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Cabbage, kraut melt into hearty stew

Cabbage’s capacity for countering rich meat and filling starch is this blog’s recent theme.

And there’s perhaps no dish that epitomizes the concept like “bigos,” a hearty, tangy, satisfying recipe beloved throughout Poland, where it is considered the national dish. Variations abound and, indeed, this stew can be adapted to meats you have on hand or cached in the freezer.

Leaner chicken sausages could be used in place of Polish sausages or kielbasa. Smoked turkey could stand in for the smoked pork. And if you lack sauerkraut, use all fresh cabbage, although the former is worth purchasing for its melt-in-the-mouth texture after the long cooking process for this recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service.

It’s mostly hands off, however, accomplished in a slow cooker or more quickly in a Dutch oven. And both versions reheat beautifully, served with either crusty bread, buttered noodles or steamed potatoes — or all three.

Although the probiotics in naturally fermented kraut are deactivated by cooking, canned sauerkraut tends to be mushy and could contain preservatives other than vinegar. Lots of all-natural krauts, including locally made brands, can be found in grocers’ refrigerator sections. If the kraut is too salty or tangy, simply rinse it under cold, running water.

Tribune News Service photo

Smoky Pork Stew With Melted Cabbage and Sauerkraut

1 to 2 tablespoons expeller-pressed vegetable oil or bacon fat

2 pounds boneless pork country ribs or pork shoulder, in 2-inch chunks

1/2 ounce dried porcini or dried mixed mushrooms

2 medium (total 8 ounces) yellow onions, peeled and roughly chopped

1/2 small head green cabbage, quartered, cored, roughly chopped (or a combination of red and green cabbages), 4 to 5 cups total (8 ounces)

2 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1/2 cup pilsner-style beer

1/4 cup tomato paste

1/2 teaspoon each: black pepper, caraway seeds, salt

1 1/2 cups drained refrigerated or deli-counter sauerkraut, 8 ounces

4 to 6 ounces smoked ham, Canadian bacon or smoked pork butt, cut in large chunks

10 to 12 ounces cooked smoked Polish sausages, pork or chicken kielbasa, sliced 1/2 inch thick

Small golden potatoes, boiled whole and buttered, for serving

Hearty rye bread and soft butter, for serving

Creamy horseradish sauce or spicy brown mustard, for serving

Heat the oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, brown the pork on all sides, about 10 minutes per batch. Transfer to a 4-quart slow cooker.

Meanwhile, cover the porcini mushrooms with 1 cup very hot water; let stand until rehydrated, for about 20 minutes. Strain soaking liquid to remove any grit. Stir mushrooms and strained liquid into a slow cooker.

Stir the onions into pan drippings in skillet. Cook and stir until brown, for 5 minutes. Add the cabbage; cook and stir for about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic; cook for 1 minute. Stir in the fresh mushrooms, beer, tomato paste, black pepper, caraway seeds, salt and 1/3 cup water. Mix well, then transfer to slow cooker.

Add the sauerkraut and ham chunks to slow cooker. Cover tightly. Slow-cook on low, stirring occasionally, until fresh pork is fork-tender, for about 6 hours. Add the sausage slices during last 30 minutes. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

Serve with the boiled potatoes, bread and horseradish sauce or mustard.

Makes 6 servings.

OVEN VERSION: Do all the browning in a 4- to 5-quart Dutch oven. Then combine all ingredients (except sausage) in a Dutch oven, adding an additional 1/2 cup water. Cover tightly. Bake at 350 F, stirring once or twice, until pork is fork-tender, for about 1 1/2 hours. Add sausage. Bake until sausage is heated through, for about 15 minutes.