On a Roll: Töltöt Káposzta, or Hungarian Cabbage Rolls

Hello interwebs!

I’m back from my two weeks of European adventures with mom: Budapest, Vienna, London. It was a great time, and much more relaxing than my typical vacation’s adventures with BLT that send me hiking atop mountains and biking through valleys.  None of that this time, but rather mom and I spent our time eating, drinking, walking and eating some more. Some would argue that’s how a vacation should be. As I got more than one comment upon returning to work on how relaxed I look, I’m inclined to reconsider my previous definition.

Before I move on next week to Singapore, I’m taking the rest of the week to make some of the tasty dishes I made on my travels.  Sound good?

First up is HUNGARY.


I first went to Budapest back in 2005 for summer study abroad. Initially ecstatic to visit the motherland, I found myself disappointed, particularly by the food. I knew exactly what I wanted to order every time I sat down, craving the taste of home, but at the end of the day, mom’s food is just better. As such, I’m sharing her recipe for cabbage rolls, or Töltöt Káposzta (pronounced turd-uh cop-poo-sta).

I’ve been eating these forever, and I remember once as a kid, after eating cabbage rolls for what seemed like the 3rd day in a row, asked mom “when we were going to have meat again?”  Carnivore always. These, you’ll see, have more than enough meat, so I don’t know what I was talking about.  This recipe is initially time intensive, but well worth it. These freeze extremely well, so don’t be daunted by the seemingly large amount it makes.


Makes 10 cabbage rolls


1 ½ cups rice, washed

1 lb ground pork

½ lb ground beef

½ lb bacon, chopped

1 large onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 TB paprika

Salt and pepper, to taste

4 cups tomato juice*

2 cups water, or more if necessary

1 large head cabbage

2 bags sauerkraut (from near the deli)

**Mom prefers to use Campbell’s tomato juice rather than the V8 my aunt uses.  Brand snobbery.**


1.  Prepare the cabbage leaves:  Core the head and place in a large pot of boiling water. Hold down with a wooden spoon (or another implement) to fully immerse it. Allow cabbage to blanch and the leaves to separate.  Keep peeling leaves until all are loose. When all are removed, drain and cover with cold water to stop the cooking process.

2.  Sort leaves by placing all equal sized leaves together. Trim off thick, middle vein with a sharp paring knife being careful not to tear the cabbage leaf.  You want it in a large sheet, sort of like a tortilla. Use any remaining smaller leaves, julienne, to line the pot.  Set the leaves aside until you’re ready to fill them.

3.  In a large sauté pan, cook the bacon slightly to render the fat. Do not crisp.  Remove the bacon from the pan.


Check out this bacon! Good stuff.

4. To the bacon fat, add the garlic and onions and cook until translucent.  Add the paprika, cook another minute and remove from the heat.

5.  In a large bowl, mix together the beef, pork, salt and pepper. Add the rice and sautéed onion mix.

meat bowl


Best to mix all of this together by hand. It gets the job done better than any wooden spoon.


6.  Roll about a handful of mix into each cabbage roll.  Roll lengthwise and then fold left leafy side over middle, likea burrito. Continue rolling and then when completely rolled, tuck right leafy loose end inside with index finger. Be careful not to tear the cabbage.  Repeat until all the meat is gone.


7.  In the large pot, start to layer the rolls.  To the bottom of the pot, add the extra julienned cabbage strips  about 1/3 of the sauerkraut and the pieces of bacon . Start placing cabbage rolls in the pot, close together until they cover the bottom of the pan.

roll layer

8.  Atop the first layer of rolls, add another layer of cabbage and sauerkraut.  Continue to layer the rolls until all are in the pot. Cover with the last layer with more cabbage pieces and sauerkraut.

covered pot

9.  Pour over the tomato juice and enough water to cover. Simmer about 1 hour on medium heat. Test 1 roll to see if the meat is cooked and rice is al dente.  If so, remove from heat. If not, cook for another 20 or so minutes until it is. Remove from heat and eat!


Confession #1:

Mom made these. I took the pictures. Might as well learn from the pro, yes?

Confession #2:

I accidentally deleted the final product from my camera. Oops. The last pic is a stock photo.  My first.

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