It was a complete surprise.
My sweet friend Simona called me recently to tell me she was coming to the US for a visit. I couldn’t believe it. It’d been two years too long since I’d seen her. The last we met was overseas, I was carrying Ezra in my belly and packing up to leave our home in Hungary. My heart overflowed at thought of having her in our home Stateside.
When she arrived, it was like we hadn’t missed a beat. Her four day visit was like old times–full of laughter, long walks, and good food. To celebrate our joyous reunion, we made Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage (Töltött Káposzta)–my favorite Hungarian meal.
Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage is amazingly delicious, but it is a process. I first learned to make it from a sweet mama who traded me Hungarian cooking lessons for tutoring her son in English. I was more than thrilled at the exchange. I’ve learned once you get the hang of rolling the cabbages, it’s really quite easy. The meal can be doubled for easy freezing–making the process even more worth your while.
You first boil a head of cabbage in seasoned vinegar water until the leaves are soft. Ground meat and rice are mixed with eggs and spices for the filling. Then you simply roll the cabbage leaves–with filling in the middle–until they are burrito-like. A tomato-y sauerkraut is heated on the stove, then it’s all transferred to a casserole dish and baked in the oven. The result? Ooohs. Aaahs. And dinner guests begging for the recipe.
If it looks a little complicated, don’t worry. I’ll explain the rolling process in detail. Just remember that once it’s served, it’s ok if it doesn’t look perfect. The warm cabbage, hearty filling, vibrant sauerkraut and smooth sour cream all come together for a perfectly comforting meal.
Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage
For the cabbage leaves
1 head of cabbage
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp. caraway seeds
about 1 cup vinegar (I used raw apple cided vinegar)
For the meat filling
1 small onions, finely chopped
2 lbs. ground beef, preferably grass-fed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups rice*
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. caraway seed
*if Paleo, sub grated cauliflower for rice
For the sauerkraut/sauce
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. butter
1 red bell pepper
1 Tbsp. caraway seeds
2 Tbsp. Hungarian paprika
unrefined sea salt and black pepper to taste
18 oz. tomato paste (find it in a glass jar here)
4 cups water
1.5 (28 oz) jars of sauerkraut (make your own or find it here)
1/2 cup sour cream
For the cabbage head
Cut out the core of the cabbage. Put the cabbage head, bay leaves, spices and vinegar in a large stock pot. Cover with cold water. Heat the ingredients on high and bring to boil for 20-30 minutes until the cabbage is softened. Remove the cabbage head from water and let cool.
For the meat filling
In a large bowl, add onion, ground meat, garlic, eggs, and spices. Mix well with your hands until combined.
Stuff the cabbage
To stuff the cabbage, you will take an individual cabbage leaf and roll it around a spoonful of meat filling. For a step-by-step reference, see picture above.
- Lay a single cabbage leaf on a plate (If there is a hard stem on one end, cut a bit of that off.)
- Put a large spoonful of meat filling in the center of the cabbage leaf
- Fold one end over the meat filling
- Wrap the adjacent end over the fold and meat filling
- Roll the cabbage leaf around the meat filling
- Once the cabbage leaf is completely rolled around the meat filling, push the open end of the roll in with your thumb
- The Hungarian mom who taught me this says after you push that end in, it should look like a belly button
- Set aside
Continue to make these little rolls until you run out of filling or cabbage leaves. Refrigerate the rolls while you warm the sauerkraut and sauce.
For the sauerkraut/sauce
Drain juices from sauerkraut in a large colander and rinse with water. (You do this to remove the sour taste.) Squeeze out all the water from the sauerkraut.
In a large stock pot, melt butter over medium heat. Saute garlic and onions until translucent, then add bell pepper and saute until soft. Mix in spices and saute until fragrant.
Spoon in tomato paste and pour in the water. Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer for a few minutes. (If the sauce is super thick, add a little more water to thin)
Add sauerkraut to sauce and simmer for 20-30 minutes. In the last 5 minutes of simmering, add the sour cream.
Put it all together
I’ve learned two ways of cooking this: on the stove or in the oven. Both are delicious!
In the same large stock pot with the sauerkraut on the bottom, layer the cabbage rolls on top the sauerkraut and on top of each other. Pour water of the rolls until they are covered. Simmer on low heat for an hour or until the meat is cooked and the rice is tender.
Depending on the size of your casserole dishes, you may need to split this into a few dishes. Divvy it out as necessary.
Preheat oven to 350F.
Fill the bottom of your casserole dish with sauerkraut (saving half of the sauce to cover the tops of the rolls).
Place rolls, seam side down, in a tight single layer on top of the sauerkraut. Pour sauce over the rolls so that all are covered. Cover the casserole dish with a lid. Bake at 350 F for 1 1/2 hours or until meat is cooked and rice is tender. *If it looks like the rolls are drying out, add a little water as they are cooking.
Serve with sour cream.
Jó étvágyat! Basically…enjoy!