A Childhood Favorite

Not my childhood, though. This is about one of my husband’s favorite dishes. His family is Hungarian on his father’s side and French-Cajun on his mother’s side. So, in addition to the crazy-delicious gumbo and etouffee which came out of his mother’s kitchen, she also produced some Hungarian classics.

After we’d been married a few years we started attempting some of those dishes from his childhood – you know the ones – you just smell them and you are instantly transported to your mom’s kitchen? One of the first on the list was something he called “noodley.” Very simply it is sausage and cabbage and dumplings…a classic peasant-type dish with that stick-to-your-ribs quality that is the hallmark of so many comfort foods.

Cabbage and Sausage

In doing a little research on this recipe what I discovered is that it is actually called NOKEDLI.  Well, at least that’s what the dumplings are called…so maybe it would be Nokedli with Cabbage and Sausage.  Most recipes for the nokedli suggest serving them with chicken paprikash or putting them in stew.

We made this dish a time or two when living in Seattle…we were kind of winging it, though. A few weeks ago when Ron’s mother was here we asked her to make it for dinner so we could take notes. You see, she’s one of those home cooks who rarely ever uses a recipe. She says things like, “Just cook it until it is the color of fried chicken,” and “cook for about one or two beers.” Yes, as in cook it for the time it takes you to drink one or two beers…which is great, except I don’t drink beer!

The cabbage starting to cook down
The cabbage starting to cook down

Anyway, I’ve made it again on my own since then and I’ve almost got it. Almost.  Those little nokedli take some practice. I think I would like them a little lighter – they are pretty dense – but Ron would certainly complain. After all, it’s his childhood memories being tapped into, right? I shouldn’t mess with it too much!  Some of the recipes I came across online suggested using soda water instead of regular water in order to lighten up the dumplings…so keep that in mind if you decide to try this yourself.  I also threw some apples in there (shhhh, don’t tell ‘cuz they are not part of the original recipe) because I was worried the cabbage wasn’t sweet enough.  The point is you can play with it a little.

Finished dish with nokedli mixed in
Finished dish with nokedli mixed in

See how the cabbage gets all glossy and yummy when cooked down?  The sausage flavors everything as it cooks and then you mix the cooked nokedli in at the very end.  I intend to keep perfecting the dumpling technique – details below – but overall we were pretty happy with the flavor.  What I can’t decide now is whether or not to keep calling it “noodley”…

I’d love to hear the childhood recipes you can’t do without…have you ever been able to make it like mom did?  What dishes will your kids crave when they are adults?

Cabbage and Sausage with Nokedli

grease from 4-6 slices of cooked bacon

1 head white cabbage, sliced into thin strips

1 medium onion, diced

1 small apple, diced (optional)

Polish or German style sausage (1-2 pounds,) sliced

chicken or vegetable stock, 2-3 cups

For Nokedli:

2 cups flour

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup water  (more or less depending on how big your eggs are)

Warm the bacon grease in a large skillet.  (I use my 12-inch skillet for this…you need plenty of space.)  Saute the onions and apples for a few minutes.  Add cabbage in batches and stir until it begins to wilt a bit.  Add sausage slices to the top and cover skillet.  You will add the broth as the cabbage cooks down – just enough to keep everything from sticking/burning.  The cabbage mixture should be shiny and moist as it cooks down, but not necessarily floating in the broth.  It takes nearly an hour for the cabbage to cook down and get sweet.

While that is happening, boil a large pot of salted water and prepare the nokedli batter.  Mix the flour, eggs, salt and water in a large bowl. (My mother-in-law’s recipe did not specify the amount of water…she says, “you just add water until it is thick and sticky.” The average amount called for in the recipes I found online was about 3/4 of a cup…but you can certainly adjust that to get the consistency you want.) Using a teaspoon, “cut” little rolled pieces of the batter into the boiling water. They should drop to the bottom. Also dipping the spoon into the water helps them release. Continue doing this – slowly enough that your water keeps boiling – until you have used all the batter. The dumplings will rise to the top when they are ready. (My mother-in-law says to keep cooking for 10-12 minutes like you would with pasta…most other recipes say they are ready when they rise.  I say, try one each way and see which texture you like best!)

Drain the cooked dumplings and add to the finished cabbage mixture.  I like there to be some moisture still in the cabbage mixture so the dumplings can absorb that flavor.  Allow to cook on low heat so the flavors can combine.

Enjoy!

Note: I also found references for Hungarian noodles made with a similar recipe referred to as “kluse” and, of course, lots of similarity to spaetzle. Here’s a recipe from Tyler Florence.

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