Sunday, December 27, 2009
Hungarian Cabbage Rolls for New Year's Day
Greens are supposed to bring good luck in a new year, and in my family those good-luck greens come in the form of cabbage. My Dad’s Hungarian-American mother was an amazing Hungarian cook, and she passed along the tradition of serving Cabbage Rolls on New Year’s Day.
Making the rolls is a bit time consuming, but I’ve stream-lined the procedure over the years by starting the cored heads of cabbage boiling while I assemble the filling, turning my attention from one to the other until the filling is combined and the cabbage leaves are all softened and ready for filling.
My grandmother’s recipe also called for removing the tough spine of each cabbage leaf, a step I have eliminated. The cabbage cooks for quite a long time, and the spine softens completely during cooking.
One other way I’ve made the recipe more user-friendly is by cooking my cabbage rolls in the oven instead of on top of the stove. This eliminates the need to keep an eye on the pots and my cabbage rolls cook up unattended in my extra large Viking sauté casserole pans.
These cabbage rolls do not have the “sweet and sour” flavors of those traditional in other Eastern European cooking, such as Poland. These are briny from sauerkraut with a hint of tomato.
My parents traveled to Hungary earlier this year and brought me back a stash of real Hungarian paprika, and I highly recommend using imported Hungarian or Spanish paprika when making the rolls. The paprika flavor is important, and many varieties of American-made paprika add color without flavor.
Every time I make these cabbage rolls I’m transported to my grandmother’s kitchen. Elizabeth Gage was an amazing cook and her recipes have lived on in a little cookbook assembled by the Hungarian Reformed Church in Columbus, Ohio, that is still being reprinted today.
Hungarian Cabbage Rolls
This recipe makes almost three dozen cabbage rolls. They freeze very well, but if you’d like to make fewer, just cut the recipe in half.
2 large heads cabbage, tough outer leaves or any discolored outer leaves removed, cored
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 pounds ground pork
1 cup white rice, uncooked
2 tablespoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon hot paprika, optional
2 16-ounce bags good quality sauerkraut
46 ounces, or more, tomato juice
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add one of the heads of cabbage and simmer until a few outer leaves easily pull away from the head. Remove the first head from the boiling water and place the second head of cabbage in the water. While the second head simmers, remove any softened leaves from the first head of cabbage. Repeat, switching from one head of cabbage to the other, until all leaves are softened and removed. Set aside.
While the cabbage cooks, place the beef, pork and rice in a very large bowl. Sprinkle with the paprika, pepper, salt and hot paprika, if desired and then stir to combine (your hands are the best tool for this purpose).
Get ready to assemble the rolls. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two large Viking sauté casseroles or Dutch ovens with nonstick cooking spray. Divide one of the bags of sauerkraut between the bottoms of the pans.
Lay one leaf of cabbage on a cutting board or dinner plate. Pinch off a small amount, about 1 ½-2 tablespoons, of the filling mixture and place on the spine end of the cabbage leaf. Roll up a little, and then fold in an inch or so of the right side of the cabbage leaf (like you would when rolling a burrito) and roll up completely. Use your pointer finger to stuff the cabbage on the un-folded side and place atop the sauerkraut in one of the pans. Repeat until all filling is used and both pans are full. Divide remaining bag of sauerkraut over the top of the rolls and pour half of the tomato juice over the rolls in each of the casseroles. Cover and bake for 2 to 2 ½ hours. Test for doneness by removing one of the rolls from a casserole and cutting into the center. The rice should be tender and the meat cooked through.
Makes about 3 dozen cabbage rolls or 10-16 servings.