When I first moved to Russia, I was not impressed with the food. It was mostly white and bland, all meals relied heavily on starches, there were few vegetables and little meat, and what meat there was often came in a tube. But over the months, there were many things that I learned to love. Cabbage is one of them. It seems to be omnipresent in Russia, and since living there it has become one of my favorite vegetables (particularly when it is sautéed in grass-fed butter and doused with salt and pepper). I also learned to love sauerkraut. Many thrifty and green-thumbed Russians grow cabbage (kapusta, in Russian) in the gardens at their dachas. Dachas are summer homes outside the city, which sometimes lack electricity and running water, but typically come with a tiny plot of land, dedicated entirely to gardening. (Many Russians, including the family with whom I lived, also grow berries at their dachas that they make into an alcoholic beverage they call ‘wine,’ but which in reality is much stronger. But that is another story.) Much of the cabbage must be stored for the winter, and lacto-fermentation is a wonderful storage method. So, while living in Russia, I had my first experience with sauerkraut; although at the outset I thought it was terrible, I eventually grew to like it, and now I make my own, since I have such an appreciation for its taste, and for the health benefits of lacto-fermented foods. And I even came to like some of the meat in a tube that is so common in Russia. Some of it I still have a rough time stomaching, some of it is so very artificial and processed that I would not want to ingest it, but some of it is really good. . . I just had to sift through to find what I like. Now that I am back in America I have a slightly wider variety of more natural and less processed meats from which to choose. I opted for Polish sausage in this recipe, because I love the taste, and because I was able to locate some sausage of fairly high quality right here in town, for a fairly low price. So here is my latest recipe, in appreciation of the frugality and culinary virtues of Eastern Europe.
2 tbsp cooking oil of your choice (Lard could be tasty!)
1 lb Polish sausage, cut into bite-size chunks
2 cups shredded cabbage
2 cups sauerkraut with juices
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 onion, diced
Caraway seeds, salt, and pepper to taste
Heat up a large sauté pan and add your cooking oil and sausage pieces. Cook until the sausage is nicely browned on all sides, then remove from heat. Add the sausage, cooking oil, and all of the remaining ingredients to your slow cooker, stirring to combine. Cook on low for six to eight hours, and then sit down to a frugal, tasty, and filling dinner that hearkens back to Eastern Europe and Mother Russia.