Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
It has been too long since my last recipe post. Though not for the lack of trying. I have taken many photographs in my kitchen but always got too busy to write up the blog. Juggling running the business, teaching yoga and 200-hour training curriculum, dogs, chickens, bees, and running a household does not leave too much free time. I did write many blogs on book recommendations, so if you missed my last few newsletters, check them out. And I promise in 2023, I will write up the recipes that are patiently waiting in my phone's photo album.
But here we go, 2022 flew by, and it is already the holiday season. In the past, I have cooked the traditional Western feast for Christmas; lamb, duck, or turkey. This year, I felt it was time to "go home." I remembered the flavors of my childhood. Grandma's beigli (a poppy seed roll) stuffed brined cabbage, fish soup. The quiet Christmas nights with candles and the loving whispers of family around the tree. Moving to the US had many surprises, one of the biggest surprises was the discovery that Christmas is a loud party! It felt so awkward at first to be loud and merry on Christmas, but over time, I learned to like the light-hearted attitude of the high-energy spirit of the American holiday. But I must be honest; I miss those quiet, solemn, spiritual evenings with family when the streets outside are quiet, and everyone is huddled together in anticipation and joy.
I still decorate and celebrate Christmas on Eve the 24th, then, of course, on the 25th, I celebrate again with my husband's family. The great thing about merging traditions is that I get to have double dipping in the holiday spirit.
My husband learned to love the quiet candlelit Christmas eve celebrations, but I never cooked him a traditional meal. It was time to dive deeper into the culture. Since there was some strong "rebellion" against the fish soup, which is traditionally made from really fatty fresh river fish, because I am nice, I gave in. So instead, I made the stuffed brined cabbage rolls. Stuffed cabbage gets better the longer you cook it and the more you reheat it. Thus it makes the perfect dish to prepare ahead so that you can have less time in the kitchen on the Holiday. Or if you are like me, you just figure out what else you can cook... :-)
If you want to try it, here is the recipe:
for all the European ingredients, such as brined whole-leaf cabbage, Hungarian paprika, and meat products, you can go to any Eastern European market. I usually frequent International Deli in Bellevue 15015 Main St Ste 110, Bellevue, WA 98007
1 large jar of brined, sour whole-leaf cabbage
1 kg sauerkraut 2.2 pounds
2 pounds of ground pork (or half pork, half beef)
smoked bacon - this you can remove later, or if you like bacon, eat it! (Kolozsvari Smoked Bacon from Bende is the best Hungarian flavor)
traditional Hungarian Scout Sausage - again from Bende brand
2 whole egg
4 cloves garlic minced
2 medium onions finely chopped
1 cup uncooked rice long grain
3 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika powder
1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
1 tablespoon of marjoram
2-6 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tbsp of butter or pork lard
salt to taste
4 tbsp sour cream
1.5 tbsp all-purpose flour
In a Dutch Oven, sauté the super finely chopped onions in lard or butter l over low heat, frequently stirring, until translucent.
Remove the pot from the heat (this is important, if you add paprika while it is still on the head, it will turn bitter). Add 3 tablespoons of sweet Hungarian paprika, and stir well. Make sure the paprika is fresh; if it does not smell, it is no longer good. Paprika should be robust in smell and color.
Combine the ground meat, egg, rice, garlic, marjoram, pepper, caraway seed, and half of the sautéed onions-paprika mixture, salt to taste. (get in there with both hands, don't be shy, and ensure all ingredients are well mixed. Form medium-sized balls.
Gently unroll the cabbage leaves from the jar and remove the thick stalks from the center. Don't worry; they will be imperfect, and you may even have to "patch up" the rolls. This is a good practice for accepting imperfection. Since the cabbage leaves are brined and rolled, they will have holes. Don't worry; while cooking, the meatballs will firm up. Just do what I do, turn the ugly part of the roll to the bottom. There, now you can't see it, all perfect. :-)
Place one ball on each leaf, and roll it up firmly, folding the edges under.
Rinse the sauerkraut under running water (to remove the access salt) and mix it with the second half of the paprika-onion mixture and the flour. Spread half of it on the bottom of your pot. Place the cabbage rolls on top.
Place the smoked bacon and sliced sausage pieces on top and cover them with the remaining sauerkraut.
You can add more layers of stuffed rolled, alternating with sauerkraut, depending on how much you make.
Pour water over. The water should not cover the sauerkraut, but you should see the water when you press it with a wooden spoon.
Cover with a lid and cook it on a medium simmer for 3-4 hours until the sauerkraut is tender. You can also test the meat filling; it is done if the rice is tender. You cannot overcook this; the longer it cooks, the better (ensure it does not dry out, add water if needed). This is also one of those dishes that gets better the more often you reheat! So this is a perfect dish to cook ahead of time so you can enjoy the holiday.
Serve with sour cream. Lots of sour cream, everything is better with lots of sour cream! And if you believe that you can put sour cream on anything and it is better, you are ready to become an honorary Hungarian. :-)
I will take a picture of the final dish on Christmas Eve. For now, you have to trust me; it is wonderful.