Americanized Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage
By Dennis Linden
Here’s the perfect one-pot cold weather meal that will warm away the edges of the chilliest of January days. Submitted by one of the newest members of Melissa’s Marketing Department, Michelle Grow, the dish is really a family hand-me-down from her Hungarian grandmother. However, the recipe comes with a footnote from Michelle that she gleaned it from what she remembers while watching her grandmother make the dish, though she suspects that the entire ingredient list will remain her grandmother’s secret.
“This recipe is a product of asking my grandma for her recipes for years, and her response to me was to cook alongside her and then I’ll know what’s in the recipes,” Michelle recalled. “But I am convinced that she would sneak ingredients into the recipe when I wasn’t looking. I’m not sure if it was because she didn’t want to give up the family secrets or because she didn’t want me to stop coming over to cook with her. She didn’t refer to written recipes for the Hungarian dishes she had been taught, so having access to different ingredients here in the US than what she had in Hungary has resulted in a Hungarian-American interpretation of the classic dishes she grew up with. These cabbage rolls are one of my favorites.”
And the first taste made this dish one of my favorites too! Correction – dishes. The cabbage roll gets top billing in this recipe and does, without a doubt, deserve rave reviews for the rich and hearty filling. However, there are also supporting ingredient cast members that contribute to a multi-dimensional cooking liquid that surround the rolls and elevates this dish into something head-turning special. Though alone in my kitchen, I think I yelled “WOW!” out loud with that first stolen spoonful of still simmering liquid, waking one of my cats napping on a nearby chair. After steeping in the crock pot for a few hours the broth melds with the ‘kraut and onions into a flavorful sauce/soup to be served over the cabbage rolls. Be careful when taste-testing this liquid as the challenge is not to gobble it all up as a standalone soup and not have enough left for the rolls!
Separating each cabbage leaf from the whole head is an exercise in patience. If you are in a hurry – don’t bother. The recipe does provide a quick and easy path to freeing the leaves with minimal risk of damage. After several cabbage rolling attempts in my own culinary history, some successful / some not so much, I chose the largest head of cabbage I could find--figuring the more material I have to work with, the better. Hence the rolls depicted in the prep pics are burrito-size. Though I have seen much smaller, I prefer these larger rolls as one or two can make a warming lunch or substantial dinner, especially when accompanied by few heaping ladles of good stew from the pot!
Using Michelle’s measures to make her tasty filling, I was able to construct the 10 large rolls that would fit in my crock pot with enough left over for maybe four more rolls. I’m not complaining – any filling that includes 5 TBS of Hungarian Paprika has got all sorts of delicious possibilities with or without cabbage! Alert, this filling has cooked rice as an ingredient – prep ahead. While there is not much in the way of seasoning beyond the aforementioned paprika, the rest of the flavors come from the slow-cook of the crock pot. The longer it steeps / the better it gets. And leftovers heated up after a time in the ‘frig are the best! In hindsight (and next time I cook up this dish) I would only put nine rolls in that size stockpot as the rolls do expand in size just enough that extra room would have worked best. But I did get an extra roll out of the mistake!
Michelle Grow has only been with the company since March of last year, but says she learns something new about fresh produce every day. She describes herself as the professional storyteller on staff. Her main focus is to apply her writing talents and creative imagination in the support of the business of fresh produce sales.
“My responsibilities primarily include copywriting tasks and program development,” Michelle explained. “I create copy for new product labels, marketing signage and other Point-of-Sale materials. I also write up recaps and blog posts to support kitchen and company events. Program developments provide vital data, education, culinary inspiration, merchandising strategy for sales of new products and signature Melissa’s items at retail level.”
While Michelle has only recently become a part of the Melissa’s team, it is obvious that she already shares an enthusiasm for her work, like most everyone on the staff, because of the daily variety of projects and unpredictable challenges that are so much a part of fresh produce industry. Michelle’s role in this distribution chain is to provide creativity on demand; that is, art on a deadline.
“No two days are the same! This position is not built for someone who thrives on routine,” observed Michelle. “Whether I’m writing product descriptions for 80 items or responding thoughtfully to 120 emails, I write something every day though I never know what the next project will be. The irony is that with so many diverse creative tasks bouncing around in my head on any given day, it can be challenging for the artist in me to also be organized, know what to prioritize and, most importantly, execute in a timely and always creative manner. But then that’s also the fun part!”
When Michelle puts down her writing pen and keyboard for the day, she usually heads to a grocery store [or two or three] to satisfy her other passion besides creative writing – cooking. Certainly an occupational hazard of working with fresh produce all day – not to mention having a last name that no doubt destined her for this industry. Anyway, she unabashedly admits that food is on her mind most of the time and that she spends way too much time roaming her favorite retail haunts browsing for specific ingredients as well as just browsing as an activity on its own merit with no particular purpose at all!
Technically a newlywed of almost two years to her husband and partner of twelve years, Michelle cooks for her two teenage step-children, Mordikhi and Bella, as well as the true head of household, a 9-year-old French bulldog. Here’s hoping she paid close attention to Grandma Molnar’s other recipes from the old country and will share them with another submission as her career with Melissa’s continues to simmer with creativity!
Americanized Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
(Recipe by Maria Molnar)
1 large green cabbage, cored, leaves separated
1 lb. ground pork, preferably grass-fed
½ cup cooked Basmati rice blend
1 large organic egg
6 cloves garlic, minced
5 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 cups sauerkraut, separated
2 Perfect Sweet onions, rough chopped, separated
1 package diced pancetta
2-32 oz. bone broth
1 can organic tomato paste (6 oz.)
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add the cored cabbage whole / cored end down. Let boil for about five minutes. Transfer cabbage head to ice water bath to stop the cooking. Carefully separate leaves and lay out on paper towels to drain and flatten.
Combine all of the filling ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.
Working with one leaf at a time, place a leaf on a cutting board and slice out the thickest part of the spine (just a bit!) to make it more pliable to roll. Depending on the size of each leaf, place 1-2 heaping tablespoons of filling across the lower end and roll up, tucking ends in like a burrito. Repeat until all of leaves are stuffed, rolled and ready-to-cook.
Build layers of flavor in the crockpot for the cook. The first layer consists of half of the onions and sauerkraut. Then place a single layer of all the cabbage rolls over this sauerkraut mixture.
Cover the rolls with another layer of the remaining onions and sauerkraut. Sprinkle the diced pancetta over the top and then slowly pour in the bone broth until all layers are just submerged. Lastly, gently stir in the tomato paste and add bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for at least one hour, covered.
Plating: Serve with broth, garnish with parsley. Pairs well with pickles and hearty rolls. Serves 4-6.