Looking for a nutritious stew to warm you up? Why not try bigos, the beloved, smoky soup that is a national dish of Poland.

Top-down view of a bowl of bigos, a Polish soup containing meat and vegetables.
Image: Bigos is a national dish of Poland © Monika_1 / Shutterstock

What is it?

The smoky aroma of bigos is enough to make any Pole yearn for grandma’s home cooking. This nutritious stew is infused with juniper, forest mushrooms and a dash of Polish history.

Ingredients (serves 4)

1 large green cabbage, shredded 
3 tbs vegetable oil 
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped 
200g (7oz) bacon, roughly chopped 
260g (9oz) mushrooms, quartered 
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed 
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock 
400g (14oz) canned tomatoes 
200g (7oz) sauerkraut 
3 tbs tomato paste 
1 tsp juniper berries 
½ tsp black peppercorns 
3 bay leaves 
¼ cup dried mushrooms 
1 tsp smoked paprika 
4-5 kabanosy (sticks of smoked, dried Polish sausage)

A bowl of Polish bigos from a side on view. The dish contains vegetables and meat in a broth.
Bigos has been eaten in Poland since the 17th century © Lilechka75 / Getty Images

How to cook

Step 1: Blanch the shredded cabbage in a pan of boiling water for about 4 minutes, then drain and set aside. 
Step 2: Heat the oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion, bacon and mushrooms, stirring for a couple of minutes.
Step 3: Add the garlic while stirring, and cook for another minute.
Step 4: Reduce the heat to low and pour in the stock and canned tomatoes. 
Step 5: Add the blanched cabbage, sauerkraut, tomato paste, juniper berries, black peppercorns, bay leaves, dried mushrooms and smoked paprika. Stir thoroughly. 
Step 6: Chop the kabanosy into 4cm- (1½in-) long pieces and stir them in.
Step 7: Turn the heat as low as possible and cover the pan, or transfer the mixture to a slowcooker, if you have one. 
Step 8: Leave to simmer for around 7 hours, stirring every couple of hours. It’s ready to eat in 3 hours if you can’t wait any longer.

A view down over the square lined with grand buildings. The Town Hall Tower is the tallest of them all. Many outside tables at restaurants are occupied as the last light from the sun fades in the sky
You can find bigos on the menu in cities and towns throughout Poland © Capture / Getty Images

Tasting notes

Good bigos can’t be rushed. It’s slow-cooked for hours, sometimes days, to bring its flavours to fullness. Poles swear that it’s tastiest when reheated the next day, which gave rise to its nickname of ‘hunter’s stew’: a delicious meal for a lone hunter to reheat over an open fire. In Polish homes, the family’s nostrils are tickled by the aroma of smoky sausage and pungent cabbage stewing for days before the bigos is finally served. But what a pay-off: a slurpable stew stained reddish with spices and dense with cabbage; the luckier spoonfuls containing a hunk of kabanos, chewy dried sausage. There’s no thickener used in bigos, so a hunk of rye bread is ideal for mopping up the juices.

Other recipes in this series:
Greek avgolemono
Chennai Chicken 65
Italian tagliatelle al ragu

Have you recreated any of the dishes featured in this series so far? Share your pictures with us on Twitter and Instagram by tagging @lonelyplanet. For more great recipes, check out Lonely Planet’s book The World’s Best Bowl Food.

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