Everybody’s gotta eat, Gentle Readers, even when you are in a paradisiacal land of plenty like New Zealand, which is where we were most of this past month, by God’s grace and great blessing. That was my explanation for how I found myself making runzas in our host family’s Tauranga kitchen one lovely afternoon. We were all going to be home that evening; I didn’t have access to a car that day; the kids and I had already been to the beach and had our daily ice cream cones; we were all a tad homesick and I wanted to do something nice for the folks who had opened up their home to us for our stay; all those things added up to one thing:
I needed to make runzas.
Runzas, of course, are something I would guess most–if not all–Nebraskans are familiar with. The history of the Runza restaurants that are scattered across several states in the Midwest started in 1949, when Sally Everett and her brother, Alex Brening, opened a small Runza restaurant near Pioneers Park, in Lincoln, Nebraska, to sell their cabbage-and-hamburger-roll sandwiches. They sold the sandwiches there for nearly twenty years, before Sally’s son Donald Everett Sr. bought the franchise and started a Runza Restaurant at another location in Lincoln. The chain has only grown since then, with dozens of locations now throughout Nebraska, and a few in Iowa, Colorado, and Kansas.
When we are not gallivanting about the globe, that is to say when we are home in Nebraska, we crave runzas regularly, and there’s a super-easy fix for this: we can drive 20 miles in three different directions and get to a Runza restaurant and order piping hot runzas and “frings” (a combination of french fries and onion rings) in short order, and my goodness, I am really getting hungry sitting here writing this.
What I suffer through for you, my Gentle Reader. 😉 To continue . . . if we don’t feel like eating out, and I have a bit of time on my hands, I make runzas at home. It’s my favorite thing to make to sock into the freezer in freezer bags for easy meals to send with the guys for weekday lunches. I’m not going to lie to you and say that the homemade ones are better than the restaurant ones every time. Some times they lack . . . something. But sometimes they are pretty much just the way you want them to be: steaming hot, oozing with cheese (or no cheese, depending on your cheese preference) and dripping with hamburger, onions, and cabbage.
The sad and painfully true fact is this: it’s easy to make runzas at home that will elicit the following disappointing word from your family: “Meh.”
It is a worthy challenge, actually, to make the sort of runzas that make your family do cartwheels and ask for seconds. Or thirds. Or cause them to look you directly in the face and utter the words you really want to hear:
“You are the most amazing person on the face of the earth, bar none. And this runza just made my day better.”
You know you want to hear those words. I certainly live for them, myself. 🙂 No kidding.
I’ve made runzas enough times in my many decades (cough) of daily cooking and baking, to have amassed a few secrets to the really great runzas that you can make at home, rather than the mediocre ones that it’s painfully easy to come up with.
And I’m going to share those secrets with you. Consider this post your very own personal shortcut, Gentle Reader, to delicious homemade runzas at your house. And you’re welcome, I’m sure. 🙂 And if you share this post with your friends? Gravy, baby, gravy. They’ll love you even more than they do right now, I’m sure of it. And who couldn’t use more love in their lives? (I couldn’t possibly love you more, but my fond regard for you would be even more ardent.)
But first, I’ll post the recipe that I’ve developed over time. This recipe is a culmination of many, many runza-making sessions, not only in my own kitchen, but in my mother’s, as well. We’ve tried to break the Runza Code, together, Mom and me. So some of these secrets are from her kitchen, as well. I also gained a tip or two from this website, so a hat tip for this blogger, also a Nebraska grandma who shared her insights on Runza-making. Nebraska grandmas unite!
Okay, let’s get on to the recipe, and then I’ll share my runza-related secrets, and then we’ll all have a party in my honor. Not really. Well, why not? I’ll bring the bubbly. 🙂
- Filling ingredients:
- 2 cups chopped onions
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed and diced
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 1 large head of cabbage, shredded
- 1 small can saurkraut, with the juice
- salt and pepper to taste (more than you think!)
- (optional) cheese of your choice (also more than you think!)
- Dough ingredients:
- 1 cup butter, unsalted
- 2 scant Tb of dry yeast
- 4 cups warm water (or warmed milk)
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 Tbs salt
- 4 well-beaten eggs
- 15-16 cups flour (14 cups unbleached, 2 cups whole wheat)
- First, make the filling:
- Chop onions and garlic and sauté in a large frying pan with a little butter or olive oil until tender. Add ground beef along with generous amounts of salt and pepper. Cook through and drain well.
- Put browned ground beef into a large pot (I like to use my crockpot). Stir in cabbage and kraut.
- Simmer 3-4 hours, stirring often, and seasoning and tasting. 🙂
- (If using a crockpot, cook on "low" for 5 to 6 hours.)
- For the dough:
- Stir the yeast into the warm water.
- Add the butter to the water to soften, too.
- In a large bowl, mix together sugar, salt, and eggs.
- Stir in yeast mixture.
- Add flour one cup at a time, stirring well after each cup.
- When the dough becomes too stiff to stir, turn out onto the counter and incorporate remaining flour by kneading.
- Knead 100 strokes until the dough is elastic and smooth. Let rest in a covered bowl one hour or until doubled in size.
- Cut off golf ball sized pieces to roll out and fill.
- Follow instructions below for rolling and filling.
- Preheat oven to 375 while letting filled runzas rest for 30 minutes.
- Bake for approximately 30 minutes, until approaching golden. Swash with melted butter and bake for 10 more minutes.
- Serve while hot. Urge caution! The filling will be very hot! Enjoy!
Oh, a note on the recipe above: the dough recipe is double what you need for the filling, because I figure a double batch is no more trouble than a single batch, and then the leftover I make into cinnamon rolls the next morning, or dinner rolls the next night. Clever, eh? And it’s lovely to have dough sitting in the ‘fridge waiting for you to use it up. 🙂 If you don’t feel up to such cleverness, cut the dough ingredients down by half, to match the amount of filling.
This one I learned from my afternoon of making runzas in New Zealand. After you brown your hamburger with chopped onions and cabbage, dump it all into a big crockpot and let it cook (on low) all afternoon. Trust me. It makes the filling so oozy-tasty-delectable. You don’t want the cabbage to be crunchy at all, and this long, slow cooking does the trick to render it all sloppy and soft, like you want it.
Over-season the meat mixture. Salt and pepper it just a tad more than you regularly would. Season it, then taste. Taste and season. Over and over again until you think “Hmm. That’s just a little too peppery,” and then you know that it’s perfect. The bread part of the runza will temper that overseasoning. Be more careful with the salt than the pepper, WTTW.
My mom taught me this secret for runza forming. (Thanks, Mom!) First, roll out a circle of dough approximately 1/4″ thick. It shouldn’t be so thin that it is breaking up into holes when you handle it. Then place it into a bowl. Dump your filling on top of the dough, and then pull the dough around the filling and pinch and pinch and so forth until it looks like this:
Flip it over and it’ll look like this: Pretty, huh?
(Yep, in New Zealand, I cooked barefoot. Everybody does nearly everything barefoot over there. I love it.)
A cup or two of whole wheat flour added to the dough recipe makes a prettier runza dough. And, finally:
Slathering melted butter all over the top during the last ten minutes of baking increases the prettiness, too. And that buttery taste on the hot bread: who doesn’t love that? Nobody, that’s who. 🙂
And we like pretty, don’t we, you and I? Not to mention pretty and buttery. Yum.
That’s it, Gentle Reader! If it seems like a complicated recipe, it actually isn’t–and if you don’t have time in one day to make all of it, you can make the filling and dough one day, and then put them all together and bake them the next.
Just a tip. Word to the wise. And whatnot.
Now go. Make runzas. Conquer your fears. And eat well. The world is counting on you to make a difference. 🙂
I know you can do it.
By the by . . . have you got an Amazon list? I nearly always do! I live a good hour away from most stores, so ordering from Amazon has been a huge and convenient (sometimes too convenient) blessing for me. If you click through from my links to Amazon, they’ll give me a teensy commission on anything you purchase (though it won’t cost you another cent!) and I’ll love ya forever! * and thanks!* It’s a win/win!
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