking Comfort in Polish Food: A Recipe for Kapusta”

  1. A lovely post, Debi. Food is my favorite way of remembering good and bad times gone by. My condolences for your loss, your cousin sounds like an incredible person.

  2. Debi, I am so very sorry to hear about your cousin. I will keep you & your family in my prayers during this time. It is a reminder of very precious life is every day.

  3. Our senses are such strong triggers to our memory. Being surrounded by all the foods of your past, besides all the love of those who made it, must have been a tremendous gift for you – the bittersweet of this sad occasion. Your post has me thinking about my grandma and great grandma from Czechoslovakia…the poppy seed, prune, and apricot kolache, the sliced dumplings served alongside rich meat and chicken stew-like dishes. I make their chicken and dumplings and think of their quiet, stoic natures and strong work ethic. I feel the crocheted blanket and think of their hands, always working. Your family’s traditions will be precious resources for your cousins’ daughters now.

  4. Hi Debi. I couldn’t believe when checking my e=mail “Table Talk” had Polish food recipe’s. My Baba and Jaja along with all my Aunts and Uncles (except my dad, he was born in USA) came over from Poland to Ellis Island to America. Grandparents never learned to speak english so we had mostly Polish conversations around the big dinner table for Holidays with a load of wonderful Polish food. The last of the generation who came over from Poland, my Uncle just passed away last year. Now it is up to 3rd generation here to carry on the traditions. I just got back from visiting my sons and the first thing they wanted was Polish cooking. From my grandmothers recipe my Golumpki is a bit different and I make kapusta with potato dumplings. YUMMY.. I won’t go into the History of certain foods they only had to cook with, it would take up alot of the page. But interesting. I was wondering if your family ever made Duck Blood soup for Easter Holiday? All your recipes bring back the old times and now my sons are learning to cook Polish.

  5. By the way do you have a Polish cookbook out there? I have an old old old one plus recipes written down from years past. But I can’t part with my book, I am 61 years old and it won’t leave this house until I am gone. 🙂 I would like to buy one for my sons though. If you have ones you sell can you tell me where to find it.. It is hard to find good old Polish cookbooks.

  6. Hi Helen,
    Thank you for sharing your story here on this post. I too think it is important to share these traditions and recipes with the generations that follow. My family never made Duck Blood Soup for Easter, but I do have memories of freshly baked Babka. As for Polish cookbooks, I do not own any. The recipes I have were given to my by family members who passed them down through the years.

  7. Are you from Utica, New York? Chicken Riggies seem to be a Utica dish. I just went back for a visit and had a Polish Plate from the Polish American Club in West Utica. This dish consisted of a Kielbasa link, 3 Pierogies(potato cheese or sauerkraut) a golompki and a scoop of kapusta. That plate really represents the Polish heritage of my hometown.

  8. This is the closest recipe to my mother in law’s I’ve ever found. My husband’s grandparents were from Poland. Everyone who could give us their original recipes is gone now so…if you want family recipes it’s a good idea to write them down before everyone is gone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *