Capusta (Hungarian Cabbage Noodles) – 20/67

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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Capusta 

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
butter/margarine/olive oil

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. 

 

 

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Indian-Spiced Cabbage and Onions

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I have found the best ways to interact with neighbors all center around food.

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For example, when I was really little we lived on the bottom floor and my cousins lived right above us in a duplex. Apparently, as a robust three-year-old, I would eat dinner at home and then go upstairs for round two. Very convenient. Also good to know old habits die hard.

wpid460-IndianCabbage-2.jpgIn my last apartment, there was the surprise (shirtless) visitor from downstairs, who emphatically asked if we wanted a gallon of kombucha, since he had just made way too much, oh, and hey we also made some blackberry jam, want some? (Uh, yesplease.)

wpid462-IndianCabbage-3.jpgwpid464-IndianCabbage-4.jpgOh, and once, in a fit of panic, I went around and knocked on all 3 doors of my old building to see if anyone, legit, had a half cup of milk for a cake I was baking. The dingy downstairs boys indeed did, and, after enduring a brief jam session I was invited to witness, were rewarded with cake the next day.

wpid466-IndianCabbage-5.jpgIn my new place, the basement of a brownstone with a family living upstairs, surprise shirtless visitors will be few and far between (I hope) (unless its a toddler). BUT we do share a corridor with the family and at in impromptu hallway meetup the other morning, our new neighbor asked if we were cooking something incredible last night.

wpid474-IndianCabbage-9.jpgYes, yes we were. It was cabbage. And onions. And it smelled like you were transported to the homiest of loving homes in Delhi and sat down for a legitimate feast. Onions, cumin, ginger, and turmeric. The humblest of ingredients create the most irresistible wafting aromas.

wpid470-IndianCabbage-7.jpgOh! And! My old roommate found the cookbook this recipe came from on this side of the street and thought I’d like it. Full Circle.

Indian-Spiced Cabbage and Onions

adapted the smallest bit from Madhur Jaffrey: An Invitation to Indian Cooking

7 T canola oil, divided
½ t whole cumin seeds
½ t whole fennel seeds
½ t whole brown mustard seeds
2 onions, divided
½ a large red cabbage, sliced as thin as possible
2-3 large collard green leaves, sliced into ribbons (optional)
1 t chopped celery leaves (I used this as a sub for whole fenugreek seeds)
2 whole canned tomatoes and their juices
fresh ginger, about 1 inch by 1.5 inches, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
½ a jalapeno or ¼ a long hot pepper, some seeds removed, thinly sliced in rounds
½ t turmeric
1 T lemon juice
1 t salt
1 t garam masala
Greek yogurt, to serve
rice, to serve

Heat 4 T oil over high heat in a very large pan. Add cumin, fennel, and mustard seeds. Stir frequently for about 30 seconds to a minute, until mustard seeds start to pop. Turn heat to medium and add one and a half onions, sliced (save the last half onion for later.) Cook for 5 minutes.

Next, add cabbage, collards leaves, and celery leaves. It will seem like there is WAY too much cabbage but stir lovingly and be patient, and cabbage will wilt astonishingly. Don’t be afraid to sacrfice a couple cabbage strands in the process. Cover, turn to low, and cook for 15 minutes. After this, take off the cover and cook for another half an hour.

Meanwhile, blend canned tomatoes + their juices, ginger, garlic, and the reserved half onion using an immersion blender (or a legit one).

Heat 3 T oil in a small skillet on high heat. Add blendered spice paste, spicy pepper slices, and turmeric. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened and your neighbor texts to ask if they can come over for dinner.

Once cabbage has cooked for 30 minutes, add thickened spice paste, lemon juice, salt, and garam masala. Stir together well and cook for an additional five minutes to let flavors meld. Spoon over rice, add a dollop of yogurt, and enjoy! I added some quick pan-fried tofu just to make it more of a complete meal, but it was totally unnecessary. Leftovers were AMAZING.