Food & Drink

Craving cabbage? Halushki, a caramelized cabbage and noodles dish, is sweet, comforting

Extra Ordinary Food | Chef Tibbs

Mix the dough with a couple of forks until it starts to come together as a dough.
Mix the dough with a couple of forks until it starts to come together as a dough.
/

We made a trip to the grocery store for the first time in a while, and at the top of my list was cabbage. I’ve been craving lettuce greens, but I know they’re just not going to hold up for very long in the fridge. So it’s cabbage season.

I have a particular fondness for Depression-era food, when people made everything from scratch. That’s the entire theme of this column, really. How to make ordinary foods from scratch, from basic ingredients you might have laying around the house. So I’ve been pretty busy these days at home, a lot of cooking, cleaning, taking notes and photos. R&D.

My Aunt Carole shared a post on social media about Halushki last week — a Depression-era cabbage and noodles recipe from Poland originally. Grandma Feral, who made the video that Carole shared, said their mom used to make it even after the postwar boom. It had become comfort food for that family.

As I said, I’m having cravings for cabbage these days and am on a pretty tight budget. It seemed like a good time to dive into this whole cabbage maelstrom. Taking a humble food like cabbage and coaxing magic out of it is exactly the sort of challenge that I get excited about. So let’s put some extra into ordinary cabbage and noodles!

As a professional chef, when I read recipes or watch cooking videos, I’m usually looking for ideas. Then I take the basic gist of the dish and prepare it the way I think those ingredients deserve to be treated, with utmost respect.

So there are three easy ways we can put a little love into this dish and make it sing. First, let’s caramelize the cabbage with onions and really concentrate the sweetness hiding inside them. Second, we’ll give it some spices to play counterpoint to all those sweet nothings. Last, we’ll make our own noodles, and we’ll make no-waste poverty-era noodles.

Cabbage can be caramelized the same way that onions can. We’re going to do a French style of caramelization. A little extra bonus is that we’ll learn the same style of caramelization that you would use for making French onion soup.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The basic idea is to sear the vegetables first. Get a little brown char on them. Then hit it with a little salt to draw their water out. This water boils up the char stuck to the surface of the pan, getting it back into the food (and making the pan easier to clean!) Last, we’ll tuck a little butter in to add more sweetness and a luscious, full feeling. Decadence on a budget.

I have a standard spice profile I use for Slavic foods: garlic, caraway, coriander, black pepper and dill. Caraway is what gives rye bread part of its distinct flavor. Coriander adds a floral note. Dill is, well, the heart and soul of the Baltic Sea.

Making your own noodles can seem like a chore. Store-bought noodles are so cheap and easy. But there’s something special to making your own noodles.

You can get the kids involved: Kneading dough, pushing a rolling pin, turning the crank on the pasta roller (if you have one). It’s like Play-Doh, but then they get to eat it for dinner!

I make my noodles old school — no meat. But a little bratwurst, Polish or kielbasa sausage would make a great addition to the dish, and any of those would fit well with the overall flavor profile. Really, the cabbage and onions are luscious once they’re caramelized. You don’t need to overpower them with spices. The spices are just a little accent. We want the main flavors to be the caramelized cabbage and onions themselves. The little guys are the big stars here.

Recipe

Halushki

Feeds 4 people

Half a large head of cabbage

2 medium sized yellow onions

3 cloves fresh garlic

1/4 stick butter

1 tablespoon cooking oil (plus a little for the noodles)

1/2 teaspoon caraway

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon dill

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

Extras

1 pound sausage, (optional) bratwurst, polish or kielbasa

Dinner rolls, rye bread or baguette

A few sprigs of fresh parsley, if you’re feeling fancy

Make the dough (can be done a day ahead).

Measure the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Whisk the eggs and oil in a small bowl. Add the wet stuff to the dry ingredients in the bowl and mix it with a couple of forks until it starts to come together as a dough. It might seem a little dry and shaggy. That’s OK. Lightly dust a countertop with flour and dump the dough on to it. Start kneading it. Press it out flat into a fat disc with your fingers. Fold half on top of itself. Press it down into a fat disc again. Then fold it over again. Keep doing that until it starts to smooth out.

You’re going to have some dry spots and some wet spots. You want these parts to get together and incorporate. Squeeze the wet clumps and push them into the dry. Take it slow. Sing along with the radio to get a solid, steady rhythm going. If you’ve been kneading for a few minutes and it still seems wet or dry, nudge it back with a pinch of flour (if it’s too wet). If it’s too dry, sprinkle some water on with your hands and work that in.

Remember to nudge the dough, not force it. A little moisture goes a long way, and it’s easy to go from dry and stiff to wet and sticky. Just give it a nudge, then knead for a minute to see how that’s incorporating.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Once the dough is pretty smooth and firm, but not too sticky, wrap it up in plastic. At this point you want to let it rest for a few hours at room temperature. It just got worked up and needs to relax for a bit. Or you can let it rest overnight in the fridge.

KNIFE PLAY

Prep all of your vegetables and spices before starting. This will make the rest of the process a whole lot more comfortable later. Unless you’re feeling dangerous and want to race the clock. Cheap thrills, right? I suppose you can guess how I play this game.

Chop your cabbage into chunks: 1 inch by 1/2-inch strips are pretty good. Scoop them into a bowl.

Cut the top and bottom off your onions, Then split them in half through the core. Peel the outer layers off your onion halves. Cut them in half along their equator, then cut 1/2-inch slices out of those halves. Scoop your onions into a second bowl.

Peel the dry skin off your garlic cloves. Slice them thin like in the “Goodfellas” movie or mince them pretty small.

Grind up your caraway, coriander and black pepper in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle, whatever you have. Put it in a little dish so it’s ready when you need it.

Slice the butter into pats. Put salt in a dish you can pinch out of.

Do you have everything ready, set, go?

WARM UP THE DOUGH

If you made the dough ahead of time, now is a great time to pull it out of the fridge. Let it “temper up” while we cook the vegetables.

CARAMELIZE

Warm up a saute pan over medium heat. Cast iron pans are great for this. Let it get a little hot.

Add the onions, dry. Giving them a minute cooking in a dry pan will help get some char on them. Ignore them for a minute, but keep your eyes and ears on the pan. They will sputter and “talk” a lot, at first. When they start to quiet down, stir them up a bit. Add a drop of oil and stir that in. Keep listening to them. When they shut up, give them a stir. Got to let them say their piece.

When the onions start to look a little transparent, add the cabbage. Do the same thing. Listen, wait, look and stir.

When the cabbage looks a bit transparent, scoop all the vegetables to the edges of the pan. So there’s an open space in the middle. Drop a pat of butter in that area, and add your garlic and a pinch of your spices. Pay close attention now. Stir that garlic steadily.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

As soon as it starts to get a little brown on it, stir it up into the onions and cabbage. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the pan and give a good stir. Drop a few butter pats on top.

Turn the heat down to low. Keep listening to it. When it gets quiet, stir things up a bit.

Keep slow cooking it like this for an hour or so. Try to resist adding more salt and spices. When you get close to finishing the dish and plating the food up, then you should taste it and nudge the spices and salt. If it needs it.

ROLLING NOODLES

Get your dough, a rolling pin and some flour together. Clean off your countertop very well.

Unwrap the dough. Lightly dust up the countertop with a little flour. Put your dough ball on the dusted counter and smoosh it out flat. Grab a rolling pin and start rolling it out until it’s very flat. Don’t have a rolling pin? A wine bottle works, in a pinch.

Noodles want to always be rolled in the same direction. Always forward and back, not side to side. You’re trying to stretch the gluten in one long direction.

Fold the dough over and reroll it. Doesn’t matter which direction you fold it. As long as you don’t rotate the dough. You will want to fold it and roll back together about 5 times. This gives you some layers in your pasta, which helps it be fluffy and toothy, without being too dense or chewy.

You might need to dust it with a pinch of flour periodically, if it starts to stick to the rolling pin or counter.

If you have a pasta roller, this is where you fold it until it’s narrow enough to fit into the roller. Otherwise, keep rolling it with the pin. Keep rolling it flatter. And longer. When it gets real thin, like a millimeter or two, then you want to cut it into noodles. Italian pasta usually wants to be as thin as possible, but for Polish egg noodles, I like them a little thicker.

For this dish, we are looking for noodles 2 inches long and 3/4 inch wide. After you cut them, give them a couple twists in the middle. Dust up a baking sheet and lay them on top. Don’t let them touch each other or they will stick together. Keep your noodles in the fridge until ready to cook.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Noodles freeze pretty well. Freeze them on the baking sheet. Once frozen you can transfer them to a Ziploc bag for future use.

COOK THE SAUSAGES

If you’re adding sausages, cook them up in a separate pan. Brats are going to want to simmer in water or beer until set. Slice your cooked sausages into rounds and fry in a pan until they get some brown color. Then add them to the cooked vegetables.

COOK THE PASTA

Fresh noodles go a lot faster than dried noodles, so we’ll do this after everything else is warm and ready. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Add a handful of noodles for each person. Cook them for about a minute, drain the water off, and add them to the cabbage and onions.

That’s it! Fold everything together and plate it up! A slice of rye or French bread makes a nice accompaniment, to soak up the sauce left on the plate.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.