This stew is definite Winter-food. Considering the weather that we've had in Paderborn lately (including the first snowfall of the season yesterday) it's an appropriate meal to make. It's thick, rich, and made of seasonal vegetables: cabbage and onion. This is one of the few times I've written about anything with a pre-prepared mock meat. I'm not a fan of meat-replacements, but while I was researching this recipe (which is based on Bigos, a Polish stew) I found a lot of meat-heavy recipes, and decided to give it a try. I ate something like this in Poland, and enjoyed the sweet/sour flavour, so I decided to recreate it. The result was pretty accurate, but in future, I'm going to omit the mock.
So, your first step: obtain a vintage 'Salzburg' themed pot from your friendly German housemate. Seriously, how cute is it? I'd never voluntarily obtain something like this into my own kitchen, because I'm a bit picky about aesthetics, but it's so much fun to use other people's vintage cookware. Plus, this came from the housemate's grandmother, which makes it even more adorable. I may have the world's ugliest kitchen - ok, debatable, but it's not pretty! - but at least I can enjoy certain aspects.
I'd like you to have a good look at the picture above. That, my friends, is the largest clove of garlic that I've ever held. When you consider that I also have very long fingers (ET is in for a challenge!) then maybe you'll get a sense of perspective. It was fresh garlic, which meant that the surrounding layers of skin hadn't dried out, so those got chopped up and added to the stew as well. I can't abide by wasting something that contributes so much flavour.
Speaking of flavour, a lot of it comes from the onions. They're delicious, quite frankly. I used red onions, because that's what was in my pantry, though the colour was hidden by the use of the tomato passata. So really, it's your choice. What is not your choice, however is the cabbage: do as I say, and not as I do. I used a savoy cabbage, because honestly, they're beautiful. They're just a good-looking vegetable. Unfortunately, using savoy didn't give me the same texture as the original stew, and thus, I'd recommend that you use a normal, boring, flat-leaved green cabbage. Sorry, but you'll just have to trust me that you'll enjoy it more. ;)
Sigh. See what I mean about beautiful vegetables? However, this is no place for a beautiful vegetable, because my stews are not beautiful dishes. It's like I always say: ugly food tastes better, but you want to eat the pretty stuff. I'm exactly the same, but thankfully (or not?) I've had enough beautiful but tasteless meals to now rely on my sense of smell a little more. If food smells good, I want to eat it. Simple. So, here's a stew that will make your kitchen smell delicious for hours as it slowly simmers on your stovetop. Serve it with chunks of potato, or better yet, omit the mock meat and use potato in its place. Mop up the remnants with crusty bread while you stare at the snowflakes sliding down your window.
Polish-style Cabbage Stew
1/2 green cabbage, shredded as finely as humanly possible (or finer, if you have a mandolin or food processor)
2 onions, finely sliced
6 cloves garlic - the normal-sized ones ;)
2 bay leaves
750ml tomato passata (puree)
5 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar*
1 Tbsp brown sugar
water (or light vegetable stock)
300g pack mock meat (I used soy-based chunks, which I cut in half)
Using a medium heat, sautee the onion and garlic in oil until tender. Throw in the bay leaves and sautee for a few minutes longer, until the alliums are browned.
Add the cabbage, folding gently to allow it to mix with the onion, and sautee for a few minutes. You want to stir it frequently so that it begins to soften evenly, instead of browning on the bottom and being raw on top.
When the cabbage is softened, add the tomato passata and tomato paste. To that, add the vinegar, sugar, and enough water or stock to just barely cover the cabbage.
Turn the heat down to low and simmer gently, covered, for as long as you can manage. I managed about four hours. If your mix requires more liquid in this time, just top it up with water. This would also be excellent in a slow-cooker.
Add the mock meat chunks about 5 minutes before serving - they'll only need to warm up. If you're using potatoes, which will be what I'll do next time, throw them in half an hour before you plan to eat. That way, they'll have sufficient time to simmer to a lovely soft texture.
Season to taste with salt and pepper, and adjust the sweet/sour balance with a touch more vinegar or sugar if needed.
This tastes even better the day after it's made... so makes fantastic leftovers. :)
*balsamic is completely non-traditional. Most recipes I saw called for sauerkraut mixed in with the cabbage to provide sourness. I hate sauerkraut, so this is my sweet-sour substitution.