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This is a perfect dish for a crowd, or a busy week.  You can make it on the weekend and just reheat it all…week…long!  It gets better each time you reheat it.  I swear it does.  This is peasant food at its very best…layers of cabbage, sauerkraut, onions, rice, and pork, slow cooked for hours…oh, yum!  This is one of those good-food-and-family memories.  I have Czech roots on both sides of my family.  And my mother made Czech food from time to time.  But, she never made this, until we went to a church supper in a Czech community.  When I was a child, rural communities had church suppers, to raise money for the church.  Maybe they still have them.  We went to a number of these suppers every year.  It’s a family tradition to drive for good food!  These church suppers were usually held in the fall.  The women of a particular parish would prepare the meal, which was usually served family-style.  This is good, home-cooked, comfort-type food.  In my experience, the farm women of my youth tended to be terrific comfort food cooks.

Some of the parishes were in German, Norwegian, Hungarian or as in this case, Bohemian or Czech communities.  After the first bite, my mother put her fork down, marched herself over to one of the women and asked about this dish.  She pretty much begged for the recipe, which we’ve been known to do.  The woman laughed and told her there really wasn’t a recipe.  But, she told her how to make it…and make it my she did.  The very next day!  Every year, she made this several times, over the winter months.  I have memories of coming in from the freezing cold, this is before global warming, and having this for dinner…it warmed me to my toes, which were probably somewhat blue from the cold.  And this really isn’t a recipe per se; it’s a layered affair and you can use whatever amounts work for you.

This is how it goes together—Layer are as follows, starting at the bottom of a heavy Dutch oven and ending at the top (duh!):

  • Cabbage leaves, whole (I use Savoy cabbage)
  • Coarsely chopped cabbage
  • Sliced onions
  • Sauerkraut (I use the juice as part of the liquid)
  • Converted rice (raw)
  • Pork shoulder chops (you want some fat on them)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Converted rice (raw)
  • Sauerkraut
  • Sliced onions
  • Coarsely chopped cabbage
  • Cabbage leaves, whole (to cover the top)
  • Water

About the water, you should add just a enough liquid (I use the sauerkraut liquid, too) so you can barely see it along the edge.  Then, pop the cover on, then into a slow oven for about 8 hours.  I did this overnight.  Also, this will work well in a slow-cooker, but I would add less water.  I wouldn’t want no more than and inch or two of liquid and you would wouldn’t be able to see it.

I think there are any number of things that could be added (either alone or in a combination), dried porcini mushroom slices, or some diced, fire-roasted tomatoes, or cooked bacon, or an apple, peeled and sliced, or a beer, instead of water, or some caraway seeds tossed over the sauerkraut…you get the picture.  Now, here are the amounts I used, but feel free to adapt to your taste buds.

A couple of things to note—

  • Use pork with some fat on it; pork shoulder (Boston butt) works well.
  • Boneless pork is easier to serve, but not quite as flavorful.
  • When you serve it, pull the covering leaves back (I don’t use these; I pitch them) and make certain to go straight down to the bottom and scoop, so you get some of all of the layers.
  • The bonus…it’s better each time you reheat it!

Bohemian Cabbage, Pork and Sauerkraut Casserole

  • Difficulty: Moderately Easy
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These are more or less the amounts I used, but the amounts can be adjusted to your preference.

  • 1 medium to large head Savoy cabbage, outer leaves removed
  • 2 large onions, sliced and divided
  • 2-3 pounds sauerkraut (refrigerated bag), undrained
  • 2 pounds pork shoulder chops or country-style ribs
  • 1 pound kielbasa, sliced (optional-see NOTE)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic granules
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups raw converted rice, divided
  • Water

You’ll want a large-ish, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or pot with a lid.  Place half the outer cabbage leaves, 3 or 4, to cover the bottom of the pot.  Remove 3 or 4 more leaves; set aside (these will cover the top as the last layer).  Very coarsely chop the remaining cabbage.  Place half the chopped cabbage on top of the whole leaves.  Evenly scatter half the sliced onions over, then half the sauerkraut, and half the raw rice.  Lay the pork even over the rice, covering it completely.  Sprinkle the pork with the garlic granules, salt and pepper (I find the meat definitely needs a bit of salt, as usually sauerkraut isn’t that salty). Scatter the kielbasa slices, if using, evenly over the pork.  Now layer in revers—the remaining raw rice, sliced onions, sauerkraut (and any juice), chopped cabbage and finally the reserved whole cabbage.  Cover the top with the whole leaves, gently pushing them down along the edge.  Pour water along the edges, just until you can barely see it.  Cover and place in a 250°F oven for 6-8 hours.  I bake it overnight, let it cool and reheat it for dinner.  This reheats beautifully and gets better each time you reheat it.  Refrigerate any leftovers.

NOTE:  I added the kielbasa and I liked the addition.  I think a layer of dried mushroom on top of the meat would be good.  I also think Brussels sprouts could be used, instead of the chopped cabbage and I think a vegetarian version could be made using pre-soaked garbanzo or great northern beans, instead of the meat.  I keep whole mulling spices in a pepper grinder; some grindings on top of the pork can be delicious.

Bohemian Cabbage, Pork and Sauerkraut Casserole Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2020.  All rights reserved.

Confession time…as a kid, I put ketchup on this when I ate it.  I still love that flavor combination.  It made me wonder how a can of diced tomatoes, on top of the meat, would work…just a thought.