A couple years ago I hosted a dinner party where everyone made something that represented their heritage. It was a small group of us, but I was nervous that I was going to be seriously out-cooked. I mean, of Indian, Brazilian, Californian (it was a bit of a stretch but we let it slide (she made beet salad)), and Eastern European, I don’t think my Ashkenazi ancestors are the stand-out culinarians. My offering to the evening was my grandma’s Hungarian capusta, which literally translates to cabbage. And the dish itself is really just cooked green cabbage and egg noodles. With salt and pepper. And a little fat. That is literally it. It’s the most humblest, cheapest, simplest of dishes, yet it is so much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s shockingly good. At that dinner party, everyone kept asking me what could possibly be in this delicious dish. They were amazed to learn it was literally just noodles and cabbage.
This is the dish we would always look forward to at holiday dinners. My grandma always had leftovers pre-packed for us before the meal so we wouldn’t feel like we needed to hold back at dinner. She said in the notes for this recipe that this dish is a traditional peasant food but now has become a treat because, even though it’s so easy, it’s a little time-intensive. Each batch of cabbage has to be browned fully. It also makes your kitchen smell a little cabbagey for the rest of the day. But, I promise you, these are small trade-offs for the final product. (She would also make pounds and pounds of it at a time — it’s much more doable with a single cabbage-worth.)
So when I found myself with friends coming over for dinner recently and a giant CSA cabbage taking up space in the fridge, I decided to make capusta. I was afraid it was not as fitting at a summer potluck than on a Rosh Hashanah spread, but it worked just the same. From humble roots to star of the holiday table to a new potluck go-to, here we are.
from my giant-hearted Grandma Evy, who has made this one of her specialties, even though it comes more directly from my grandpa’s lineage
1 head green cabbage
1 bag medium-wide egg noodles (I used extra wide because that’s all the store had)
Salt and pepper
First, grate your cabbage. You can do this using a box grater, food processor, or fancy knife work. I used a box grater; next time I’ll use my mandoline (which I just used to make a shredded salad and omg it was so fast.)
Heat a big saute pan (I used my Le Creuset braiser) over medium heat. Add a bit of fat — my grandma uses margarine so the dish stays dairy-free (and hence servable with meat), but I used a combo of butter and olive oil. I probably used ¼ – ½ a stick butter in total. Regardless, cook cabbage in batches so each piece gets good browning time. Add a little salt and pepper as it cooks. Add more olive oil or small pieces of butter if it seems like it’s sticking a lot. Cook until cabbage has darkened and wilted and smells great. Once cooked, place in a big bowl. Repeat with remaining batches.
Meanwhile, boil your noodles. Add warm noodles to cabbage, add more salt and pepper and a couple small pats of butter, and mix mix mix. Taste — it will probably need more salt. Then your capusta is done! It’s most delicious alongside stuffed cabbage rolls and tomatoey green beans.