Thursday, February 26, 2009

Kapusta, From the Motherland

Today I'm giving a big shout out to my heritage and Ukrainians in general. This kapusta (Ukrainian for cabbage) is so bomb, but its a classic of all classics. Kapusta, or some variation of this dish, depending on what state food rations were available, is to Ukraine what pasta is to Italians.

This recipe is based on what my Grandma used to make for me all the time to bring to lunch at work. It's got that distinct Eastern European smell, which I love, and can be eaten hot, cold or whenever. I've also simplified the recipe somewhat, but I cleared it with my Grandma, since I'm a young man living in a Los Angeles studio apartment, it might not be too realistic for me to ferment my own cabbage to make sauerkraut, raise my own pigs to make kielbasa or forge my own iron skillet out of scraps stolen from the Iron mines of Minsk. Also, butter is not really a common thing in the eastern bloc, they use pure fat. Yeah, sooo, I don't really need to fatten up for any long harsh cold winter, or need strength working a double shift at the rocketbomb plant, I can use butter here. Luckily, for my purposes, we now have stores where we can buy these things. Yay capitalism.

Here's what you need:

1 medium onion (peeled and chopped)
1 jar natural sauerkraut (try to get one made with only salt, cabbage and water, no vinegar)
half pound of good quality keilbasa (about 6-8 inches in length) (chopped into rough cubes)
a good sized chunk of butter
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 bay leaf

Here's what you do:

1) Start sauteeing your onion in the butter for a few minutes, until they start to get soft, but not quite brown
2) Add your sauerkraut to the onions, but leave the juices. So you can either drain the entire jar completely, but I recommend just forking it out the jar into the pan. That way you get a little bit of juiciness in the mix, and you have extra juices to add later if need be. Add sugar, caraway, bay leaf at this time too.
3) Stir it all around, on low to medium heat and leave it until it gets nice and soft. After about 10 mnutes, add the keilbasa and then just let it cook on low for another 10.
4) Depending on the saltiness of the sauerkraut, the dish should be salty enough, but if you want, add salt and pepper to taste.

Congrats, you're done. It was that easy. So basic but so absolutely delicious. The caraway seeds are the magic ingredient that pulls it all together in my opinion. Serve it in bowls with a fresh peice of dark russian rye bread.

What to listen to: The cold wind swirling through the trees outside
What to drink. Russian Standard vodka. Straight.
In the eastern bloc, drinking vodka is always meant to compliment food, and it's looked down upon to drink it straight for the purpose of getting drunk. Also, vodka is never for mixing.

(I would recommend a Ukrainian vodka, but apparently they can't get their act together enough to ship some bottles over here. Regardless, Russian/Ukrainian vodka is all the same, heck they invented the stuff.)


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