In my family, we love savoury strudels. My mother’s and grandmother’s Transylvanian style of cooking couldn’t be more delicious than when using sauerkraut. It was almost always paired with caraway seeds, paprika and ground pepper. Sometimes fennel seeds.
Making strudel was traditionally a task for women, and even local inns in the countryside would have asked a home cook to come and make strudel for them. In the city, there was nowhere to buy already made food, so strudel was made from scratch. My grandmother used to pull the kitchen table in to the middle of the room, place the dough on the table cloth and stretch it all the way down the sides. Her strudels had to feed 12-15 people when we all gathered at her house for dinner. My mum had only 4 to feed, so we had a smaller version, but the technique of pulling and stretching was the same. We used to make it together, working at opposite ends and trying to synchronise our movements. The kitchen was tiny, so the table was fixed against the wall, and we couldn’t walk around it to overlap the dough. We had to keep drizzling oil (or melted butter when we had some) on the dough to keep it elastic.
My mum sautéed the sauerkraut with onions, tomatoes and paprika, then spread it over the dough. We had our home-made sauerkraut, dad’s speciality, and it was deliciously crunchy and surprisingly sweet. We kept the sauerkraut barrel on the balcony, since we had no cellar or even pantry, and looked after it well during winter, so the cabbage kept fresh its flavour. Apart from this filling, she also used to make a version with mushrooms or potatoes, the latter not a favourite of mine at all but being choosy wasn’t an option. These savoury strudels were all served with sour cream and at room temperature. The left overs made for a good lunch at school or work.
As for the sweet strudels, we only made them with pumpkin in the autumn, and very rarely with apples. Traditionally, there are other pies made with apples and we preferred those.
185g strong bread flour
20ml cooking oil
1 medium egg
1 pinch of salt
400g sauerkraut (the left over sauerkraut in the jar can be drizzled with oil, sprinkled with
ground pepper and served as a salad to meat dishes)
2tsp caraway seeds
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1tsp sweet paprika
40g melted butter
Flour for dusting
To make the strudel, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and knead briefly. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and cover it with the bowl, like a dome. Allow to rest for 15minutes.
Cover the bottom of a large frying pan with a thin layer of oil. Heat well then add the sauerkraut and caraway seeds, cooking on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook for a further 10 minutes, then set aside to cool.
Go back to the dough and knead it for 5 minutes, then rest it again for about 25 minutes, which should be enough for the mixture to cool too. Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
Dust a clean cotton tea towel with flour. Mine was 55x35cm. Place the dough in the middle, sprinkling a bit of flour on top. Use a rolling pin to stretch it. Lift it, and turn it 90 degrees, roll again, turn it again. Place the back of your hands underneath it and try to stretch it from the middle towards the edges. Brush it with a little melted butter and keep stretching the dough using the back of your hands, or pulling the edges. It needs to be more or less the size of the tea towel, but not compulsory.
Now trim the edges all around, making sure that the length fits roughly the length of your baking tray. Mine was 40x30cm. Spread the sauerkraut mixture evenly on top. Grab the edge of the towel closer to you and gently lift, so the dough rolls into itself. Stop half way and brush off any excess flour, then brush with more melted butter. Now roll all the way up. Place the baking tray under the top edge of the tea towel and roll the strudel onto the tray. Make sure the seam is tucked underneath. Also, seal the ends by pressing down. Brush with the remaining butter.
Bake in the oven at 200C for 40 minutes. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then serve with sour cream.