I could have easily called this blog “What’s Polish Cooking Without the Kielbasa?”, but I didn’t realize how much time I would actually spend trying to recreate family recipes. Some of them are fairly easy – nalesniki (or crepes as most people know them), pierogi (stuffed with mushrooms and sauerkraut instead of the usual potatoes and cheese), and borscht. Those are the easy things to make vegan.
There is a whole area of Polish cooking that I have steered clear of, mostly out of an inability to make them vegan-friendly. Unfortunately my interest in cooking didn’t really start until I had already moved out of my parents’ house. When the holidays would come around, my mom accommodated my vegan diet – making sure that there were dumplings, soup, and other options for me to eat. I only participated in the cooking when it came time to form the pierogi – my favorite task in the kitchen.
When it came time to finalize the Christmas Eve dinner menu with my family, I still had cabbage on my mind. I volunteered to make bigos, the sauerkraut stew that my mom made for us last year when we were in Poland. I finally got an idea of what the instructions and amounts for the ingredients were after begging my mom and a lot of googling. At the end of my mom’s email instructions, she reassured me that there was no way that it could go wrong.
Remember this: there is no way to screw up bigos. And since I was so unhappy with all of the recipes, I’d like to share with you (approximately) what worked for me. As with all family recipes, everyone likes to do it a little bit differently. But I hope that you can enjoy something that has been a key recipe in our house.
Vegan Bigos (Polish Sauerkraut Stew)
- 2 onions
- 2 quarts sauerkraut
- 2 c water or vegetable broth
- 1 carrot, thinly sliced
- 1/2lb mushrooms, chopped
- 1 packet dried mushrooms (mine was dried oyster mushrooms, 2.64oz, but you can try any variety, especially woodier mushrooms)
- 1 packet vegan kielbasa, chopped in half and then sliced
- 4-6allspice berries
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1tsp. caraway seed
Finely chop the two onions. Heat a large dutch oven or pot with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Add the onions and sauté for five minutes, until soft.
Drain the sauerkraut, catching the liquid into a bowl. Squeeze the sauerkraut with hands to get out any excess liquid. Set this bowl aside (or even pour it back to the jar). Add this “dry” sauerkraut to the onions.
Slice the carrot into thin pieces; add to the pot. Pour about 2 cups of water or vegetable broth to the pot. Add the allspice berries, bay leaves, approx. 1tsp of caraway seed, and a pinch of salt. Stir well and let it simmer.
In a small pot, heat approx. 1 cup of water. Add the dried mushrooms when the water is boiling. Let this cook until the mushrooms are soft – about 3 to 5 minutes. Put two pieces of paper towel in a fine mesh sieve over a bowl. Drain the mushrooms over the paper towel-sieve and add the liquid to the sauerkraut. Chop the cooked mushrooms roughly and add to the sauerkraut.
In a separate pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the chopped mushrooms and cook until slightly browned. Add to the dutch oven. Cut each kielbasa link in half, and then slice. Brown the kielbasa and add to the sauerkraut. Mix well.
Let this cook another fifteen minutes or so – I didn’t do any prepwork ahead of time, allowing the sauerkraut to cook slowly as I chopped the mushrooms, carrot, and kielbasa. Taste the bigos and add more of the liquid from the sauerkraut that was set aside at the beginning if you would like it to have a more sour taste. If it gets too sour, you can add a little bit of sugar to the bigos, otherwise you can also add some raisins or dried prunes (chopped) in order to sweeten it.
*A note about cooking: overall cook time should be about one hour. This recipe is best when it’s allowed to sit and is reheated. We are planning to eat this a day later for dinner, so I will be reheating it briefly again this evening and then again tomorrow morning before we leave for New Jersey.