Since I joined the Canadian Food Experience Project, writing about Canadian food traditions and memories, I have consistently followed a theme: bringing my Hungarian heritage into my Canadian identity. And, since food has played such an integral and meaningful part of my life and one which has been literally and figuratively fed by this heritage, it has seemed so natural all along. And so, this month, as we prepare for Christmas, the traditional food I bring to the forefront is once again a Hungarian dish.
Being from a family that is Hungarian on both sides, I was fortunate enough to enjoy this amazingly tasty food basically twice a week during my entire childhood. But, as I have alluded to before, my paternal grandmother was the true culinary matriarch. My CFEP posts have been as much a tribute to her as they have been to the foods themselves.
My parents divorced when I was 13, and since that time we have had two annual Christmas celebrations. In some ways, this has proven to be a bonus, including two Christmas dinners. Christmas Eve dinner is reserved for the celebration of my Dad’s family, and this meal was cooked by my Grandma until she was too ill to live in her home. Since she passed away, my aunt took over the meal. And, the traditional Christmas Eve meal includes copious quantities of delicious Hungarian foods. And, anyone who knows Hungarian (or most Eastern European) menus, knows that they often include dishes made with cabbage of various types. So, since cabbage is a vegetable that is grown in Ontario and available fresh and local until December, it seemed an opportune time to showcase such a dish.
I love cabbage, raw or cooked. I ate A LOT of cabbage as a kid in many forms, and quite often it was prepared by first being grated. I remember the smell of the kitchen as my maternal grandmother grated green cabbage for the Sunday meal and I always got the best treat to munch on – the raw heart of the cabbage, so sweet, sprinkled with salt. I find dishes that include cabbage to be very comforting and warming. As I sit here writing by the fire with a belly full of Hungarian food, I feel full.
I could have chosen a number of cabbage dishes to make for this month’s challenge, and I did go back and forth a few times, but ended up settling on one that could be used as a main course, or a side dish. For most Canadians, the richness and heaviness of this dish would definitely constitute a main course, but in my family, it forms only one element of the Christmas meal. This dish is called Székely Káposta, a stew made with tender pork and wine sauerkraut, and of course lots of Hungarian paprika. Káposta means cabbage and the Székely are a subgroup of Hungarians who possibly originated as the people of King Attila the Hun. (If you enjoy Eastern European history and wish to read more about this, you can visit this well-referenced Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Sz%C3%A9kely_people)
And so, I once again pay homage to my Grandma, which leaves me recalling abundant memories with a warm heart. I have such gratitude for the years we had with her and the incredible, complex meals she so tirelessly prepared for those she loved. I can only hope those I love enjoy my food even half as much.
Székely Káposta (Hungarian Pork and Sauerkraut Stew)
• 1, 1L jar wine sauerkraut
• 2-3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil (or lard, if you really want to go authentic)
• One extra large (or two medium) yellow onion, chopped
• 3 heaping tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika (do not buy grocery store paprika – you need to
purchase the good stuff at a European delicatessen, like Szeged brand)
• 2 lbs. pork tenderloin, cubed
• ¾ cup water
• 1 cup full-fat sour cream
• 1-2 tsp salt
Empty sauerkraut from jar into a strainer and rinse lightly. Set aside to drain excess water.
Heat oil over medium-low heat in medium dutch oven.
Add onion and sautée gently until fully browned and soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon paprika as the onions are cooking and stir frequently to ensure paprika doesn’t burn.
Add pork, water and another tablespoon of paprika. Stir well and cover, stewing over low heat, about 7-8 minutes until pork is just cooked.
Stir in remaining paprika, the sauerkraut and sour cream. Combine well, place lid on, and cook over low heat for about an hour, stirring occasionally. As with any stew, the longer you cook over low heat, the more flavour is infused. Salt to taste.
Serve immediately or place in oven to keep warm and the flavours will continue to intensify. Add a dollup (or more!) of sour cream to each serving, if desired.
Works well as a main dish on its own, or with potatoes or rice. Or, may be a side dish to accompany a dozen other foods like in my family! This is very truly comfort food which warms from the inside-out.
The Canadian Food Experience Project is Valerie Lugonja’s call to Canadian Foodies and Bloggers alike to unite on the 7th day of each month and creatively discover and share Canada’s unique culinary voice. You can read more about this exciting project here.