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Vegetarian Bigos Recipe: An Update To the Traditional Polish Dish

Updated on March 10, 2009

 Bigos is a very important food in the Polish culture. In fact, it is traditionally considered to be the national dish of Poland which makes it a very integral part of the culture indeed. Unfortunately for some people, the dish is a dish that is almost always made with meat. If you’re someone who believes that it’s important to stick to a vegetarian diet (either for health reasons or out of concern for animal welfare) then you may feel like you have to give up your love for great dishes like bigos. But that’s not necessarily true.

It is possible to create vegetarian alternatives to almost any dish that is usually made with meat. Coming up with creative alternatives to the meat in a recipe can provide you with the chance to begin enjoying your favorite cultural dishes again (dishes such as Poland’s bigos) without compromising your vegetarian principles. It is particularly easy to adapt bigos to a vegetarian recipe because there have historically been so many different ways to make this dish.

Each region of Poland … and even each individual family which loves the dish … has come up with its own recipe over time which incorporates the basic ingredients of the bigos dish but also includes a little twist to make the national favorite a bit more personal. Let’s take a closer look at the different options that you have for replacing meat in any recipe and then I’ll provide you with one specific recipe for vegetarian bigos that you can adapt to your own liking.

Replacing Meat in Any Recipe

The key to creating a vegetarian alternative to any traditional dish is to figure out how to replace the meat in the recipe with a vegetarian food that will be comparable to the meat in terms of texture and sense of fulfillment while you eat it. In some cases, your best option is a manmade meat alternative. In other cases, vegetables will do. Here are some common examples:

• Standard meat alternatives. Many people who eat a vegetarian diet will eat meat alternatives in place of their meat in any recipe. Meat alternatives include tofu, seitan and tempeh as well as specific brands of items such as “vegetarian bacon” or “vegetarian burgers”. Your best bet with these is to play around with different types and different brands in order to find what you like best as a replacement for any given meat. You may find that seitan works best as a replacement for beef dishes but that you prefer tofu as a replacement for chicken. These are really personal preferences and should be explored completely in your life as a vegetarian. The key to bigos is that there are several different types of meat involved in the dish so that’s something to keep in mind when choosing meat alternatives. If you’re going to develop your own standard vegetarian bigos dish, it would be worth it to make several versions with different meat alternatives in order to figure out which combination of different meat alternatives provides the best recipe.

• Vegetables that work as meat alternatives. Hearty vegetables can provide a suitable replacement for meat in any dish. Your best bet is to look for vegetables that are thick and filling but that don’t have very pronounced tastes of their own. Potatoes and other root vegetables are ideal. Mushrooms are also good. And chick peas are a common alternative used in the vegetarian bigos dish.

One Great Recipe for Vegetarian Bigos

This is a good starting recipe for you to try if you’re interested in a vegetarian bigos dish that is easy to make:

• Take two pounds of white cabbage and simmer it in a pot until it is soft.

• Take half pound each of the meat alternatives seitan, tempeh and a vegetarian version of sausage. Also chop up two large portabella mushrooms and one onion. Sauté together until brown.

• Drain the white cabbage and add the sauté that you’ve created. Also add two pounds sauerkraut, 2 apples cut into chunks, 1 diced tomato, 1 diced clove of garlic, and ½ pound each of carrots and chick peas. This is the bulk of your stew.

• Now it’s time to add your spices. Try one tablespoon peppercorns, one teaspoon allspice, a pinch of garlic salt, 2 bay leaves and one cup of red wine.

• Simmer for approximately two hours.

• Enjoy!

This is a basic vegetarian bigos recipe in which the meat of a traditional recipe has been replace by a combination of meatless alternatives as well as chick peas. You may find that you would rather skip the meatless alternatives altogether and use more chick peas, carrots, potatoes and other root vegetables to increase the bulk of the stew with vegetarian options. You may also find that altering the spices that you use can improve the taste of the recipe.

Bigos in a Modern Vegetarian Home

Most people who want to learn to make a good bigos dish are planning to serve this dish semi-regularly as a way of celebrating their cultural heritage in their homes. The best thing to do, then, is to really devote yourself to finding the recipe that works best for you. Enjoy the process of doing this. Get some good Polish music going on the radio, invite family and friends to come help you out and make the vegetarian bigos dish over and over again until you get the dish that is right for you. You may be able to create a dish that reminds you exactly of the one you grew up enjoying in your childhood home or you may come up with a new recipe altogether but as long as you have fun with it and embrace the creativity that comes with exploring this part of your heritage, you should end up happy with the results of your cooking.


Submit a Comment
  • techygran profile image

    Cynthia Zirkwitz 

    9 months ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

    This is very appealing. We love cabbage and my husband loves kraut, so what's not to like? And reading through the comments, I think I like the idea of throwing some walnuts in. Thanks for this recipe!

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    doyou have eany vegetarian resaipes

  • livelonger profile image

    Jason Menayan 

    11 years ago from San Francisco

    TRT: Based on my experience in Poland, I would guess either black or white. I don't think green peppercorns (or more exotic colors like red or purple) were available there.

  • The Real Tomato profile image

    The Real Tomato 

    11 years ago

    This has great veggie advice for traditionally meat dishes. Potatoes do go well with cabbage as do carrots. I love trying new recipes. Thanks for this one!

    Edit: there are different kinds of peppercorns, do you know if this calls for green or black?

  • livelonger profile image

    Jason Menayan 

    11 years ago from San Francisco

    Walnuts - makes sense given their texture, too.

  • Chef Jeff profile image

    Chef Jeff 

    11 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

    Excellent variation on an old favorite! Sometimes I would add walnuts instead of meat. Great source of protein and neutral enough flavor to blend in.

    Cheers, Chef Jeff

  • livelonger profile image

    Jason Menayan 

    11 years ago from San Francisco

    Thanks Kathryn!


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