If you’re like me, when you read a cookbook, first you’re looking for things for dinner tonight – then if you find something, you check out the list of ingredients to see if you just might have them all on hand. Seldom is this true – Do you want to go to the grocery store? Not really. So the next thing you do is to go back to the list of ingredients to see if you could make a few ‘adjustments’ (professional recipe developers call these adaptions – that means they stole the idea, and substituted a few ingredients!). And more than not, when I see something I like in a cookbook, and I make it for dinner, I haven’t really followed the author’s recipe – cause I had to sub several items in it – I’ve adapted the recipe to fit my kitchen.
I can remember using Lang’s, The Cuisine of Hungary in just that way. The section I kept going back to was “Potted Cabbage, Pickled and Otherwise“. I have a thing for cabbage – and for years, I applied my mother’s oft repeated rule, “If you like something a lot, then you know it’s not good for you!”. Then I learned that in the case of cabbage, she was very wrong – cabbage is loaded with nutrition, and when fermented, cabbage turns into super-food – Really!
Most of the cabbage recipes in Lang’s book call for sauerkraut, because for 8 months of the year, fresh cabbage was not available – besides, I’m quite sure that it was common knowledge among the peasant folk that sauerkraut was a magic food, and would ward off all kinds of illnesses. Yes, I’m sure of this – historians keep pointing out how we continue to ‘re-discover’ health facts today that actually were common knowledge in the middle ages.
However, I was not as lucky (or as well prepared) as those peasants – I only had fresh cabbage on hand – and the recipe in Lang’s cookbook that most appealed to me only called for sauerkraut. I quickly decided to use it anyway, and to sub cabbage for the sauerkraut. But I’ll first give you the recipe just as presented by Lang – perhaps you’ll be more prepared than was I, and have the necessary sauerkraut. And then I’ll give you my adaptations.
(from G. Lang’s The Cuisine of Hungary, pg 287)
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup of lard
1 1/2 lbs lean pork, diced
1 Tbs. paprika
2 Tbs. tomato puree
2 lbs. sauerkraut
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
Salt to taste
1/2 cup sour cream
- Wilt onion in lard in a heavy Dutch oven. Add pork, mix well and cook, covered, for 5 minutes.
- Add paprika, then add tomato puree, mix well. Add just enough water to cover everything. Cook over very low heat until meat is almost done.
- Squeeze sauerkraut well. Add it to the meat along with the caraway seeds, and cook for another 10 -15 minutes. Salt should only be added at this point if, upon tasting, you feel it is needed.
- Remove to a serving dish, spoon the sour cream over the top and serve.
Note: Lang suggests as a variation (and I second his suggestion) that you add a tablespoon of flour to the sour cream (to prevent separation on heating) and add it to the cooking pot about 10 minutes before it is done.
Now, as I suggested above, when I first came on this recipe, I knew I wanted to make it, but not only did I not have any sauerkraut, I also knew I wanted to mix in some Hungarian noodles (or what Hungarians tend to call dumplings) to this dish. That of course required me to make a few changes to Lang’s above recipe, and here’s what I did:
1. In the recipe above, just before you add ‘enough water to cover’, add up to 2 lbs of chopped fresh cabbage to the pot, mix and cook on med high heat for five to ten minutes, until cabbage begins to soften and to brown on the edges of the pieces. Then add the water, lower heat to medium, and continue cooking for another five minutes.
2. Now add the caraway seeds and continue cooking for another 10 minutes. And I highly recommend that you add the sour cream/flour mixture noted above at this point as well – I think the sour cream cooked into the sauce makes this a better dish.
3. And I also recommend that you consider serving this dish with some authentic Hungarian dumplings, the recipe for which I will now give you – to me, these ‘dumplings’ are more like noodles than dumplings. Frankly, I think the Hungarians are a bit confused about them as well – for I’ve noted that when they serve them with soup, they call them ‘soup noodles’, but when served to accompany a saucy entree, they call them dumplings! Whatever. They are simply delicious, and if you make this dish, it (and you) deserve to have these wonderful dumplings/noodles with it.
Little Pinched Dumplings (Csipetke)
(from The Cuisine of Hungary, pg 178)
1/2 cup flour
- Mix the flour, egg, and salt to taste in a medium bowl until a dough forms. Move dough to a flour dusted board or counter. Knead for 5 minutes. You may need to use more flour on the board as you knead, as this dough should not be too hard or too soft (mine was too wet initially, so I freely sprinkled the board during kneading, and it made a nice soft dough.).
- Let the dough rest, covered with a towel, for 15 minutes.
- Cut the dough into 6 pieces, and roll each to finger thickness, about 6 inches long.
- Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Holding one piece of the dough in your hand, pinch off small pieces from the end of the dough between your thumb and forefinger, and let them drop into the boiling water.
- The dumplings will sink to the bottom during cooking, but when done, they will rise to the top. Remove them from the pot as they rise, and keep them warm until all are done. (I like these best mixed into the dish above – they are only shown on the side in the pic for aesthetics.)
I bet I can guess what you’re thinking about now – you’re trying to remember if you’ve ever had anything as rich and highly caloric as this dish. Yes, it is that – personally, I’m a comfort food junkie, and this dish is way up there on my list. I only eat this one, in this form, maybe once or twice a year – that way I look forward to the opportunity and enjoy it all the more when I do get to taste it again.
But I also must admit to having a weakness for the more simplistic cabbage, noodles, and sour cream (AKA, the Haluska of my previous post), which shows more often on our table – to make it, simply leave out the pork in the above recipe. Always remember, gentle reader, that the meaning of life is only revealed through our taste buds – so get out there and get some good tastes.
Thank you, George – I always think of you, and your wonderful cookbook, every time I enjoy any of these dishes and their variations – may you rest in peace in the knowledge that you have brought us such joy.
Photo credits: top two- allposters.com; bottom two- mea culpa