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Stuffed Cabbage Is Hungarian Soul Food
My absolute, ALL TIME favorite comfort food is Stuffed Cabbage. My grandmother made this at least once a month. We visited with them each and every week. Ma made us dinner each visit. Sometimes it was Goulash, sometimes it was Rice with Spinach sauce. It is the Stuffed Cabbage I will always remember. Make this with a nice homemade bread. Rye bread is the best.
I am second generation Hungarian American. Both sides of my family moved from Hungary to South Bend Indiana shortly before World War I. My paternal grandfather earned his citizenship by fighting in the war. He was mustard gassed. My paternal grandmother came to America on the Lusitania though it wasn't the trip when the Titanic sank. These people led an amazing life. They went from horse and buggy to men on the moon and computers. My mother's side passed away before I really had a chance to know them.
Both sides of my family often had their own way of cooking the same type of food. Most of the time the differences were small such as how the flesh of a green pumpkin was prepared for the soup they made from it. I'm still trying to find a good recipe for this. In the case of Stuffed Cabbage there was very little difference in the ingredients or the preparation. My mom says that her sister's recipe (my maternal grandmother passed away when she was a child) didn't have sour cream in it. I have a recipe with her and my aunt's name associated with it that has sour cream in the ingredients. You may leave it out if you like. I think it works with the sauerkraut to give a fuller more rounded sour flavor I prefer.
- 1 Pound Ground Turkey or Beef
- 3/4 Cup Instant Brown or White Rice
- 1 Egg
- 1/2 teaspoon Pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Salt
- 2 Tablespoons Butter
- 2 Clove Garlic
- 1/2 to 3/4 Cup Onion, chopped
- 2 teaspoon Sweet Paprika
- 1 Pound Package Smoked Turkey (Beef) Sausage
- 1 - 27 Ounce Can Sauerkraut
- 1 Cup Tomato Juice
- 1/2 to 3/4 Cup Sour Cream
- 1 Good Sized Cabbage
Let me say off the bat that this is messy to prepare. With practice and being able to multitask many of these steps at the same time you will be able to keep the total clean up to a minimum. For example you will want to be able to heat the water while sauteing the onions to get them ready for the paprika make the meat mix and prepare the Crockpot to cook the casserole simultaneously.
After all the rolls have been made, You will probably have extra cabbage that has not been rolled up. Simply coarse chop this and put it on top of the rolls. Be sure to rinse out the sauté pan with water and add it to the Crockpot. The amount of liquid you should have is about halfway up. Add water to this level. It doesn't have to be too accurate. The more liquid means less concentrated flavors. Too little and the cabbage will burn a bit. This paragraph is repeated at the end of the directions.
Speaking of burning, it is a good idea to keep the rolls a half inch or so away from the edge of the Crockpot. Surround them with sauerkraut and the extra chopped cabbage. The cooking time varies with the Crockpot. Once bubbles come up through the middle of the pot this is a sign the meat is cooked through. Use the reserved sauerkraut juice after the rolls are finished if the sauce is not sour enough for your taste. Add small amounts at a time as this affects the flavor in small amounts.
- First add about 4 or 5 inches of hot tap water in a large pot. The pot needs to be large enough for the whole cabbage to be in it. Put this on moderately high heat.
- While the water is heating, place a medium sauce pan on medium heat. Add the butter to begin melting. While the two pans are heating up, put the Ground Turkey, Instant Rice, Egg, Salt, Pepper in a mixing bowl.
- When the butter has melted, add the chopped onion and garlic. The idea is to cook these until they are about half translucent. While the onions and garlic are sauteing, get out your large crock pot. You can also blend the meat and rice mixture together. Carefully take out the hard core on the cabbage. If you forget, like I do and leave the core in, you will still be able to peel off the leaves by holding a fork in the core to steady the cabbage. Drop the cabbage into the hot water. Drain the sauerkraut and reserve the liquid. Put about 1/3 of the sauerkraut in the bottom of the Crockpot. Slice the Smoked Turkey Sausage into bite size pieces.
- If the onions are ready and the sauce pan is hot, add the paprika. The secret to paprika is that you need to brown it. Sometimes the color won't change so use your nose. You will get a heady smell when it is ready. Don't let it burn. Dump in the tomato juice and sour cream. Blend together. Lumps work out so don't sweat them. Turn off the heat. Hopefully you will already have the first rolls of cabbage ready for the sauce.
- As the leaves pull away from the cabbage they will be ready to roll. They will be very hot so use a good pair of tongs to pull them off. Place it on your cutting board so it curls up. If it has a really large part of the vein at the end of the leaf you should cut it out. It can sometimes be stringy if you leave it. Place a soup spoon full of meat on the leaf. These swell a bit, Roll from the core end up. Make them medium tight. Too tight and the rice can't expand while cooking. Fold in the sides as you roll. This holds the meat inside. Place the roll in the Crockpot seam side down.
- Add about half the sauce after the first layer along with 1/3 of the sauerkraut and half of the slice turkey sausage. Repeat this and finish off all the ingredients with the second layer of rolls. I usually only get 2 layers.
- Sprinkle the extra chopped cabbage on top. Rinse out the sauce pan and pour it on top. Add enough water to come about half way. Cook on low heat several hours at least until you see bubbles coming up through the middle of the Crockpot.
One of the best features about this Eastern European favorite is that leftovers are even tastier than the original batch. In fact, this recipe is only enough for me to eat on for about 3 days! A double batch fed my family growing up with hardly any leftovers. These were usually hoarded and carefully concealed in the refrigerator. For this reason, I have absolutely no reasonable concept of what a single serving is. It depends on how greedy you are.
You can vary the tomato juice and other ingredients if you want to refine the flavor if you like. I don't notice much difference between the taste of batches. Stuffed Cabbage always seems to taste the same. Sometimes in the past I add more or less of some of the ingredients because of supply issues and the ending result is about the same. The only difference is in the level of sour. I like it a bit more sour so only gently drain the juice off of the sauerkraut. If you rinse the kraut you get a milder flavor. If you add some of the saved juice it will be more sour.
I hope you like this as well as I do. Fresh rye bread is a superb addition to the meal. A fresh, not too sweet desert like an unsweetened apple crisp makes a great ending. A cold beer is my favorite drink though I am sure a good white table wine works as well. Enjoy.