Citizens, a runza (also called a bierock, fleischkuche, or Kraut Pirok) is a yeast dough bread pocket with a filling consisting of beef, pork, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, and seasonings.
They are baked in various shapes such as a half-moon, rectangle, round (bun), square, or triangle. In Nebraska, the Runza is usually baked in a rectangular shape. The bierocks of Kansas, on the other hand, are generally baked in the shape of a bun.
The Runza sandwich originated in Russia during the 1800s and spread to Germany before appearing in the United States.
Germans account for 42% of Nebraska’s population (fourth in the nation by percentage), and a goodly portion of these Germans are the group known as the Volga Germans, otherwise known as the “Germans from Russia,” an ethnic group with its own museum in Lincoln.
My recipe is traditional but I have chosen to spice up the filling with classic Sauerkraut spices of caraway and cumin. I also follow the path of adding in ground sausage meat with the ground beef. I’ve chosen kielbasa as my choice.
My super-secret weapon? Gin. The juniper and herbal flavors penetrate the cabbage and add some old-world juniper sauerkraut elegance to the flavor profile of the humble ruska. Don’t worry, the alcohol burns off during its cooking and you can leave it out if you prefer.
Lastly and in a complete 180 from the previous paragraph – I use a bit of Velveeta as my cheese in these pockets. Yes, I love artisinal cheese – but Velveeta works and melts really well in this recipe. If you have an issue, use a different cheese or leave the cheese out altogether.
Enjoy these heartland treats, Citizens! 🙂
Battle on – The Generalissimo
2 cups chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 ¼ pound ground beef
¾ pound kielbasa, ground to a paste
¾ teaspoon freshly ground caraway (optional)
½ teaspoon freshly ground cumin (optional)
1 large head of green cabbage, shredded
¾ cup sauerkraut juice
¼ cup top-quality gin (optional but recommended – replace with sauerkraut juice instead if not using)
salt and pepper to taste
Thin slices of Velveeta cheese (use a different cheese if you prefer – Pepper Jack works quite well, or leave the cheese out altogether if you are so inclined)
Classic runza dough ingredients:
½ cup shortening
1 pkg. yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
2 cups warm milk
½ cup sugar (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon salt
2 beaten eggs
7-8 cups flour
Beaten egg for brushing runza tops
Sauté onions and garlic in a large frying pan with a little butter or olive oil until tender. Add ground beef and kielbasa along with generous amounts of salt and pepper. Cook throughly and drain well.
Put browned ground beef and sausage into a crockpot. Add cabbage, spices and kraut juice.
Leave the crockpot overnight on “warm”. Drain and cool.
Soften the yeast in the warm water. Add the shortening 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. The amount of flour depends on the size of your eggs.
Knead 200 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.
Cut the dough into square shapes – NOT ROUND. A round runza is how they are made in Kansas, not Nebraska! If, however, you are from Kansas reading this – please do the opposite. 😉
Use a slotted spoon or similar when filling the dough to allow the cabbage/meat mix to be dry. Add a thin slice of Velveeta over the top of the filling. Pinch the sides together over the filling. Seal well so nothing leaks during baking.
Place on a greased cookie sheet, cover with a clean cloth, and let raise at least half an hour. This is a good time to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Brush the tops with a beaten egg just before putting them in the oven. Bake the runzas in the oven 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool.
Runzas freeze very well. Allow them to cool completely, uncovered. Once these are cool, wrap in aluminum foil. Put 4 wrapped runzas to a gallon ziplock bag and freeze for 4-6 weeks.
If you have not frozen these, heat the oven to 400F and heat for 10-12 minutes.
If you have frozen these, heat oven to 400F, put frozen, (and still wrapped runza package) into the oven and heat for 20-25 minutes. The last 5 minutes, remove the foil.