I’ve never made, or even eaten, cabbage strudel. But Nora Ephron’s old op-ed piece in the New York Times about her fondness for the Hungarian dish piqued my interest. An entire chapter in one of her books is devoted to praising the buttery bundles. She spoke of cabbage strudel in terms reserved for mystical experiences, calling it “divine”. . .”heavenly”. . . “life changing.”
Saddened by a Strudel
Nora was heartbroken when her neighborhood purveyor of the delicacy, Mrs. Herbst’s Hungarian Bakery, went out of business. She searched hopefully for another honest-to-goodness cabbage strudel, but to no avail Finally, a friend alerted her to a new bakery, that prepared the cabbage parcels in flaky phyllo dough.
Eureka! The new found strudel was all she remembered, and more, and worthy of a chapter in her book I Feel Bad about My Neck.
When You’re Hungry for Hungarian
For those living beyond walking distance of a Hungarian bakery, here’s a recipe. While I’ve cooked an apple strudel, I’ve never cooked a savory variety. The dish begins with shredded, butter-drenched cabbage, sealed with foil, and cooked in the oven for 45 minutes. The cooled cabbage is then wrapped in butter-brushed phyllo dough and baked. Fiddling with the phyllo can be messy, but kinda fun, too.
Some recipes add potatoes, carrots, and onions along with the cabbage—and, I did. But it’s the butter that carries the day. Tempting though it is to reduce the fat content, do not! The dish thrives on it.
Who am I to try to improve upon this “sacred” recipe of the now departed Nora Ephron. But I’ve found variations, that includes raisins and nuts, which would lead to an even more “mystical” experience.
Or better yet, while you have the raisins and nuts in hand, chuck the cabbage and make an apple strudel instead.
Hungarian Cabbage Strudel
8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, more for greasing pan
1 very small head cabbage or half a medium cabbage (about 1 pound), cored and shredded
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
10 sheets phyllo dough, defrosted
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a large baking pan and spread cabbage evenly in pan. (Add other items if using: shredded carrots, chopped onions, potatoes.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cut up 4 ounces (1 stick) butter into small pieces, and sprinkle over cabbage. Cover with foil, sealing edges. Bake until tender and golden, 45 minutes to 60 minutes, occasionally lifting foil and mixing cabbage, then resealing.
2. Remove from heat, uncover and allow to cool to room temperature. (May be stored, covered and refrigerated, for up to 24 hours; use chilled.)
3. Set oven temperature to 400 degrees. In a small saucepan, melt remaining 4 ounces butter. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a work surface with the narrow end closest to you, and top with a sheet of phyllo dough. Brush lengthwise (up and down) with a little butter. Top with another sheet of phyllo, and brush again with butter. Repeat until all 10 sheets are buttered and stacked.
4. Arrange cabbage on top sheet, at end closest to you, in a thick layer 2 inches deep. Spread evenly to side edges. With the help of the parchment paper (and rolling as if for sushi in a bamboo roller), roll phyllo starting at the end with the cabbage. As you work, adjust parchment paper so that phyllo is rolled, enclosing cabbage, without the paper. Brush top of roll with butter, place on baking sheet and bake until golden, about 40 minutes. Serve hot or warm. Serves 4.