If you are a wannabe vegetarian, like I am, there are times when you break down and eat meat, especially when your appetite prompts you to do so. At a time like that I recommend a dish like Pulled Pork Sandwiches or, as in this article, Polish Sausage and sauerkraut in a savory casserole.
Polish people like to rinse the brine off their sauerkraut and then sweeten it with a little brown sugar, as well as add in some apples and onions to the sauerkraut itself. This recipe is an accurate reflection of the kind of casserole dish my Polish mother used to make and then I made in turn for my family. I might add that treating sauerkraut this way is anathema to those of German extraction, like my close friend Elaine, who was scandalized when she observed me doing it years ago.
In my mother's day, the Irish and Polish Catholics in Chicago were known for their strict observance of Church rules, such as not eating meat on Friday. You can also see the Irish-Italian Catholic connection in such films as "Marty," in which the Italian man meets an Irish girl and they have a great deal in common through their backgrounds. Intermarriage between Irish, Polish and Italian young people was common in the Twentieth Century, as portrayed in films of the day.
The famous and respected comedy team of Stiller and Meara have used the premise of neighborhood social mixing to great hilarity in the case of Jerry Stiller, who is Jewish, and Anne Meara, who is Irish, and their offbeat courtship, which they translated to the stage in sketches that I first saw on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson--sketches that made them famous.
POLISH KIELBASA CASSEROLE
1 pound organic Polish sausage (kielbasa)
1 large organic onion, chopped
2 medium organic apples, peeled and quartered
1 package or can of organic sauerkraut, rinsed and well drained ( about 27 ounces)
1 cup water
1/2 cup packed organic brown sugar
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
Slice the Polish sausage into 1-inch pieces and place it in a skillet along with the chopped onion. Saute them over medium heat until the onion is slightly browned and the sausage is cooked thoroughly.
Stir in the apples, sauerkraut, water, brown sugar and caraway seeds. Transfer the mixture to a 2-1/2 quart slow cooker and bake it on HIGH for 2 hours, or until the flavors have combined.
Sauerkraut and Polish sausage are traditionally served with boiled potatoes, and the baby potatoes or Yukon Gold type of firm potatoes are ideal for this. However, in my family my father was fond of mashed potatoes, so my mother made them to go with this dish as well.
This casserole would be a good dish to serve on Christmas Eve if you have a Central European heritage like I do. It is not strictly necessary to brown the sausage with the onion, but if you buy your kielbasa in a vedlina, or Polish butcher shop, you can get it either raw or cooked. Thus if it is uncooked, as my mother's sister Lorane used to prefer it, you make sure that it is cooked and that it lends its inimitable flavor to the onions and, in turn, the sauerkraut.
This casserole is typically served with boiled potatoes, a classic Polish side dish (they invented vodka, according to my grandfather), but because my father loved mashed potatoes my mother used to serve them with her kielbasa. I usually make a mash nowadays in memory of both of them.