Cabbage Dumplings

photo taken by Susy Morris, on October 28, 2009, CC licensing

This is Riza neni's version of a now largely forgotten nineteenth-century Austrian recipe. Supposedly, Emperor Franz Joseph liked to eat a similar dish as a main course accompanied by cucumber salad. Geographically the Emperor and Riza neni were not so far from each other: Moson is only about forty miles from Vienna. In social standing, however, they were light-years apart, but this didn't keep them from liking essentially the same dish.

Kidding aside, this points to an intriguing fact in the social history of eating: in spite of huge differences in the lifestyle of the different social classes, in both Austria and Hungary there was a great deal that was common to their diets. Many of the same dishes were popular among farmers, the urban middle class, and the upper class.

All dumplings, savory or dessert, are fairly fast and easy to make, but people who try them the first time frequently run into trouble because they don't know the consistency and "feel" of the dough and therefore cannot make the small necessary adjustments to the recipe. The moisture content of potatoes, flour, and farina, which are typical ingredients in dumplings, can vary depending on the season and the weather. Most of the time the quantities in the recipes will give you perfect results, but once in a while you must add a little more flour or farina to get the perfect dough. Don't be discouraged by the long recipes for the various dumplings in this book, it takes much less time to make them than to accurately describe what the dough should feel like.

1 very small (about 1 pound) or 1/2 of a medium sized cabbage
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 slices of stale white bread, cut into 1/2" cubes, soaked in water to cover for 1-2 minutes and squeezed out
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon canola oil or unsalted margarine
1 1/2, cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Special equipment: food processor

1. Halve the cabbage, cut out and discard the white core, then cut the cabbage into pieces that fit the large feeding tube of the food processor. Use the shredding disc and apply almost no pressure on the pusher of the feeding tube to very finely shred cabbage. In a large bowl, mix the cabbage with salt, place a small plate upside down on it, and place a large can or other similar weight over the plate. Let the cabbage rest for at least 30 minutes, pour off the juices, put the cabbage into a strainer and rinse out most of the salt under running water. Squeeze out the cabbage and put it into a large bowl.

2. Add the soaked bread and all the remaining ingredients to the cabbage in the bowl. Knead it by hand in the bowl and don't be discouraged if in the beginning it looks as if it will never stick together. After a few minutes of kneading it will form a ball. If the dough is too sticky, knead in a little more flour. Clean your hands by sprinkling a little flour over them and rubbing them together over the bowl. If there is time for it, let the dough rest for 15 to 30 minutes. Boil plenty of lightly salted water in a large pot. Place the dough on the lightly floured work surface and with floured hands form it into a roll of about 1 1/2" to 2" diameter. Cut the roll into 5 parts and make four 1 1/2" balls of each part. You should have 20 dumplings.

3. If you have time to do it, it is a good idea to first cook 1 trial dumpling to test the exact cooking time, but if you are short of time you can omit this step. Place the dumplings in boiling water and move them around a little with a wooden spoon to keep them from sticking to the bottom. Do not overcrowd the dumplings; rather, cook them in hatches. Let the water come back to a boil, lower the heat, partially cover the pot, and let the dumplings simmer for about 12 minutes. Use a perforated spoon to remove the dumplings to a colander and briefly rinse them under cold running water. Keep the cooked dumplings loosely covered on a plate in a 175°F oven, but don't keep them there for more then 20 minutes.

4. Serve the dumplings as a side dish, or take your cue from Emperor Franz Joseph and serve them with cucumber salad as a light luncheon dish. They are also terrific with arugula leaves, which I would arrange, as shown in the drawing, around the dumplings to form a "nest. "

Note: Uncooked leftover dough will keep for one day in the refrigerator, but lay a piece of plastic wrap on the dough to keep it from drying out. It will take one or two minutes longer to cook the dumplings made from the cold dough.

Variation: Make cracklings by heating 1 tablespoon oil or previously rendered chicken fat in a skillet covered with a splatter-guard or in an uncovered and fairly deep (to contain the splatter) pan, adding chicken skin cut into 1/2" squares and slowly sauteing them over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the skin is golden brown. Remove the cracklings with a skimmer, drain them on a paper towel, and sprinkle them with a little salt. Briefly brown the cooked dumplings in some of the rendered chicken fat. Serve the dumplings with the cracklings sprinkled over them.

Approximate time for preparation:
about 1 hour 15 minutes

Serves: 6 servings (20 dumplings total)

Sephardic or Askhenazi