Sitzfood: Krautburgers! (Relax, It’s Not An Ethnic Slur)

I noticed recently on Facebook that my cousins AnnaLisa and Josh had been making Krautburgers, and I thought it was time for me to get in on the fun! For those of you who don’t know what a Krautburger is, it’s basically a cabbage, beef, and onion-filled turnover, and they’re apparently a staple in every Sitzman’s diet. I used to think that Krautburgers were German, but while in high school we invited my German friend Lars over for dinner and he’d never heard of them. Also, living in Germany for two years showed me that they don’t really exist there, and in fact the name wouldn’t make any sense at all in German. So I did a bit of research for this post!
According to the recipe, these things are called “Cabbage and Hamburger Turnovers” or also “Bierochs.” Here in Costa Rica I described them as “empanadas,” and I know that the fast food restaurant in parts of Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa calls them Runzas (hence the restaurant’s name). In any case, the Krautburger doesn’t seem to be German, but instead Russian-German, passed on by the so-called “Volga Deutsche,” or the Germans who came to the U.S. via Russia. Apparently, that’s where most of my old man’s family originally came from.
The name “Krautburger” appears to be something that was tacked on in the area near Greeley in eastern Colorado, where my dad’s family is from–but please don’t tell anyone! In fact, the website www.krautburger.com is registered to a restaurant in Evans, Colorado. I think I may have to make a visit next time I’m in Colorado! There are also other websites with recipes for Krautburgers. In the end, you just need to go with what you feel in your heart when you make them, so this post will show how I approached the Krautburger-making process from start to finish.

The Krautburger recipe that I had is an old copy I got from my mom, and it’s credited to “Mrs. Harold Miller, Independence, Kansas, Colony Neu Norka”:
“Gott sei Dank” is right, Mrs. Harold Miller!
It calls for all manner of tasty goods, dividing the dough and the filling into two parts. I later got a copy of a recipe from AnnaLisa that mentioned something like a 60-minute roll dough, but since I have no idea what that is and I’m sure they wouldn’t have it in Costa Rica anyhow, I had to make the dough from scratch. If you’re doing that, it’s best to start with the dough and while that’s rising, to make the filling.

Most of the ingredients (The coffee –or booze– is critical, as this is a long process)

To start the dough, you need to scald a cup of milk. That sounded suspiciously like “burn a cup of milk,” but my mom told me to just put it in the micro until bubbles form, but before it boils:

You’ll want to mix that hot milk with 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 Tablespoon of salt, and 1/2 cup of shortening (I used vegetable shortening, since it’s what’s available here): 

Now you need the yeast. This was the downfall of my first attempt, since the yeast here seems to suck. In any case, you need to mix a cup of lukewarm water with a packet of yeast. Yeast isn’t sold in packets here but according to my cookbook, that’s about 2 and 1/4 teaspoons of yeast:

On your next visit to the Costa Rica, bring me some good yeast, please.
Let the yeast bubble up for a few minutes, then mix it in with the (cooled) milk mixture. Add a beaten egg and then three cups of flour. I used half whole-wheat and half regular flour:
So you add the flour to the mixture, and eventually add up to 3 or 4 more cups of flour (making the total between 6 and 7 cups of flour):
When it’s mixed well, turn it out onto a floured surface and start kneading. This is the boring part. I can’t explain why, but I hate kneading.

Knead the dough for 5 minutes or so. You know the drill. Then set it aside and let it rise until it’s doubled in size. This can take anywhere between a few hours and eternity, as was the case with my first dough attempt. I think the yeast must have been bad. So this whole meal preparation actually carried over into a second day:

The first batch of dough after 24 hours, just sitting there like a yeasty turd.
The first batch (above) didn’t work, so we had to postpone Krautburgerfest for a day while we waited to get more yeast on a trip to town. The second batch turned out fine, though:
The second batch after 5 or 6 hours.
OK, so we’ll get back to the dough later, but now let’s look at the filling. You’ll need a head of cabbage, 4 onions, a pound of hamburger, a bit of oregano, and some salt and pepper. It’s also time to start thinking seriously about your prep music. I like to make my Krautburgers like my forebears: while listening to Poison and Def Leppard:

Of course you can substitute with Journey or Foreigner if you want your Krautburgers to be a bit more mild. So, now you start chopping everything up and cooking it. I had previously cooked the ground beef, so I just had to chop and cook the onions and the cabbage:

I have major problems chopping onions, so this took a while since my eyes were watering like crazy. Ironically, as I chopped I heard Bret Michaels sing “Something to Believe In,” and these words came up:

I tried all night not to break down and cry
as the tears rolled down my face
Sorry, Brettie Boy, but if the tears are already rolling down your face, it’s probably too late to try not to break down and cry. Mission failed. 

Anyhow, chop up the onions and the cabbage. According to the recipe I have, you should cook them separately; the onions in 4 Tablespoons of butter and the cabbage in 1/2 cup of shortening. So, I did it that way, although I’m not sure how critical it is.

After the onion and cabbage are soft, you should combine the two with the cooked beef:

Now that’s what I call “something to believe in.”
Our kitchen smelled awesome, sort of like a Soviet restaurant.
Let the filling cool and later drain the excess liquid off (else it’ll mess up the whole thing when you go to bake it). Turn your attention back to the dough now. It should have risen to at least double its original size. Punch it down and start rolling it out. My mom advised me to try to get the dough to about an 1/8 of an inch, but I think I must have missed the mark. The recipe said it would make about 28 Krautburgers, but I only came out with 13. Clearly I did something wrong, although the final product tasted fine, so who really cares?

The dough. A moment later I divided it into two halves to make it easier to work with. Roll it out on a floured surface to about 1/8 inch…

…divide into “squares” about 6 inches wide…

…put a large spoonful of filling into each square…

…then fold the corners into the center. Pinch them closed or else the remaining liquid in the filling will seep out onto the baking tray. I think this gave some of them more bread on the bottom, since you should flip them and put them on a greased tray before baking. Still, like I said, they came out fine, so all’s well that ends well.

Put them on a tray and let them rise for 20 minutes or so while the oven heats up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit; that’s about 175 degrees Celsius, according to our crappy El Salvador-made oven.

You can also mess around with the dough leftovers and the filling. I made a second batch with some of the leftover filling a few days later and tried out some new techniques. I also added some chopped jalapeños and cheese, which I thought was incredibly inventive until I saw that the previously-mentioned Krautburger restaurant had already beaten me to that idea.
So, once the oven is heated, pop a tray of them in for about 15-20 minutes, according to the recipe. I actually needed about 25 minutes all-told until they were nice and golden, but that may have something to do with the altitude or with our lahmarsch oven:

I’m sure you can adjust the dough-to-filling ratios to your preference, but these turned out quite well. I’d suggest accompanying them with some spicy mustard if you want to be all German about it, or alternately with some ketchup if you want to look like a culinary Philistine. Both are delicious.

Or you can just eat them plain, like Angela does. It’s all wunderbar in Krautburgerland, so go nuts!   It’s just that easy!
In any case, if you have any questions or comments or if I forgot any information, please tell me. And try making some yourself– I’d love to hear any tips you might have! Thanks for reading, and have a great day!
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2 thoughts on “Sitzfood: Krautburgers! (Relax, It’s Not An Ethnic Slur)

  1. Nice work! I made some not too long ago, and I think I used the youth group’s recipe for them, and they turned out pretty tasty. Too bad they go so quickly when you’re in a house with a bunch of other dudes.

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