Growing up in the Balkans cabbage and beans were unavoidable, especially during the winter months when each household used to have bins of dry beans and barrels of homemade sauerkraut. Although for the most part dishes that I grew up with kept cabbage and beans apart, one of my grandmother’s signature dishes was a cabbage and dark bean stew that was packed with both, as well as with piles of smoked meat. I do remember the taste with fondness, so I wondered if I can come up with a vegan way of making a Balkan style cabbage and bean stew.
This is a straightforward recipe with only a handful ingredients. I recommend using a Dutch oven, or a similar type of pot, and not being afraid of keeping it on relatively high heat to get the onions, which form the aromatic base of the stew, and Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo, brown and caramelize. In looking for an ingredient that can replace smoked meat, I decided to go with this chorizo as I found it to work really well in the past, both in Mexican-style lasagnas, and in hearty soups.
The star of this stew is definitely cabbage and for a big pot you will need lots of it. In principle, you could grab few bags of shredded cabbage and that will work fine, but for best texture I recommend shredding the cabbage a bit more thickly. This time around I used both red and green cabbage, but traditionally this type of stew would use fresh green cabbage or even sauerkraut (don’t laugh until you try it – it is delicious!). And don’t freak out about the volume of cabbage, it will cook down.
One final trick to this stew is creating a bit of a roux to bind the stew together. Traditionally, the roux in the Balkans starts with lard and flour, and it often includes paprika. To keep this stew vegan and gluten-free, I used corn starch and instead of making the roux in a separate pan and pouring it over I simply sprinkled the corn starch and mixed in with the onion, chorizo and wilted cabbage before adding the beans and water.
Once you add corn starch, beans and water, as well as whole peppercorns and bay leaves, the rest is easy. You bring your pot to gentle simmer, put the lid on and leave it on low heat. In less than 30 minutes you have your perfect post of a not-so-traditional Balkan Cabbage and Bean Stew which is best enjoyed hot with a piece of freshly baked Balkan cornbread (proja).
Balkan Cabbage and Beans Stew
What you’ll need:
1 medium head of green cabbage, anywhere between 1.5 to 2 lbs (700 to 900 g)
1/2 small head of red cabbage, anywhere between 0.5 to 0.75 lbs (250 to 350 g)
1 yellow onion, diced
2 15.5 oz (439g) cans pinto beans
3 tablespoons corn starch
2 cups water
3 bay leaves
20 whole peppercorns
What you’ll do:
- Spray the bottom and the sides of your Dutch oven or a large pot with the cooking spray. Turn the heat on to medium high to high and add diced onions. Let the onions brown for 3-5 minutes.
- Add soy chorizo (note: if using Trader Joe’s Soy chorizo please make sure to remove the casing before cooking because it is plastic and inedible!), and brown for additional 3-5 minutes.
- While onions and chorizo are cooking, shred the cabbage into thick shreds. Add the cabbage into the pot, stir well and let it cook down for 5-10 minutes with occasionally stirring.
- When the cabbage has gone down a bit, stir in corn starch. Mix well and cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Add beans that have been drained and rinsed. Mix well.
- Add bay leaves, peppercorns and water. Let the pot come to a simmer than lower the heat to low, put the lid on and let it cook for 20-30 minutes.
- Enjoy with the piece of Balkan Style Cornbread!
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