This recipe is inspired by a hearty soup I had at the Naplavka Farmer’s Market in Prague. We visited in 2019, and got up early one spring morning to beat the crowds at the Charles Bridge. Although the day would turn out to be quite pleasant, the morning was very chilly. After some site seeing and coffee, when it was time for breakfast, I was ready for something cozy and nourishing. (Read more about that morning here.)
While I made my rounds at the farmer’s market, I noticed a giant pot of soup simmering away. It was a bright red color, and had visible chunks of meat and potatoes. The stall it came from had peppers hanging in clusters across the front of the tent. A large bowl cost about $4, and came with crusty bread. The soup was satiating, with big pieces of pork, bites of sausage, and a lot of cabbage. It was instant comfort. I knew I would try to replicate it back home.
Cabbage is the backbone of this soup. The name in Czech is kapustnica, and a search for that comes up with sauerkraut or cabbage soup. I don’t normally have that much sauerkraut on hand at one time so I use a whole head of cabbage. I love cabbage in soups. (In fact, I have two other soup recipes in the works with cabbage in it! Too much?) It gives the soup an incredible richness and body. You could use stock for this recipe, but you really don’t have to, thanks to the cabbage. Plus, it’s inexpensive and keeps a long time in the fridge, making it the perfect quarantine vegetable. Can you tell I’m a fan?
The next main ingredients are kielbasa and pork. I used pork belly for this batch because I had some handy, but you could also use country style ribs, or pork shoulder. Both of those are a bit leaner than pork belly, but still fatty enough to give more flavor to the soup and do well with the long cooking. The soup in Prague had large meatballs in addition to chunks of pork. There are so many options.
The paprika is the third detail that really stands out about this soup and gives it its bright red color. The version I had in Prague was not what I’d consider spicy, but I love my spice. At home I use hot paprika from the Czech Republic, which gives it a nice kick, but you can also use sweet paprika if you want it more mellow, or use a blend of the two.
Cabbage and Kielbasa Soup (makes 8 hearty portions)
- 1 T olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1 lb pork such as pork shoulder, pork belly, county style ribs, cut into large bite sized pieces
- 12 oz smoked kielbasa, cut into bite sized pieces
- 1 large head of cabbage, cut into strips approximately 1/4 in by 3 in
- 2 small yellow onions, small diced
- 2 tsp ground Juniper berries
- 1 T ground mustard seeds
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
- 1/2 cup hot or sweet paprika
- 1-2oz white wine vinegar
- 3 Qts water (or a mix of vegetable stock and water)
- 2 bay leaves
- Black pepper
- 6 yellow potatoes, skin on, cut into large bite sized pieces
- Parsley and/or dill, chopped
- Preheat large soup pot or dutch oven (I use a 7 Qt dutch oven) over medium heat. Season pork with salt and pepper. Add oil to pot. Brown the pork in two batches. Lower the heat or remove pot from burner if it gets smokey.
- Add the kielbasa to get some color on it.
- Add all of the cabbage, onion, and spices. Cook until cabbage is cooked down about half its original size, stirring and tossing occasionally. (If your pot is smaller than 7 qts you may want to remove the meat to cook down the vegetables, and then add it back in.)
- Add the vinegar. Give everything a good stir to mix. Add the water and/or stock. Season with salt and pepper. Add the bay leaves.
- Bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer, and simmer for about one and a half hours. Taste. Adjust seasoning as needed.
- Add the potatoes and simmer for another half hour. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
- Serve, and garnish with chopped parsley or dill.