No summary of Hungarian food is complete without a cabbage stew; this one calls for fresh cabbage but also works with sauerkraut. The creamy tomato sauce lends a hint of tartness and an impressive red hue to this sweet-sour dish. Generally, a side of roasted pork ribs is served on top.
Yield: 4-6 servings; Total time: 2 hours
For the tomato cabbage stew
1 medium cabbage, outer leaves discarded then cored and finely shredded (try avoiding very long strips that are hard to eat with a spoon)
1.5 liters (1.6 quarts) tomato juice
1 onion, sliced
2 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt (more to taste)
1 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
2 pinches of freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon flour mixed with 3 tablespoons cold water
Slices of crusty bread
For the pork ribs
1 ¼ kilos (2 ¾ pounds) pork ribs
6 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed to a paste
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
Step 1: To prepare the ribs, mix salt and pepper in a small bowl and generously sprinkle over the ribs, rubbing the mixture and the garlic paste into the meat with hands. If you have time, put aside for 1 hour at room temperature. Then wrap the meats in foil and place them in a baking sheet. Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 Fahrenheit) and roast the meat for 1 ½ hours. Let it cool for a minute, then carefully remove ribs from foil. Increase oven heat to 240 degrees (460 Fahrenheit), return the meats to the oven and roast until nicely browned but not burned, about 10 minutes.
Step 2: In the meantime, heat lard or oil in a large pot over medium-high, then add sliced onion and sauté until translucent, about 6-8 minutes. Add shredded cabbage to pot and pour in the tomato juice. After cabbage has shrunk and is covered in tomato juice, add seasonings: salt, ground caraway seeds, sugar, and pepper. Cook the cabbage at a brisk simmer with the lid on until softened but still a bit crunchy, about 35-40 minutes. Then turn off heat.
Step 3: Pour the flour slurry into the pot and stir well to prevent any lumps. Bring the pot to a brisk simmer for a couple of minutes, continue stirring, then turn off heat. The stew will start to thicken within minutes.
Step 4: Taste for salt and add some if needed. Spoon the tomato cabbage stew into shallow bowls, add ribs on top, and slices of crusty breads on the side.
Words of advice
The ribs are an optional addition; the tomato cabbage stew is a satisfying dish on its own. It can also be paired with a pair of frankfurters, meatballs, or a sunny side up egg.
I created these recipes with the help of nearly a dozen historical Hungarian cookbooks, adjusting ingredients, cooking times, and methods to reflect my own preferences and tastes of the current day.