Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Töltött Káposzta- Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage

In so many many ways, I am a carbon copy of my mother. I ended up with so many of her traits, mannerisms, and special quirks (umm... like my love for pretty things... furry four legged things... and men just like my father.) But, one thing that I got from my dad was my passion for cooking.

Just like his mother (my grandmother), my father is not just a cook, but a phenomenal chef. I mean, when my Dad had the day off work, we knew dinner would be something special that night. (Except that time he made spinach soup... which is something we will never let him live down). My Hungarian grandmother, Ama, as we like call her, is probably the best chef that I have ever met in my life. And, since she taught my dad everything she knew... my dad was able to teach it to me. Now, it probably would have been better if I had been eager to learn how to cook when I was a bratty teenager before moving to LA, but no. I chose to learn over many panicked phone calls after moving to Los Angeles and having no idea how to feed myself!

When I was fresh to LA and missing my family, I would always cook Paprikash (now one of Rich's favorites too... I will post the recipe one day, I promise). For me, hungarian food has always had a way of making me feel right at home. Now that I'm married and not so lonely, I almost always cook something Hungarian when Rich and I are craving comfort food, just like my dad... and my Ama. So... when Richard and I both woke up with nasty colds this morning (UGH!) and could use a little comforting, that is exactly what I decided to do....

Töltött Káposzta, or Hungarian stuffed cabbage, is actually not something that my dad made often, but the great thing about Hungarian food is that the flavors are always the same. It's what Anthony Bourdain refers to as peasant food, and as you can imagine, back in the day peasants only had access to very limited ingredients, usually of the root vegetable variety. The cabbage (a staple of Hungarian cuisine) is stuffed with beef, paprika, onions, caraway seeds (you'll see, keep reading)...  So, since I was itching to try something new, this seemed like just the dish... something new with a little taste of home to treat the adventure in my spirit and the sniffle in my nose.

Now, don't be intimidated... there are a lot of ingredients, and a lot of steps, but if you have the time, this dish is actually much easier than it seems... and HOLY DELICIOUS!

Töltött Káposzta

For the cabbage leaves-
1 head of cabbage
3 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 cup apple cider vinegar

For the meat filling- 
1/2 onion, diced
1 pound ground beef (preferably grass fed)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large egg
1 tsp caraway seeds
3/4 cup rice
Salt and cracked pepper to taste

For the sauce- 
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, thinly sliced
10 ounces tomato paste
16 ounces sauerkraut, drained (available at most grocery stores, I found it at Whole Foods)
2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
1/2 tablespoon caraway seeds
2 cups water
Salt and cracked pepper to taste

To garnish-
Sour cream or greek yogurt (I always use greek yogurt!)

For the cabbage leaves-
Cut the core out of the cabbage. Put the head of cabbage, bay leaves, spices, and vinegar in a large stock pot and cover with cold water. Heat the ingredients on high and bring to a boil. Cook for 20- 30 minutes until the cabbage leaves have softened. Drain and let cool.

For the meat filling and stuffing the cabbage-
In a large bowl, combine meat, onion, egg, garlic, spices, and rice. Mix with your hands until just combined. Do not over mix.

Lay a single cabbage leave on your cutting board or work space. Remove any leftover hard stem that wasn't already removed when you cut out the core. Put a spoonful of meat filling the the center of the leaf. Fold the bottom (stem side) of the leaf up, each side in, and then roll the cabbage leaf up toward the unfolded part (have I lost you, yet?) You will then tuck the open end of the leaf into the roll. It should be pretty secured and look like a little envelope, or an innie belly button.

Continue to make the rolls until you are out of cabbage leaves, placing them in a baking dish as you go. Once finished, refrigerate the rolls while you prepare the sauce.

For the sauce:
Drain and rinse the sauerkraut. You do not want it to taste sour. Squeeze out the water and set aside.

In a large sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onion and bell peppers until translucent. Add spices and garlic and cook until fragrant.

Add the tomato paste and water. Bring the mixture to a simmer. If it is too think, add a little more water. Once the sauce is simmering, add the sauerkraut and cook for 20-30 minutes, letting the flavors deepen.

To assemble-
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

In a large baking dish, pour half of the sauerkraut sauce. Layer the cabbage rolls with the seam facing down/ towards you. You want to place them in fairly tight rows so that they will not loosen up while they are baking.

Pour the remaining sauce over the cabbage rolls, cover tightly with foil, and bake at 425 for 1 1/2 hours until the meat is cooked through and the rice is tender.

Serve topped with sour cream or greek yogurt!

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