Finding Comfort in Winter Foods by Marilyn Ostermiller

Come January, when rich holiday treats are but a sweet memory, I take comfort in baking runzas, one of the hearty, yet simple foods, of my European heritage. Runzas are pockets of bread dough stuffed with a savory mixture of ground beef, onions and cabbage. The scent of bread dough rising and the hash simmering on the stove, the flavors melding, put me in mind of Grandma cooking in her kitchen.

Runzas are thought to have originated in Russia in the early 1800s and spread to Germany. Handheld and portable, they are similar to Italian stromboli, Greek pirouskia and Indian samosas. German Immigrants brought the runza recipe with them to the United States, but the sandwiches aren’t well known outside of Nebraska, where the Runza Hut chain has most of its restaurants. The recipe I reach for on Saturday afternoons in winter is from a cookbook published in 1976 by the Federated Woman’s Club in my hometown, Bellevue, NE.

 Runzas:         Ingredients

Dough*                                                           Hamburger Filling

2 cups very warm water                       1 1/2 pounds ground beef

2 packages active dry yeast                 1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup granulated sugar                      3 cups shredded cabbage

1 1/2 tsp. salt                                       1/2 cup water

1 egg                                                    1 1/2 tsp. salt

4 Tblsp. melted butter, cooled 1/2 tsp. black pepper

6 1/2 cups flour                                   dash of Tabasco

* Use prepared bread dough instead, if you prefer. Two loaves should be enough.

Directions: Mix very warm water, yeast, sugar, salt and stir until dissolved. (This process is known as proofing the yeast. If you aren’t familiar with it, the information is easy to find online.)

Add egg and butter. Stir in flour. Put dough in a covered bowl, greased with vegetable oil, and let it rise in a warm place until it doubles in bulk, about an hour.

While the dough is rising, brown ground beef, and onion. Drain grease.  Add cabbage, seasonings, and water. Simmer 15 minutes and cool.  Punch down the dough and roll it out in an oblong about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 16 squares. Spoon a few tablespoons of the meat mixture in the middle of each square of dough. Pull the four corners of the dough up over the meat mixture and press the edges together. (Some cooks favor a round bun; others, an oblong.) Place the filled buns on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Runza Huts serve French fries or onion rings on the side, but, in keeping with the comfort food theme, I make a broth-based mushroom soup to accompany my hot sandwiches. This recipe is easy to make at the same time as the runzas. http://www.geniuskitchen.com/recipe/broth-based-mushroom-soup-super-simple-413306

Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time business journalist who now writes for children. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne.   

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