Bigos (The Polish Stew That Will Feed Your Soul All Week)

July 29, 2019
Bigos (The Polish Stew That Will Feed Your Soul All Week) - Smoky bacon, kielbasa, melty cabbage, sauerkraut, and lots of delicious broth

“Your heart knows the way.  Run in that direction”     ~ Rumi

(This post may contain affiliate links)

Jump to Recipe

You know those people whose spirit lights up an entire room?

Meet Paula Bartholomy, Hawthorn University's Director of Online Events and Registrar.  As I interviewed her for the series, I couldn't help but think,  “What a beautiful person, who radiates joy.”  Her confidence, passion for helping others, and decades-long journey in holistic health were so inspiring.

I hung up the phone, wishing I could take her to lunch, and become lifelong friends.

Here, she talks about her family's influence, the areas she's studied, and the disease she avoided working with for a very long time

(  ps: You can read more about Hawthorn University in Part I  |  Part II  |  Part III Part IV of the series )

Photo Credit – Paula Bartholomy, 1957

What inspired you to start a practice in holistic nutrition?  

It's probably in my genes.  I was born into a large family, with an even larger and very close extended family.  My maternal grandparents lived next door, my grandfather's four brothers all farmed on adjacent land, and my grandmother had five siblings who all farmed.  So I grew up in a world of food, soil, community, and hard work.  My family ate what the farms provided, their produce, the dairy, the meat.

And then there was my grandfather's fermentation cellar.  I adored his fermentation cellar.  There were always things bubbling and brewing down there.

We had big family meals that were made fresh every night with appreciation and eaten with gratitude.  I also grew up in a family restaurant.  We all grew up working in it, and it was my world, my interest.  I learned so much about life from my parents, grandparents, aunties, and uncles.  But I continued to read and study health and nutrition deeply on my own.

I thought it was really only personal to me, until my dad, who was never sick a day in his life, landed in the hospital with a bleeding ulcer.  When I visited him, I took the opportunity to visit many other people on the wards, and it made me realize that what I knew mattered to more than myself.  I guess my mouth has been yammering ever since, Alison!

I devoted myself to what would become a journey of life-long learning.  It became a profession, and even in the early 70s, I was identifying as a body/mind/spirit practitioner (before those terms were even used)

(Me – That warms my heart because I too grew up on a family farm.  Our family was much smaller, and my grandfather also lived on the farm with us)

My uncles used draft horses.  So my older brothers had the experience of farming with their uncles on the draft horses.  Unfortunately, like so many families, the children were encouraged to go off to college and didn't return to the farms.  And eventually, as the elders aged and could only maintain their own smaller family gargen but not the farms, we started getting our food elsewhere; not from the farm anymore.

Photo Credit: Paula Bartholomy, 1971

You are a wealth of knowledge!  Can you tell me a little about your training and education?  How do you keep up with all of the new research?  

Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge; it's so important to me.

I started studying yoga and meditation when I was fourteen years old and taught both, starting in my twenties.  I read about health and nutrition constantly, and I started applying what I learned to myself, just to see what would happen.  That's when I began looking for nutrition programs, but I couldn't find anything that offered more than what I knew or was in any way holistic.  I applied for and was accepted into Logan University to become a doctor with a focus on nutrition.  Then I veered into integrative studies and earned certifications in herbalism, aromatherapy, various bodywork modalities, and hands-on healing.

I was trained in counseling, specifically for trauma and abuse for women.  I did some deep Shamanic training and also have an advanced Alchemical Hypnotherapy certification.

I found the Institute for Educational Therapies (now Bauman College), where I took their full nutrition certificate training and started teaching in their entry-level program before I'd even graduated.  For the next ten years, I administered and taught all levels of their programs.  At the same time, I completed my bachelors and masters in an online program.  I've also received an honorary doctorate.

How do I keep up?  I read, read, read: journals, blogs, podcasts, and I go to conferences.  It's ongoing.  It's a very eclectic background and mix of modalities, but when I'm working with clients or talking with students, I don't emphasize one thing over another at this point in my career.  It's a blend.  It all finds its way into the things that I'm doing.

Photo Credit: Paula Bartholomy

Are there areas that you enjoy more than others?

Well, I've always been a generalist, Alison, I like it all.

For the longest time, I avoided studying or working with cancer.  But now, it's unavoidable as a topic and a need, so I do.  I bring a different and blended skill set in terms of my background.  I'm able to talk to people, not only to guide them on their nutrition path but supporting them emotionally as they embark on their healing.

Being a generalist, I'm all over the map.  But, I did my master's thesis on autoimmune in 1992, before most people had even heard of it.  Lately, I'd say everything microbiome has my attention.  Dementia and Alzheimers as well.  I find myself steeped in the deeper, chronic issues of our time.

Was there a reason you avoided cancer?

I avoided it very intentionally.  I didn't want to get that close.

It was a big scary world, and I had to process what it was about for me – recognizing the environmental impacts alone.  Certainly, the impact of food, and genetics.  That I have a role to play, and with my skill set, I have a different approach that I'm able to bring when supporting people on their journey.  It's really about the journey – the healing journey.

I've started several books along the way, and one of them is called The Healing Journey.  It's about what happens from the moment that we don't feel good, to receiving the diagnosis, to the end result of we make it, or we don't.  But, really it's about achieving full health again or as great a return to health as is possible.

And so, cancer has been an opportunity to self-explore the fears within myself and to recognize the role that I have.  It's a different and unique role, and it's working all right for me now.

( .. to be continued .. )

Bigos (The Polish Stew That Will Feed Your Soul All Week) - Smoky bacon, kielbasa, melty cabbage, sauerkraut, and lots of delicious broth

One of my favorite things, when doing a series like this, is choosing the recipes I'm going to feature.

Those that are delicious, yes, but at the same time, feel like they have a special hook into the story.  Getting ready for bed one night, I posed the question to my husband, “I'd like to make something fermented, maybe with sauerkraut.  But nothing I've run across feels quite right.”

“Bigos!  I can't believe I've never made it for you.  Let's pick up meat, veggies, and a cabbage at the farmers market.  There's a jar of homemade sauerkraut from your parents, still in the pantry.”

And so last weekend, when I wanted to make room for something slow and quiet, sans sautéing; something that would make our apartment homey and sweet-smelling for a few days, I started a batch.  Never mind that it was 98 degrees outside, on our stovetop was a big pot of Hunter's Stew.

My husband comes from a large Polish family, and a riff on a tradition is hard to beat — a simple, hearty, Eastern European stew with so many adaptations.  Growing up, his family made it with ends and scraps of meat that were saved and frozen over months' worth of meals, so feel free to experiment with different cuts.

The only constant?  Smoky kielbasa.

Bigos (The Polish Stew That Will Feed Your Soul All Week) - Smoky bacon, kielbasa, melty cabbage, sauerkraut, and lots of delicious broth

Other recipes incorporate rice and/or a variety of veggies.  So you can use whatever you have on hand.  This version features smoky bacon, kielbasa, melty cabbage, sauerkraut, and lots of delicious broth that can be sopped up with bread.  (Hands down, the broth is the best part)

Aside from a minimal bit of labor, this stew is pretty straightforward.  With a stir every now and then, it mainly cooks itself.  It makes for easy eating on a cold winters (or, in our case, a hot summers) night.  With a hunk of bread, a salad, and maybe some cheese alongside; it's one of the best meals you'll ever have

A few notes about the recipe:

Add a bit of mustard or horseradish just before serving, for a little extra kick

Don't be afraid to simmer the stew for a good long time.  After a couple of hours, the flavor will be bright and acidic, the cabbage having mellowed the sauerkraut's vinegar bite down to a “just right” level.  Around four hours, the meat and cabbage will be very tender, with a more balanced flavor to the overall stew.  Six hours (and beyond) is more traditional, with meat that's falling apart into the cabbage.



ps:  You can read more about Hawthorn University and Paula Bartholomy in Part I  |  Part II  |  Part III  |  Part IV  |  Part VI  |  Part VII Part VIII  |  Part IX  of the series

— — —

~ Adapted from Treasured Polish Recipes For Americans



  • 1 oz dried porcini (or other wild mushrooms)
  • 1 lb bacon, cut into 1" cubes (double-smoked is best)
  • 1 ½ lb kielbasa sausage, sliced on a diagonal ½" thick
  • 8 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ¼ cup tomato paste (double concentrated is best)
  • 1 Tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper (more or less, depending on your tolerance for heat)
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 small head of green cabbage, (about 2 lb.) cored, thinly sliced
  • 2 large carrots peeled, sliced 1 ½" thick
  • 1 red apple, cored, and grated on the large holes of a box grater
  • 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, cut into 1" pieces
  • 1 lb sauerkraut (not drained; about 2 cups)
  • 5-6 cups beef stock (homemade is best)
  • Small dill sprigs, dark rye or pumpernickel bread, and unsalted butter (for serving)
  • 1-2 Tbsp mustard or horseradish (optional)


  • Pour hot tap water over the dried mushrooms and submerge them for 20-40 minutes, or until soft.
  • In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring often until it's brown and crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a small bowl and set aside
  • Drain all, but a very small amount of the bacon fat.
  • Add the kielbasa the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until brown (~ 10 minutes). Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  • In the same pot, reduce heat to low, add the garlic and cook, stirring often, until it's just beginning to turn golden brown ( ~ a minute)
  • Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until paste darkens slightly and is beginning to stick to pot (~ 2 minutes)
  • Add the spices and cook, stirring constantly, just until fragrant ( ~30 seconds)
  • Add onions and turn to coat them with the spicy tomato paste
  • Add the wine and increase heat to medium-high. Cook, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pot, until the smell of the alcohol cooks off (~ 3 minutes)
  • Add the salt, stock, cabbage, carrots, apple, potatoes, sauerkraut, mushrooms, and bacon. Bring to a simmer.
  • Cover, reduce heat, and simmer gently, stirring well halfway through after an hour
  • Add the reserved kielbasa.
  • Cover and cook until the bacon is tender, cabbage is meltingly soft, and potatoes are cooked through (~ 30–60 minutes)
  • Divide stew among bowls. Add mustard or horseradish if you'd like a little kick. Top with dill. Serve with bread and butter alongside.
Serves: 12
Nutrition + Show
Calories 445
Total Fat 20.4g
Saturated Fat 5.2g
Carbohydrates 31.8g
Fiber 5.6g
Sugars 8.4g
Protein 32.6g
Print This Recipe


You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Recipe Rating