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Three Cooks One Kitchen: Vegetarian Runzas

in Entrees, Sandwiches

A Three Cooks One Kitchen edition featuring a Nebraska staple-Runzas.  I made my healthified version vegetarian-style.

3C1K graphic updatedWe stepped away from the grill this month and got back into the kitchen.  Despite experiencing wonderful weather this past weekend, Joanna, Erin, and I wanted to devote our latest edition of Three Cooks One Kitchen to a staple here in Nebraska: Runzas!  If you are wondering what in the heck a “runza” is, you are not alone.  If you already know what a “runza” is, you are probably either very well-educated, from Nebraska/Western Iowa, or have family from Nebraska/Western Iowa.  I had never heard of runzas until I moved to Omaha two years ago.  Runzas are actually the basis of a popular fast food chain that originated in Omaha called, you guessed it, Runza!  That’s right.  A fast food restaurant introduced me to the concept of runzas.

With Erin being a transplant from Pennsylvania and me being a transplant from Eastern Iowa, we were clueless about how to make homemade runzas.  Joanna, however, grew up eating runzas that her parents made and now makes them herself.  Erin and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to learn how to make this Nebraska staple, seeing as how we are now officially Nebraskans and all.

It turns out Nebraska cannot take all of the credit for runzas, though.  With a little help from Wikipedia, we learned that runzas originated in Russia, spread to Germany, and then arrived here in the United States.  Traditional runzas consist of a bread pocket that is filled with beef and/or pork, cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, and seasonings.  These savory bread pockets are then baked.  Some variations also include cheese.  Since Joanna, Erin, and I all tend to have different food preferences, the three of us each decided to create our own versions (links to their versions are at the end of this post).  Joanna stuck with the traditional version that she has used for years, Erin made a chicken version, and I created a vegetarian version using lentils.

runzas 2Joanna was gracious enough to prepare the dough for the runzas (recipe below) before Erin and I arrived at her house.  She has also convinced me that I probably definitely need to own a bread maker.

runzas 3With the dough all ready to go, we got to work on preparing our fillings by adding the specificed shredded and cooked vegetables to our protein of choice.

runzas 5My filling consisted of cooked lentils and cooked shredded cabbage, carrots, and onions.

runzas 7Next up: assembling the runzas!  We started by splitting the dough into equal pieces.  Joanna made twelve runzas, while Erin and I split a batch of dough and assembled six each.

runzas 8After the dough was separated into equal pieces, we rolled out each piece into very thin ovals.

runzas 17Some of us had to be taught how to use the rolling pin (sorry Erin!) 😉

runza collageOnce the dough was rolled out, each runza was filled with 3/4 cup worth of filling.  To close the runza, we brought the centers of each side of the dough together and pinched the pockets closed.  We continued this process until the dough was pinched closed around the entire portion of the filling.  Finally, we folded up each end of the runzas and pinched them closed.

runzas 14The runzas were then placed seem-side down onto a nonstick baking sheet.

runzas 19Our runzas spent about 20 minutes resting and then cooked in the oven for another 20 minutes.  They came out golden brown.

runzas 20I started with one and probably could have easily eaten two… or three!

runzas 24Picture-taking prior to eating was a must, of course! #foodbloggerproblems

runzas 22Not too shabby for my first runzas, don’t you think?  Joanna, do I get your approval?

P.S. I dipped mine in ketchup and have also dipped some of my leftovers in barbecue sauce.  Both condiments are delicious accompaniments!

runzas 21Vegetarian Runzas

Makes 12


1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 large egg
1 TB butter
3/4 tsp salt
3 cups bread flour
1/4 cup flaxseed meal
2 TB sugar
2 tsp yeast
2 1/2 cups brown or green lentils, dry
5 1/2 to 6 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup grated onion
1/2 cup grated carrot
2 cups grated cabbage
salt and pepper, to taste


1. Combine ingredients for dough.  Follow bread-maker instructions to prepare the dough.

2. Once the dough is in the bread maker, prepare the lentils for the filling.  Heat vegetable broth over medium-high heat until boiling.  Once boiling, add the lentils.  Lower the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for approximately 45 minutes to an hour, or until the lentils are cooked but not mushy.  Set aside to cool.

3. Once the dough is ready and the lentils are cooled, sautee onions, carrots, and cabbage over medium heat until softened (add oil or water to the pan to prevent sticking, if necessary).  Season with salt and pepper.

4. Combine the lentils and vegetable mixture.  Stir until mixed well.

5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

6. Split your dough into 12 equal-sized portions.  Spread flour over your rolling surface and on your rolling pin.  Roll out each piece of dough into a very thin oval shape.  Add additional flour to the rolling pin before rolling out each piece.

7. Place 3/4 cup of lentil and vegetable filling onto each piece of dough.  Bring the centers of the right and left side of the dough together and pinch in the middle.  Continue this process along the filling to create a “pocket” of dough.  Fold up the ends of the pocket and pinch together (see step-by-step pictures above).

8. Place the runzas seem-side down onto a nonstick baking sheet.  Let rest for 20 minutes.

9. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.  Cool for 5 to 10 minutes.

10. Eat with a fork or just pick them up with your hands.  I highly recommend some dippage in either ketchup or barbecue sauce!

11. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.  They reheat beautifully in the oven or microwave.

runzas 23Another successful Three Cooks One Kitchen is in the books.  This just may have been my favorite one yet!  If were weren’t officially Nebraskans before, I’d say that we defintely are now!

For Joanna’s Traditional Runzas (made with beef), click here.
For Erin’s Chicken Runzas, click here.

Have you ever eaten a runza?  Better yet, had you heard of runzas before this post?

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{ 42 comments… add one }
  • Joanna @Makingmine October 23, 2014, 6:39 am
    Yours turned out beautifully! And I bet the lentil/veggie combo tasted great! I'll have to add your version to my runza making rotation! Joanna @Makingmine recently posted...three cooks one kitchen: runzasMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 23, 2014, 3:52 pm
      It was really good! I am so excited that I still have four left in my freezer :) Thanks for teaching me your ways!
  • Kelly @ Hidden Fruits and Veggies October 23, 2014, 6:48 am
    I'd never heard of these, but they sound tasty! In Michigan we have Pasties, which are similar but with a flaky dough. Despite growing up in Michigan, I've never had one though -- oops! Glad you're a better Nebraskan than I am a Michigander! These sound tasty - love a dough with flax! Kelly @ Hidden Fruits and Veggies recently posted...Apple Bran MuffinsMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 23, 2014, 3:54 pm
      Pasties? Haha, that is a funny name for a food! ;) I think you need to make a vegetarian version of them!
  • Molly October 23, 2014, 8:50 am
    I love that you each made these your own! I've never made full-on Runzas but we made a LOT of pocket sandwiches in our house with Pillsbury crescent dough and various fillings.
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 23, 2014, 3:59 pm
      You should definitely make these with us sometime. We can have a Runza-making party! ;)
  • Erin @ Her Heartland Soul October 23, 2014, 9:19 am
    These turned out soo good! I really want to make a batch of veggie ones so I can try them! Josh ate both before I could get a bite! haha It will also give me more practice with a rolling pin. ;) Erin @ Her Heartland Soul recently posted...Three Cooks One Kitchen: Homemade Chicken RunzasMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 23, 2014, 4:00 pm
      Haha!! Too funny! Yes, you should only be allowed to bake/make things that require you to practice your rolling pin skills ;)
  • genevieve @ gratitude & greens October 23, 2014, 9:24 am
    I've never heard of runzas before, thanks for the introduction! They kind of remind me of calzones or pitas. Good job on making your first runzas ever! genevieve @ gratitude & greens recently posted...Turmeric Spiced Crispy ChickpeasMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 23, 2014, 4:01 pm
      Yes, I'd say they are definitely similar to calzones but with different flavors. They are super easy to make and SO good!
  • Andrea D. October 23, 2014, 10:41 am
    As a fellow Nebraskan I am in love and so impressed! Lentils are a great idea! My family just uses straight up beef, cabbage, and only onion in half of them (because there's always that one family member who doesn't want onions in them.......... not me though) but the carrots are such a good idea and give great color and taste I bet. I'll need to try these on one of my study-free weekends and freeze them for future meals.
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 23, 2014, 4:02 pm
      Yes! I am a major carrot lover, so I love that Joanna's recipe included them. You should definitely throw them in next time. And I hear you on the onions. I NEED them in just about allll of my food ;)
  • Healing Tomato October 23, 2014, 10:59 am
    This is a lovely idea. I have never heard of Vegetarian Runzas, so, this will be a fun recipe to make Healing Tomato recently posted...Mini Sweet Peppers stuffed Mexican StyleMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 23, 2014, 7:09 pm
      Isn't it fun to find new-to-you recipes? I love trying out new things. I hope you enjoy this vegetarian version :)
  • Lilith Dorsey (@LilithDorsey) October 23, 2014, 12:04 pm
    I have never heard of this before. Sounds exciting, I woulder if I could make a gluten free version?
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 23, 2014, 7:18 pm
      I haven't tried it, so I'm not sure. But if you can make gluten-free dough then I do not see why not!!
  • Cynthia Cover October 23, 2014, 12:25 pm
    Now that looks really healthy and yummy! I make calzones, full of fat and calories, but you give me hope that healthy does exist somewhere :) Cynthia Cover recently posted...10/23 – My Sweeps Picks – Time to Get the Kids Some Presents!My Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 23, 2014, 4:03 pm
      Haha, yes! Healthy AND delicious is totally possible. These would be a great alternative to calzones since they are very similar. Let me know if you give them a try.
  • Catalina @ Shades of Pink October 23, 2014, 12:54 pm
    I like something that seems so healthy to taste yummy, and I bet its very delicious! Catalina @ Shades of Pink recently posted...Zucchini, Green Lentils & Bosc Pear Organic Baby PureeMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 23, 2014, 7:20 pm
      This is definitely one of those kinds of recipes. Healthified, but delicious!!
  • Julie @ HostessAtHeart October 23, 2014, 6:34 pm
    I was just planning on a homemade Runza too. Last time I had one they were more bread than filling. Yours look amazing! Thank you for sharing. Julie @ HostessAtHeart recently posted...Thankful Thursday #24 – FallMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 23, 2014, 7:23 pm
      Thanks Julie! If you are wanting a traditional version then you should definitely check out the link to Joanna's version above. The secret to ours was to roll the dough really thin and STUFF them full. I hope yours turn out delicious! :)
  • Jessie October 23, 2014, 9:19 pm
    I was just about to ask if I'd be able to freeze this recipe until I saw your note. I'll have to add it to our freezer meals for when the babies come in a few months. :) Jessie recently posted...FitFluential Friday #4My Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 24, 2014, 7:51 pm
      Yes! They freeze beautifully! These would be great to make up and freeze for 12 made-ahead meals :)
  • Becky @ Olives n Wine October 26, 2014, 12:41 pm
    I've had your post up since Friday and somehow have not yet commented on it. But I LOVE RUNZASSS!!! They're seriously so so good! And a little tip, you can use frozen bread/roll dough instead of making it yourself ;) It's quite a bit quicker that way, hehe. Becky @ Olives n Wine recently posted...WeekendingMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 27, 2014, 4:25 pm
      You are always thinking, Becky! I might have to try that the next time I make up a batch and will (likely) be feeling lazy ;)
  • Jamie | Jamie's Recipes October 26, 2014, 8:56 pm
    I have made my own beef version before. This lentil version looks great and I am sure tastes wonderful! I am going to have to give it a try next time! YUM!! Jamie | Jamie's Recipes recently posted...Sprinkle Sugar CookiesMy Profile
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 27, 2014, 4:29 pm
      Thanks Jamie! I hope you do. Let me know what you think :)
  • Jamie July 30, 2015, 11:50 am
    Would you know how long to knead and let the dough rise if you don't have a bread maker? Thanks!
    • ClnEatingVegGrl July 30, 2015, 9:32 pm
      I'm so sorry, but I don't know. I am not a baker AT ALL (my friend is), so I could not tell you. I would assume you would simply do it like any other bread, but again... not a baker ;)
  • Nancy June 22, 2016, 8:51 am
    I was looking for vegetarian runzas and am so happy to find this. I'm from the Pacific Northwest, and was introduced to kraut runzas by my mother-in-law, who learned from HER mother-in-law, who was a German immigrant from the Volga River area of Russia. I know, German, from Russia, what? Sort of a colony thing. I am curious if you have ever tried these with a Portobello mushroom filling? I was thinking it might be delicious, and of course, was looking for someone who had already done all the experimentation. I make my runzas smaller, and with the bread not quite so thin. (I LOVE bread.) I was also thinking about the post asking if you had ever made them gluten-free....I have tried quite a bit of gluten-free baking, and have not found a GF yeast bread good enough to use with these. But, since GF quick breads are so much better, I am wondering if they can be made with a GF biscuit dough.
    • ClnEatingVegGrl June 22, 2016, 11:25 am
      I have not tried making them gluten free, but would LOVE to know if you have success. I hope you try it!
  • ishy October 29, 2016, 4:48 am
    I'd been wondering about making vegetarian runzas, and I'm so glad I found this. Lentils would be perfect. My parents are both from NE, and my dad makes runza casserole on a regular basis, and often taunts me with the smell of it at his house. I might turn this into a casserole like he makes. He just puts the filling in a 8x8 pan, then covers it with dough, then bakes. He tried making the pockets for awhile, but trying to fill the pockets frustrated him.
    • ClnEatingVegGrl October 29, 2016, 10:24 am
      That sounds like an amazing idea! Let me know how it turns out!
  • KEtter February 17, 2021, 3:56 pm
    In be dough recipe, is the flax seed meal for an egg substitute? Or just nutritional benefit? I’d prefer to substitute something else because flax increases estrogen which I need to avoid, but wanted to know the purpose of the flaxseed meal so I chose the appropriate substitute. Thank you!
  • Kristin February 17, 2021, 4:01 pm
    In the dough recipe, I’d like to use a substitute for the flax seed meal because it increases estrogen which I need to avoid. Is the flax seed meal being included as an egg substitute? Or just a nutritional benefit?

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