Vegan Bigos (Polish Hunter's Stew)
Spring is here, and last week you could definitely feel it in the air, but the beautiful weather was short-lived and it's now chilly and rainy again here in London. I thought I'd share with you one of my favourite recipes for chilly days like this. Bigos is a Traditional Polish stew – it's hearty and deliciously comforting! This one-pot stew is incredibly easy to make and requires very little effort. Serve it with creamy mashed potatoes or crusty bread for a hearty and comforting weeknight meal.
WHAT IS BIGOS?
I hadn’t heard of this dish before my trip to Poland. I saw Bigos on the menu at several restaurants during my time in Krakow last year, but I wasn't able to find a vegan version anywhere, so as soon as I got back to London I felt inspired to create a vegan version of it.
Bigos, often translated into English as 'hunter's stew', is a Polish dish of various kinds of chopped meat stewed with sauerkraut and shredded fresh cabbage along with a handful of spices. The main ingredient in bigos are assorted kinds of meat chopped into bite-sized chunks, which I guess is why it’s called ‘Hunter’s Stew’. Because of its popularity there are countless versions of it and everyone will have their own variation of the dish. They say that a variety of meats is considered essential for good bigos, but I would have to disagree! There are so many amazing vegan meat alternatives that are available nowadays, so you can really play around with the type of meat alternatives you use in this stew, and chances are, it’ll taste just as meaty and delicious!
HOW TO VEGANIZE THIS STEW
This recipe is incredibly flexible and forgiving, which is why there are so many variants of it. For my vegan version I used the Tofurky Company Polish kielbasa sausages along with succulent Portobello mushrooms. The vegan kielbasa sausages I used have a really delicious peppery taste with a hint of onion and garlic, so they’re perfect in this stew, but If you’re unable to find kielbasa sausages you can use whatever vegan sauces you have at hand, though I would recommend that you use a vegan sausage that has been flavoured with herbs. The succulent Portobello mushrooms gives this stew a meatier texture and adds a really earthy and intense savouriness. If you don’t have any Portobello mushrooms at hand, you can also use other meaty mushrooms such as king oyster mushrooms, porcini or cremini.
This stew is flavoured with black peppercorns, bay leaves, caraway seeds, garlic, marjoram, nutmeg, smoked paprika and thyme. The addition of red wine really enhances the tart flavour of the sauerkraut and adds a depth of flavour, so I would highly recommend that you do not omit this ingredient. I’ve tried this recipe with regular cooking wine and alcohol- free red wine, and they both tasted just as good, so you can definitely use alcohol-free red wine! Bigos is usually sweetened slightly with sugar or dried fruits, but in this recipe I’ve used date molasses which adds a really subtle sweetness.
Traditionally, bigos was stewed in a cauldron over an open fire - if you’re a camping enthusiast, you can give that a try, but the majority of us don’t have access to a cauldron or an open fire, so instead I would recommend you use a Dutch oven. The heavy weight of the Dutch oven distributes heat evenly so it’s great for searing the sausages and mushrooms before adding the other ingredients. I find that the even heat distribution also helps the flavours to infuse together better and the vegetables cook much faster.
HOW TO MAKE BIGOS
Cut the vegan sausages into medium slices. Add 1 TBSP oil to an extra-large pot or Dutch oven and let it heat up. Once the oil has heated, add the sliced sausages and sear them for about 4 minutes until they start to brown. Remove from the pot and set aside.
Add 1 TBSP oil to the same pot and place over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and sauté for 3 minutes until they become translucent. To clean the mushrooms, wipe them with a damp cloth and then blot them with some kitchen towel until they’re completely dry. Add the sliced mushrooms and carrots to the pot and sear them on a high heat for about 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until the they start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
Stir in the vegetable stock, red wine, potatoes, cabbage, Worcestershire sauce, tomato puree, chopped tomatoes, date molasses, sauerkraut, paprika, marjoram,, caraway seeds, nutmeg and black pepper. Season with salt, to taste.
Raise the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil. Lower the heat and allow it to simmer until the potatoes are tender, for about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Once the potatoes have cooked through, stir in the fried sausages and cook for 3 more minutes. Ladle into bowls, garnish with some fresh dill and serve with mashed potatoes or crusty bread.
TIPS FOR MAKING POLISH BIGOS:
Good quality sauerkraut - Sauerkraut is an essential ingredient in Polish bigos, so ensure you use good quality sauerkraut. You can find organic, preservative-free sauerkraut in any Polish supermarket.
Can be prepared in advance - Bigos actually taste better the next day after it’s had time for the flavours to infuse together. You can prepare this stew the day before, and then store in the refrigerator for up to two days. This stew is also suitable for freezing for up to a month.
If you’re not using vegan kielbasa sausages - add one extra tablespoon of smoked paprika to enhance the savoury, meaty flavour in the stew.
For an alcohol-free diet – you can use alcohol-free red wine which works just as well, or if you’d like to omit the wine, you can substitute it with extra vegetable stock and around 2 TBSP lemon juice.