Raise your hand if you know what a Runza is? Okay, I bet all of you with your hands up are from Nebraska, or at least the midwest. Runzas are little stuffed sandwiches inside a slightly sweet bread dough (all of the recipes I found said use the leftover dough for cinnamon rolls). They are traditionally stuffed with cabbage, onions and ground beef. They’re similar to the Russian-inspired pirogi or the Scandinavian pasties but a thousand times better. (The dough of the latter copy-cats is more like a pie crust dough. You literally cannot taste anything after eating a pasty for hours because of the half-inch coating of lard in your mouth.)
Most people are introduced to runzas when visiting (or more likely, driving through) Nebraska, and they stop at the little green and yellow fast food restaurant called, appropriately enough, Runza. Same for me.
How can one describe one’s first taste of a runza? Heaven. Bliss. Yum. Delight. Joy. I want another! If you’ve never tried a true runza you’re probably scoffing at me now, but believe me, it is hands-down the best type of fast food ever.
People have been known to drive cross country, divert airplanes, or be late to their own weddings just to get a runza. Don’t believe me? Read about runzanatics here: https://www.runza.com/about/hall-of-fame . All is well with the world when a runza is in your hand.
With about a dozen cabbages ready for harvest in my garden, my mother-out-law (whom I adore), suggested I make runzas.
Runzas are German in origin. Indeed, in the old cookbook from the Lutheran church my ancestors helped found in Nebraska, there are half a dozen runza recipes. The dough always has a little sugar and shortening or butter in it (about half a cup of each) and the filling is incredibly simple — cabbage, ground beef, onions, salt and pepper. The Runza restaurant has created many variations of Runzas but the cabbage/ground beef type is still the best, in my opinion.
First, you make your dough. Then, while it is rising, prepare the runza filling by chopping your cabbage. Because cabbage cooks down so much fill the largest stew pot you have with it.
Next, add your ground beef (vegetarian warning — avert eyes now!).
After the meat is cooked and the cabbage and onions are soft, I drain off all of the fat and then add garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes (don’t add garlic before or it’ll turn bitter and/or lose its taste).
When the dough has risen to a proper level, roll it out and cut out little squares about 6″ x 6″. (In my excitement I forgot to take photos of my dough. This photo is from this blog.)
Pile a little of the filling in the center of each piece and fold the dough over it, pinching it shut. Place the little pie seam side down on your baking sheet.
In contrast to the Runza Restaurant runzas, mine are about 80% vegetables. Not only does it taste better this way (you get more of the mix of flavors instead of just the ground beef taste) but it’s better for you! (1/2 cup cabbage has 17 calories; one onion has 26 calories; loads of vitamin A, C and K)
After about 30 excruciating minutes, while you’re watching the runzas bake and breathing in the heavenly aroma, they’re done!
Oh, I forgot to mention that I lay a thin strip of cheddar cheese on the filling before I seal the bread dough. Here is the finished runza! They’re great with ketchup.
Most runza recipes go all out and have you make about 25 pies. Don’t worry, they freeze well. I let mine cool completely and put into a big zip-lock bag. Heat them in the microwave for two minutes and they taste just as good as fresh ones.
I’m thinking now that I need to open a Runza franchise in Michigan!