Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hungarian Noodles and Cabbage with Bacon

Hungarian Noodles and Cabbage with Bacon

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!

Hungarian Noodles and Cabbage with Bacon

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)
  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. Meanwhile, peel onion and cut into ¼- to ½-inch dice, peel and mince garlic, and wash, core, and shred cabbage.
  4. When bacon is browned, remove with slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain. 
  5. Add onion and garlic to the hot bacon fat, salt and pepper to taste, and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. 
  6. 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).
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Adjust seasoning, and serve.  
Hungarian Noodles and Cabbage with Bacon

  • 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.
Hungarian Noodles and Cabbage with Bacon

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!”

You may also enjoy reading about:
Homemade Noodles
Old-School Macaroni and Cheese
Pasta Puttanesca
Pasta with Quick Tomato and Bacon Sauce
Pasta Cacio e Pepe
Tuna Noodle Casserole
Tuna Pasta Salad
Fettuccine Alfredo


This is How I Cook said...

I'm running out to buy noodles now! This has two of my favorite ingredients-bacon and cabbage. Can't go wrong with those. And I have to tell you that I looked at your fettucine alfredo recipe and that is the recipe I've used for years. It really is the best and the easiest! So bad for you, but oh soooo good.

Nami | Just One Cookbook said...

I'm here for the first time and I really enjoyed learning about this Hungarian noodles! It's beautiful and delicious recipe. Unfortunately I'm not very familiar with Hungarian food living in the US, yet this delicious noodles make me feel like I can make it (I'm not sure if I can make homemade noodle as I have never tried it before). The flavor is awesome and looks so delicious with the egg on top!

Choc Chip Uru @ Go Bake Yourself said...

This post sounds exotic and very delicious - I am definitely hoping to devour this sometime soon :)
Thank you!

Choc Chip Uru
Latest: Double Nutella Cheesecake Brownies

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi This is How I cook, :-) I think you'll enjoy it. And that fettuccine recipe is killer. Thanks for your comment.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Nami, homemade noodles are pretty easy, but I usually buy dried egg noodles for this dish - the flavor difference isn't that much. Thanks so much for stopping by - I really enjoy your blog, and am glad you found min.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Guru Uru, definitely worth trying - I find it to be lick-your-plate-clean delicious. Thanks for taking time to comment.

Bam's Kitchen said...

This dish sounds so yummy and simple. I like the addition of caraway seeds. I love how your artfully placed your parsley on the plate and the picture with the black background is amazing. How did you get this affect? Take care, BAM

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Bam's Kitchen, I love the combo of caraway seeds + cabbage. Thanks for kind words re photos - I'm getting fond (too fond, probably) of black backgrounds. I get the black backgrounds mainly by blocking out stray light. In the 2 overhead shots, I actually have the plate about a foot above the background, so the natural light falloff makes the background darker. In the bottom photo I'm shooting on black acrylic, and I'm blocking a lot of extraneous light with black foam core. You can also blacken backgrounds in Photoshop by using the dodge tool, and dodging shadows - although that doesn't work if you don't already have a background that's already quite dark. Thanks for taking time to comment.

cooking lady said...

Wow, this looks fantastic, your pics make me hungry all over again and I just at dinner. Great post, love the ingredients that are put together.

Vicki Bensinger said...

What an unusual dish but it sounds so good. I always like your facts regarding history, and food. It gives a better understanding and appreciation for the dish. Thanks for sharing!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Cooking Lady, this dish is so good it's worth having a 2nd dinner! :=) Thanks for stopping by.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Vicki, it is a bit unusual but unusually tasty. Thanks for your kind words, and for taking time to comment.

Beth said...

It sounds delicious. And it's hard to believe you've still got that many great recipes yet to come!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Beth, it really is a great dish. And I've been doing this blog only for a bit over a year, so I'm in the fun position of having lots and lots of things to write about. :-) Thanks for commenting.

Asmita said...

Wow, this really looks amazing. The only hungarian dish I have tried is the goulash. This is something I would love to try out. Yummy!!!

Kimberly said...

Bacon, cabbage, and noodles topped with a fried egg? I see absolutely nothing wrong with this! Seriously, so simple, yet it sounds so delicious ... this is definitely going on dinner menu next week!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Asmita, I love goulash! Of course I love this dish too - my problem is I love too many dishes. Anyway, this one is well worth trying. Thanks for stopping by.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Kimberly, it's a good dish - easy to make, extremely satisfying to eat. I think you'll like it - let me know if you make it. Thanks for your comment.

Zsu said...

Greetings from Hungary ;) Always fun to find someone discovering our lesser known recipes. It is one of my favorites, too! Your recipe sounds pretty good, very close to the original, yet some interesting twists. I should try it myself :D

I will add my mother's approach just for fun: she usually cooks the salted cabbage with a very little fat or oil (just to keep it from burning before it starts to release its water content), until the sugar in the cabbage caramelizes - it becomes a golden brown color and somewhat sweet. At this point she puts the cabbage aside while she cooks the noodles, and when that's ready to eat, she mixes it with the now just-right-to-eat temperature cabbage. I love to eat it savory, with lots of freshly ground black pepper; my dad prefers it sweet, with extra sugar added.

Mary Bergfeld said...

This sounds delicious. My family loves this kind of creation. I hope youhave a great day. Blessings...Mary

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Zsu, I'm delighted you found my blog! It's great to get the perspective of someone who really knows the recipe. And, as you've noticed, I have made a few (minor) changes to the original. Your version sounds quite interesting. I've seen recipes where they add some sugar - probably to help the cabbage caramelize, and to satisfy your father's sweet tooth! Thanks for taking time to comment.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Mary, it's wonderful - you and your family will like this, I'm sure. Thanks so much for stopping by.

mjskit said...

I cooked a dish like this many, many years ago and somehow it's just dropped off the recipe list. Thanks for bringing it back. Your recipe and resulting dish looks very, very tasty! Love the idea of topping it off with an egg! thanks for sharing!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi mjkit, I know what you mean about recipes just kind of disappearing - I have a lot in that category. I don't know why it happens, but it does. It's fun sometimes digging through recipe files and cookbooks I haven't used for awhile to find forgotten gems. Thanks for commenting.

hothungarianchef said...

Hi there. Yes these old world recipes with fine European culinary details are worth gold! They just must be preserved and not allowed to die out.

That's why my mom (who was a trained chef) and I decided to pen our recipes down. Over 75 years in the making. More about that later.

The above recipe associated with my Hungarian heritage is split into 8 different recipes from your main ingredient list. (Go figure)

1. Krumplistészta (square noodles bacon drippings and potatoes
2. Gránátos Kocka (similar to the one above)
3. Grenadírmars(similar to the one above)

Túrós Csusza (world famous Hungarian dish - to die for)

Káposztás Kocka. Here, we just tossed the noodles with the fried cabbage and made one savoury dish and one sweet noodle dish. We seasoned the first portion with salt and pepper and the second with sugar.

We never combined the cabbage and the bacon - but it looks gorgeous.

Oh yes, should say who I am.
I am called the Hot Hungarian Chef.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Hot Hungarian Chef, thanks for the info! Very interesting. And thanks for commenting.

Katherine Martinelli said...

My grandmother was Hungarian and while I hardly knew her, my father did have a few Hungarian dishes in his repertoire when we were growing up. This looks just wonderful - so flavorful and homey - and I can't wait to try it! Bookmarking!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Katherine, this is one of those nice home cooking dishes. I like fancy foods, but this is the sort of dish that makes me happiest. I hope you'll try it - the flavor is terrific, and I think you'll enjoy it. Thanks for your comment.

Cathleen said...

This looks simply divine! I must try it sometime!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Cathleen, it's a terrific dish - lots of flavor. Even people who aren't that fond of cabbage like it. I hope you enjoy it. Thank for taking time to comment.

Unknown said...

So excited to see a recipe for this online! I grew up on this - we called it Kapostas testa. I've never made it with the seasonings you used - I'm going to give that a try. We always stuck with just the cabbage, bacon, noodles, and a heavy dose of pepper. Can't wait to teach my kids to make this some day to carry on the Hunky love.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Heather, I hope you like my version! This is one of those terrific recipes that you can change to suit your taste. I rarely make this exactly the same two times running - I'm always tinkering! Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

Loved first time made it and am sure this time will just as enjoyable. Told everyone how great it was and they just look at me funny....guess will have to make for these naysayers.but right now am cooking it for just us no sharing.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Anonymous, this really is a nice, hearty dish - real comfort food. It doesn't sound as if it'd be exceptional, but it really is. Thanks for the comment.

bytemaster said...

Hi folks, I realize I'm a bit late for the party considering most of these comments were made in 2012 and it is now 2016 but that is still not as long as I have been ardently searching for what I was served as "Hungarian Fried Noodles," way back in the 1980's. The closest I can come to the ingredients are in Haluski, but the dish I fell in love with also contained either cottage cheese or maybe Romano cheese. None of the many recipes I have been able to research has included this ingredient. Has anyone ever heard of this variation? I'm hoping perhaps some of the folks in PA might be able to help me out, as I know there is a rather large population of Hungarian / Americans located there. I'm not trying to leave anyone one else out or offend anyone, I'm just an old man trying to track down a recipe for a wonderful dish that I used to enjoy many years ago.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi bytemaster, not a dish I've ever had, but I've heard of it. Try searching "turos metelt" or "turos czuzca" or even "Hungarian noodles with cottage cheese." Some of the versions of this dish are sweet (particularly turos metelet), but most are savory, and contain bacon. Essentially, you make Haluski, and then at the end stir in sour cream and cottage cheese. Or maybe you're thinking of another dish entirely! :-) Hope this is helpful.

bytemaster said...

KR, thank you for your help. Sorry it has taken me so long to respond, I don't use my G-mail address that often. I appreciate these new leads and will certainly explore them.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi bytemaster, hope this is the dish you're looking for!