Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

All you have to do to make this soup is boil the ingredients. Well, of course, some of them need chopping in advance, but once assembled and in the pot, they can just sit and bubble away for a few hours, then you can eat it. There are no thickeners so it is very low in carbohydrates. If you leave out meat, it is practically fat free. The only thing to worry about, if you are the sort that worries, is sugar, which is how you get the sweet part of the sweet and sour.

I started this soup with a recipe from Karyl Bannister’s cookbook Cook and Tell based on her long-running newsletter from which she retired a few years ago. You need cabbage, the biggest onion you might have, two lemons, and a mix of white and brown sugars, plus beef broth and crushed tomatoes.

When I perused a few other sweet and sour cabbage soup recipes, I noticed a Hungarian version which called for paprika and balsamic vinegar. Since I am in love with smoked paprika, I added that, and also dribbled in some balsamic vinegar. Karyl’s recipe offered meatballs as a possible addition, but I thought some kielbasa would taste good, and sliced some into the soup.

About the tomatoes: the original recipe called for a twenty-eight ounce can of crushed tomatoes. I used two home-canned pints of stewed tomatoes. Any quantity in the vicinity of four cups will work just fine.

Since, in winter, I keep a fire going in the kitchen wood and gas combination cook stove, a long-cooked soup like this is easy and economical for me to make. Large batches of soup, spaghetti sauce, chili, stewy concoctions of all sorts simmer away in cold weather. I freeze part of each batch for quick thawing and eating another time, essentially producing homemade fast-food. This recipe is perfect for slow cookers if you don’t have a wood-burning stove to cook on and want to be sparing of your gas or electricity.

This is a pretty flexible recipe, so don’t worry very much about proportions. You can always adjust the seasonings to work with whatever size cabbage you have. If you have a small cabbage, and a small onion, then you will end up with a small batch of soup, so you can imagine what will happen if you have a large cabbage and a large onion. You can use a spicy sausage like chourizo, or an Italian sweet sausage, or meatballs. Use vegetable broth, and leave the meat out and it is perfectly good as a meatless dish.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup
  • 1 head of cabbage, around 3 pounds, finely shredded
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 cups of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 quart beef broth or 3-4 bouillion cubes
  • Water
  • ¾ cup of roughly equal brown and white sugars mixed
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon paprika, or to taste
  • 1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, or to taste
  • Sausage or meatballs, optional
  1. Put the cabbage, onions, tomatoes, and broth into a large heavy soup pot.
  2. Add water to cover the ingredients.
  3. Bring to a boil, then reduce the temperature to a steady bubbling simmer.
  4. Add the juice of one of the lemons and about half of the sugar mixture.
  5. Maintain a steady simmer for three to four hours.
  6. Add the rest of the lemon juice and sugar, the paprika and balsamic vinegar, and optional meat and cook for another hour.
  7. Taste and adjust seasonings.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.