This Traditional Hungarian/Polish Dish Delivers Rich, Satisfying Flavor
This dish is popular in many countries. Particularly in Hungary, where it’s called Káposztás Kocka. And in Poland, where it’s known as Kluski z Kapusta. In some US ethnic communities, it’s called Haluski. Same recipe, different names.
When a dish is so widely loved, you know it has to be tasty. And this one is. The cooked cabbage becomes tender and sweet, melting into the noodles. It delivers the sort of Old World flavor that you pay a chef big bucks to create. But why go to a restaurant when it’s so easy to make at home?
You may have leftover cabbage (cooked or uncooked) from St. Pat’s. If not, cabbage is currently plentiful and inexpensive in many supermarkets. So now is the time to make this charmer!
Recipe: Hungarian Noodles and Cabbage with Bacon
In its simplest form, this dish is nothing more than cabbage and onions slowly pan fried in butter, with freshly cooked egg noodles mixed in shortly before serving. And that’s exactly how many people eat it.
But there are numerous variations for this recipe. Substitute a neutral oil for the butter, and use eggless noodles, and you have a vegan version (see Notes). Or use bacon (as I do) and you bring a new dimension to the dish. Some versions add spicy sausage to liven up the flavor and make it heartier. And sometimes, particularly in Germany and Austria, the noodles are replaced by spätzle (a/k/a galuska in Hungary, a/k/a — oh, let’s not go there).
This dish is best made with Homemade Noodles, preferably cut into 1-inch squares. But if you don’t want to go to the trouble of making your own noodles — and I often don’t — packaged dry egg noodles make a perfectly acceptable substitute.
My recipe is adapted from Susan Derecskey’s The Hungarian Cookbook and serves 4 to 6. Preparation time is 10 minutes, cooking time 30 - 35 minutes. Leftovers keep well for several days when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- ½ pound bacon, sliced into 1-inch pieces (omit if preparing vegan version; if using slab bacon, cut into ¼-inch matchsticks)
- 1 medium red onion (yellow onions work too), peeled and cut into ¼- to ½-inch dice
- 2 - 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1½ pounds cabbage, cleaned, cored, and shredded (½ cabbage; or slice into thin strips; if you have already-cooked cabbage, see Notes)
- salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ - ¾ teaspoon crushed caraway seeds (try it with ½ teaspoon first; see Notes for why; to crush caraway seeds, use the back of a teaspoon)
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- ½ cup water
- 12 ounces dried egg noodles (or substitute fresh; use eggless noodles if making a vegan version)
- chopped parsley as a garnish (optional; a fried or poached egg also makes a nice garnish)
- Fill pot large enough to hold noodles (4 quart or larger) with water, and put on stove to heat. It will boil before you’re ready to put the noodles in; just turn it down to low to keep warm as you proceed with the recipe.
- Slice bacon into 1-inch pieces and put in Dutch oven or other 4 - 6 quart wide-bottom pot, place over medium heat, and sauté until nicely browned (about 12 - 15 minutes).
- Meanwhile, peel onion and cut into ¼- to ½-inch dice, peel and mince garlic, and wash, core, and shred cabbage.
- When bacon is browned, remove with slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain.
- Add onion and garlic to the hot bacon fat, salt and pepper to taste, and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes.
- Add the thyme, caraway seeds, and red pepper flakes (if using) to the onions and garlic, stir to incorporate, then add the water and the cabbage. Stir again to combine, turn down heat and cover, and cook until cabbage is soft and cooked through (10 - 12 minutes).
- Bring the water in the noodle pot back to the boil, add a tablespoon of salt, and add the noodles. Cook until al dente (usually 6 or 7 minutes; cook longer if you prefer softer noodles), then drain in a colander.
- Add the browned bacon and drained noodles to the cabbage mixture, and continue cooking until done (if the cabbage isn’t done when you add the noodles, it will be in a few minutes). Done means the cabbage has gone beyond the slightly crunchy stage to totally soft.
- Adjust seasoning, and serve.
- Little caraway seeds pack big flavor, and a surprisingly small quantity goes a long way. For this recipe, I prefer to use ¾ teaspoon (occasionally up to a whole teaspoon). However, that may be too much for you. I recommend using ½ teaspoon of caraway seeds the first time you make this dish — you’ll still experience their wonderful flavor. Then up the amount (if you desire) when you make the dish next time.
- Crushing the caraway seeds (use the back of a teaspoon) releases their oils, and more of their flavor.
- To make a vegan version of this dish, omit the bacon. In Step 5, substitute 2 tablespoons of neutral oil when you sauté the onion and garlic. Also, substitute eggless noodles for egg noodles.
- If you prefer not to add the bacon fat to the finished dish, you can brown the bacon in a separate frying pan, and in Step 5 use a neutral oil or butter to cook the onion and garlic.
- If you are using fresh noodles, they’ll cook in a minute or 2.
- If you didn’t cook all the cabbage that you bought for St. Patrick’s Day, this is a great use for it.
- If you have leftover cooked cabbage, you can use that. It won’t be quite as good as when you use fresh cabbage, because the thyme and caraway seeds won’t have as much time to do their stuff. But it’ll still be tasty.
- To use cooked cabbage: When you add the cabbage to the pot in Step 6, cook it just long enough to heat the cabbage and thoroughly combine all the flavors — about 5 minutes.
- A fried or poached egg is a nice garnish and looks colorful. The egg also helps make this dish a complete meal (I’d add a salad, too).
- You can substitute a spicy sausage (kielbasa would be good; use about a pound) for the bacon. Slice the sausage into pieces and cook briefly after you’ve sautéed the onions; then add the cabbage.
A World-Class Recipe
Although this dish is extremely popular throughout much of eastern Europe, it’s not widely known in the US. Unless you live close to areas with large Polish or Hungarian communities — it’s common in parts of Pittsburgh, for instance (where it’s called Haluski). In fact, I first learned about this dish on a business trip to Pittsburgh many years ago.
“Many years ago!” exclaimed Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, as she polished off her second helping. “You’ve been holding out on me!”
And it’s true — even though I knew how great this recipe was, for some reason I never got around to cooking it. Until recently, when I made it several times to perfect it for the blog.
“So,” asked Mrs K R, “what other world-class recipes haven’t I eaten?”
In reply, let me paraphrase the legendary John Paul Jones, a naval captain in America’s Revolutionary War. “I have not yet begun to cook!”
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