Vampires need comfort food, too. Researching ways to use up my gallons of fresh sauerkraut, I found this warm, cozy, homely Transylvanian casserole in the Culinaria Hungary cookbook (one of my absolute favorite cookbooks). It’s a buttered baked dish layered with sauerkraut, ground pork, sausage, rice and sour cream. In short, it would pass no health inspection. But it is delicious and an unusual, inexpensive dish for a potluck, and won’t scare any Americans afraid of garlic, strange spices, or vegetables.
A specialty of a region now in Romania that has been called variously Cluj-Napoca, Kolozsvar, and Klausenburg, depending on the controlling power, layered sauerkraut is popular in Hungary. I even found a packaged version of the stuff online.
Casseroles are always difficult to photograph well. I thought I’d make this dish using red cabbage sauerkraut and red onion, which would inflect it with pretty, rosy colors that would complement the kielbasa I was using. I’m not sure if I succeeded with my old camera and lighting issues, but I’d eat a piece of this.
The traditional recipes I’ve found for this dish substitute lard for butter, add hard-boiled eggs, other kinds of pork, and sometimes cook the rice in the casserole (with a couple cups of added chicken stock). All of these things would be good, of course, but my version is quick and relatively easy.
Transylvanian Layered Sauerkraut
6 cups fresh sauerkraut (red or white), rinsed well in cold water
half stick unsalted butter (1/4 cup)
4 cups cooked, long grain rice
1 lb. ground pork
2 spicy Hungarian sausages or Polska kielbasa links
1 small onion (red or white)
2 t. sweet paprika plus ¼ t. for topping
1 c. sour cream
¼ c. dry Riesling or other white wine
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook rice by your usual method (I use a rice cooker) until al dente. If you’re using a pot on the stove, remove when rice is still a bit hard but all the water is gone.
Rinse the sauerkraut well to remove some of the salt. If you are using red cabbage, it will also help to remove some of the purple color so it won’t bleed into the rice.
In medium saucepan, braise the rinsed sauerkraut by melting 1 T. of the butter, adding the Riesling, covering the pot, then cooking on low heat until the rest of the ingredients are prepared and the sauerkraut has softened. Watch to make sure it doesn’t burn.
Slice the sausage into 1-inch chunks, set aside. Chop the onion.
Brown the ground pork and onion on medium high heat in a tablespoon of the butter. When meat starts to brown, add the sausage and 2 t. paprika to the pan, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Drain the fat from the meat and set aside. Spoon a little bit of fat on the bottom of a 8 x 8 Pyrex baking dish, then add 1/3 of the sauerkraut.
Add half the rice and half the meat mixture, then spread 1/4 of the sour cream on top of the meat.
Add another layer of 1/3 of the sauerkraut, then add the rest of the rice and meat mixture. Spread another small portion of the sour cream on top, then add the rest of the sauerkraut.
Wipe out the saucepan, then melt the rest of the butter. Remove from heat, then add the rest of the sour cream and another 1/4 teaspoon of paprika.
Bake for 40 minutes. You may broil the top for a minute or so after baking, if it doesn’t look brown enough for you.
Let the casserole sit for a little while before slicing. If you serve it directly from the oven, it will not hold its shape. It will still be delicious, though.