Plus, it’s grandmother approved!
Cabbage Soup
Credit: Getty / Arx0nt

While the world is leaning deep into hearty chilis and substantial stews this winter, or stashing away endless varieties of golden chicken soups, I am going in hard on sweet and sour cabbage soup. Why? This vegetable soup is one of my lifelong favorites, a recipe handed down from my great-grandmother, adapted first by my grandmother and then by me. It has its root in classic Eastern European flavors, simple and satisfying, and often surprising to those who did not grow up on them. I've scaled back on the sugar from the original, letting the natural sweetness of the vegetables sing, and eliminated the usual meat-based stock to keep it easily vegetarian or vegan.

Why I love making Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

Let me count the ways. The soup fills you up, since it is full of great vegetables with fiber, while still eating light. If you want some protein, you can absolutely add white beans to this, and if you want it more substantial, barley or rice are good additions. But for me, I like it simple and pure. I cook mine in my slow cooker for hands-off ease, but you can do it on your stovetop if you prefer. 

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

Serves 8

One head of green cabbage, chopped in 1-inch pieces

2 medium yellow onions, chopped coarsely

4 medium carrots, peeled and grated

10 cups water (you can use stock if you prefer—chicken, vegetable, and beef all work well)

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, preferably Italian DOP, crushed by hand or snipped with scissors in the can

1 24-ounce bottle tomato passata, or 2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce or puree

1-2 tablespoons dark brown sugar or honey

1 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (you can use lemon juice instead)

Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

If using a slow cooker: 

1. Put vegetables and tomatoes into the pot, then pour the water over.

2. Cook on high for 2 hours, then stir well and add the sugar, vinegar, pepper flakes if using, and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook on high another hour, until vegetables are tender.

3. Taste again for seasoning, adjusting with more sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper as needed.

4. Reduce heat to warm until serving. Serve hot.

If cooking on the stovetop:

1. Place water or stock in a stock pot and bring to a boil. Add the onions, carrots, and cabbage.

2. Cook on medium heat for 30 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes in their juice and passata or tomato sauce. Cook for another 30 minutes on medium heat, at a slight simmer.

4. Add sugar, vinegar, pepper flakes if using, salt and pepper to taste, and simmer for one more hour.