For as far back as I can remember, my mom’s (a.k.a. Mama) stuffed cabbage has been a mainstay at all our holiday suppers growing up. And this upcoming Easter Sunday is no exception. I love this day. Annually, Easter re-connects me with my Hungarian heritage in a way that is very personal and special.
I start with a big family guest list (16 this Sunday) and then onto planning a big hearty Hungarian Easter Supper that will take me to my favorite Hungarian butcher and market (actually, the only Hungarian butcher and market I know of in my neck of the woods) down on Kings Highway in Fairfield – aptly named ‘Hungarian Goulash’. Here I relish the short time I’m there to take in all that makes Hungarian cooking so earthy and smell so darn good. To complement Mama’s Stuffed Cabbage, I’ll pick out some homemade sausages, ham, and the must have array of pickled goods.
Mama’s Stuffed Cabbage making days started in Hungary at the side of her big sisters – Elizabeth and Jolanda. They were experts in the kitchen and Mama being the youngest of 7 was recruited to help whenever they needed it. Only yesterday did she devulge the fact that she was only allowed to assist and never do. So, in 1956, when my mom and dad came to this country, she needed to recall what she had observed and learned all those years ago. With the help of fellow Hungarian cooks (and a lot of doing) Mama became the expert in her own Hungarian kitchen. I have to say that her food is consistently really good. And I’ll go further to say, that I guess that would make her a late bloomer in the kitchen – just like me.
I think I can safely say that Stuffed Cabbage to Hungarians is like Mac n’ Cheese is to Americans. This time-honored recipe is a staple in every Hungarian kitchen, and every Hungarian cook has her or his own family’s handed down version of it. As for my mom (who’s turning 85 in a couple of weeks), she has her own tried and true way of making it – a recipe with a lot of history – one that I’m very proud to share with you today.
Mrs. Balogh’s Stuffed Cabbage
(Yields 24-30 stuffed cabbage rolls)
2 Heads of cabbage
2 Meatloaf combo packs
2 onions (1 large, 1 small) – chopped
2 cups uncooked white rice (Mama likes the Carolina Rice brand)
4 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
1 27 oz. canned sauerkraut (rinse and drain)
1 29 oz. canned tomato sauce
1 8 oz. sour cream
1/2 sausage ring (Mama likes the Hilshire Farms brand)
4 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
*Optional – A rue: 2 tablespoons flour, 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil, 1 cup tomato sauce, 1 cup sour cream, salt and pepper to taste. Water for thinning to a desired consistency.
To prep cabbage leaves: Fill a large stock pot (or lobster pot) with water (pot should be big enough to fit the 2 heads of cabbage) and bring to a boil. Core the cabbages and add to the boiling water. Keep on medium-high heat. The cabbage leaves will slowly start to loosen. With tongs, gently pull off one leaf at a time, and place in a large bowl. When 1/2 of the leaves of each cabbage head (approximately 24-30 in total) are done – let cool. Using a sharp paring knife, trim the rib on the back side of each leaf (this will make it easier to roll). Set aside.
In a separate bowl, remove what remains of the 2 intact (now much smaller) cabbages out from the hot water, and let cool. Cut each one in half – and then half again – and chop. Put back in bowl and set aside.
To make the meat filling mixture: Chop the large onion and in a large saute pan, add 2 tablespoons oil and lightly cook the onion until softened (not browned), and add 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the 2 meatloaf packs, 2 cups uncooked rice, the softened onion, 2 egg yolks, paprika, and salt. With your hands, mix well to incorporate all the ingredients.
To make cabbage rolls: Lay a cabbage leaf flat (outer rib side down), using a large soup spoon, place a scoop of meat filling mixture close to the base of the leaf. Fold in right side. Fold upward bottom side. Keep folding upward and finish by tucking in the left side. When you’re rolling these, do not make them tight. The rice, as it cooks, needs a little room to expand.
To cook stuffed cabbage rolls: Using 2 large pans, distribute evenly between the two the remaining ingredients as follows. Sprinkle 1/2 of the reserved chopped cabbage, and 1/2 the can of sauerkraut (be sure to rinse and drain the sauerkraut before adding). Cut 1/2 of the sausage ring in half and add to pan. Place cabbage rolls neatly in pan – single layer. Then add the remaining 1/2 of chopped cabbage and sauerkraut onto top of cabbage rolls. Roughly chop the remaining small onion and distribute evenly, and sprinkle caraway seeds on top as well. Add just enough water to the pan to cover all the cabbage rolls. Place lids on pans, and cook on high until it comes to a boil. Turn heat down to medium and cook for about 15 minutes. Add tomato sauce (use all – unless you wish to add the optional rue at the end – then reserve a cupful), cover with lid, and cook for a total of 1 1/2 hours.
After the 1 1/2 hours, it’s time to test a cabbage roll. Take one out, cut in half and taste to make sure the rice is fully cooked and tender. If not, keep cooking for another 15 minutes.
At this point your pans of traditional stuffed cabbage are done. Mama ups “the flavor ante” on hers just a little bit by adding a rue at the end. If you’re a creamy gravy kind of person – you’ll like this addition. Using a small pan, cook together 2 tablespoons of flour and 1 tablespoon of oil – constantly stirring until well blended. Stir in 1 cup of tomato sauce and 1 cup of sour cream. As you continue to stir, add a little water as needed – so the sauce is not too thick. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
Stuffed cabbage is best served hot. Jo etvagyat! (Good appetite!)
Koszonom szepen Mama.