Oh, runzas. Where do I even begin to explain this mythic food to you? Do I tell you that they’re a Russian/German stuffed sandwich now popular in America’s Plains states? Do I explain that they’re the basis of Nebraska’s most popular fast food restaurant? (I actually worked in a Runza once, for four months. This is not their recipe; I never did the cooking part of the job.)
A runza is basically a bread roll stuffed with ground meat, cabbage, and onions. Like an Old World Hot Pocket, I guess. Jon, who grew up here in southeast Michigan, compares them to pasties, and I guess that’s really not far off. My mom made them while I was growing up, and I make them, and now I’m going to show you how to make them.
You’re going to need:
- 1/2 lb. ground meat (I used breakfast sausage; ground beef or pork is more traditional)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1/4-1/2 head of cabbage, sliced into strips
- Salt, pepper, and any other seasonings that strike your fancy
- One loaf’s worth of your favorite sandwich bread recipe–I used this.
Prepare the bread dough ahead–I actually let mine rise in the fridge overnight.
For the filling: brown the meat and onions in a large pan until you like the color (brown is flavor!). Add the cabbage and stir until the cabbage is fully cooked. Season with salt, pepper, and any herbs you like. I kept mine simple because that’s how we like it, but thyme or sage would be lovely.
Allow the filling to cool completely. (I refrigerated mine overnight with the bread dough.)
Oil a large baking sheet and dust it with cornmeal.
When your dough is finished rising, dump it onto the counter and flatten it out to about an inch, pressing all the air out. Cut it into twelve equal pieces–I did three strips, then cut each strip into four.
To roll each runza: Flatten a piece into a rounded rectangle, and put a scoop of filling into the center. The amount will depend on the size of your bread piece, but 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup should be about right. Roll it up just like a burrito: fold the sides in a bit, then fold up the bottom, then roll it up tightly, stretching the top of the rectangle. Pinch the sides to make sure the filling can’t leak out, and place the runza seam-side down on the baking sheet.
Roll all the runzas and place them on the sheet. Cover with a damp tea towel and allow to proof for 30 minutes to give the runzas volume.
Bake at 400F for 15 minutes or until golden. I didn’t bother preheating my oven–you can if you like.
Yield: 12 smallish runzas.
The ground meat could be substituted for well-seasoned lentils, white beans, or another meat-substitute for vegan runzas. I keep meaning to try this, but my husband loves the meaty kind and is wary of vegetarian variants of beloved foods.
I made twice amount the filling given above, not realizing it was way more than I needed. The leftover filling makes an excellent soup if added to broth. I used mine to make a matzo ball soup that may have actually been more delicious than the runzas themselves.
For the bread, I used a basic white sandwich bread recipe (linked above). My mom always made them with whole wheat dough, which would certainly be healthier. I’ve also successfully used frozen pizza dough, which I can get really cheap from the liquor store where we buy our favorite pizza. Once in college, I even made them with refrigerated croissant dough, but the results were not satisfactory.