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Oct 10, 2009 08:52 PM

Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage - Long Lost?

Hello, this is my first post here. I have read a posts here and it seems the readers here are very informed.

My great grandmother (who passed away in 1999) came to Canada from Hungary and always cooked the most amazing goulash and stuffed cabbage. I haven't actually tried stuffed cabbage anywhere else but judging by some of the recipes on the Internet, I think she cooked it like most others do.

I fabricated a recipe from over 10 different Hungarian recipes I found on the Internet and cooked it my first time last week. It tasted very bland! I just tried again today with a bit more success but still isn't as good.

- 50/50 ground beef, ground pork
- 2 cloves of garlic
- salt, black pepper
- hungarian paprika
- some olive oil
- 1 yellow onion
- basmati rice

- 1 32oz can of peeled plum tomatoes (had seeds in it to) that I chopped to pieces
- some water (perhaps too much? I put enough to cover all the cabbage rolls
- julienned carrots
- chopped cabbage
- salt/black pepper
- hungarian paprika

I put chopped cabbage and carrots as the first layer and half the tomatoes, then filled with rolls, then another layer of cabbage and carrot, etc.. then added water to cover the whole thing.

I simmered it for 2 hours and everything was cooked.

Not sure what I'm missing, but it DOES taste better a day or two after it's been refrigerated. Not really sure if I'm missing any herbs for the filling? The filling actually tastes OK (could be better though) but the gravy is quite bland. Maybe parsley would help? My aunt says she puts pork seasoning in it too which gives it a nice flavor.

I heard some people use V-8 juice for the gravy also, not sure if that makes a difference. I know V-8 on its own is more flavorful than the juice from canned tomatoes.

I also found out that she always cooked it in the oven rather than on the stove top. I also heard that she partially cooks the rice beforehand. Maybe, she cooks it at a lower temperature in the oven for longer?

Anyone have any suggestions? Also, any ideas on whether it's good to use a pressure cooker and if it will turn out right?

I may be overcooking it, so I will use a meat thermometer next time to probe the rolls and see when they are done. Also, there is a Hungarian store in the Upper East Side in NY that imports Hungarian paprika. Maybe the kind I have isn't good quality.

Although I know a lot of different countries have their own version of stuffed cabbage, I'm really only interested in the hungarian variety for now. Thanks in advance!

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  1. Hi - my father was Hungarian and he always added some sourkraut to the vegetables in what you call the "gravy."

    2 Replies
    1. re: MARISKANY

      Yes I added that the first time, I don't think I rinsed it enough and I don't know if it contributed to the poor taste of the gravy. Not sure if "gravy" is the right word, but I picked it up reading some indian and italian recipes.

      Do you know if he rinsed the sauerkraut very well or leaved it right out of the can/jar?

      1. re: classacts

        I'm sure he rinsed it at least once.

    2. Sounds like you are missing sour salt. My grandmother makes Hungarian stuffed cabbage as well, and the key ingredient is sour salt.

      2 Replies
      1. re: mom22tots

        Hmm, I did list salt as an ingredient. I used freshly ground sea salt in both the filling and sauce/gravy. Haven't ever heard of "sour salt" before. I assume you mean citric acid? Do you know how much and where to use it?

        1. re: classacts

          sour salt is what our bubbies called it, but marketing has changed the name to citric acid.

      2. Your missing two ingredients in jfood's quick assessment. Sour salt as anotherposter stated as well as raisins.

        Likewise jfood struggles that our ancestors used Basmati rice in the Shteckles

        12 Replies
        1. re: jfood

          Hmm, I don't ever recall seeing or tasting raisins in my family's stuffed cabbage. I have seen recipes call for it though. Perhaps I will try the sour salt first. Just waiting on a reply as to how much and where (filling or gravy).

          Also, any thoughts on stove-top vs. dutch oven? I'm thinking about buying a lodge cast iron or LC dutch oven to make it in the oven.

          1. re: classacts

            sour salt in the sauce.

            jfood NEVER braises on the stove always theoven, likewise with stuffed cabbage.

            Mrs jfood has this on her calendar for her next cooking weekend.

            1. re: classacts

              sour salt in the sauce.

              jfood never braises on the stove always in the oven.

              1. re: jfood

                Given the presence of pork in the recipe, this clearly isn't a Jewish recipe. I agree with the need for sour salt (or lemon juice, as my mother used) and raisins, but I think the sweet and sour action is more of a Jewish thing. I don't recall seeing sauerkraut in many Jewish stuffed cabbage recipes but it sure does appear in a lot of other ones.

                1. re: rockycat

                  jfood only uses beef in his stuffed cabbage and never sauerkraut.. Some add ginger snaps but jfood just cannot get there.

                2. re: jfood

                  How much sour salt say per pound of meat in the filling?

                    1. re: jfood

                      I meant as ratio marker - say 2 lb meat:x amount of sauce:y amount of sour salt. Teaspoon? Tablespoon? Thanks.

                      1. re: buttertart

                        As bubbie used to say, start with a smidgen (in those days it was a small little cube) probably around a teaspoon and adjust from there.

                        1. re: jfood

                          Thanks very much, will try this next time.

                3. re: classacts

                  oven, definitely. Something about the low, slow heat does it. I'd add a good teaspoon of soursalt, and I'd add a good pinch of clove and ginger to your filling to give it some depth. That's the way my bubbie did it, and hers were to die for. The V-8 is a good idea, and you may want to add another T. sugar to the "gravy" you mentioned, as well as cutting down just a bit on the water and keeping a close eye on it. One good way to avoid sticking/burning is to put down a layer of outside cabbage leaves before your bed of carrots, etc.: it lends water and steam to the cooking process. also, you can thicken your final gravy with crushed gingersnaps; it's a fantastic way to add flavor and texture to the finished product. Finally, if you can find some good smoked Hungarian paprika, it's got a much richer flavor than the plain variety. And I do like the idea of mincing in some kraut (not too-well rinsed, because I love the flavor of vinegar.) basmati rice, though? I'm thinkin' that's not super-authentic. Oh, and don't forget a good shake of dillweed in the filling, which you might want to revise to have a bigger ratio of beef to pork, maybe 75-25. And yes, parcook your rice. This is one of those dishes that will always taste better the second day, after the flavors have married and matured.

                  1. re: mamachef

                    To me, having ginger, cloves, or smoked paprika in there are far less "authentic" than using basmati rice. Lately, I've actually been making my stuffed cabbage with Brown rice (which my grandma would probably have scoffed at in her most colorful "Magyar nyelv") but I have definitely come to prefer it with the Brown rice. Also, I think the texture of the filling is far better if the rice (no matter what kind is used) is _not_ cooked or even parcooked prior to stuffing. Whenever I've been served stuffed cabbage where the rice had been precooked, it always gave the filling a very unappealing mushy texture.

                    But, of course, to each his own...really the bottom line is that however one likes it best is the "authentic" way. As I stated earlier in the thread, there's as many "authentic" recipes for this dish as there are Hungarians.

              2. The "gravy" should have garlic and onions, too - not just the filling.

                1. Having grown up eating Hungarian style cabbage rolls, my guess would be you need to add some smoked pork to your meat mixture. 1/3 smoked pork, 1/3 ground pork and 1/3 ground beef.

                  Sometimes I use 1/2 ground beef and 1/2 smoked pork. Ideally the pork would be ground smoked pork hock but (in the interests of lower fat eating) the last few years I've been using ground smoked pork loin chops.

                  I'll bet this will give you the flavour you're looking for!!