Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls

Today I found a recipe for deconstructed cabbage rolls. http://www.giverecipe.com/unstuffed-cabbage-casserole.html The author is Turkish and she was trying for the flavors her Turkish grandmother created in cabbage rolls. One difference from what I am used to is she added dried mint to her meat mixture, so I might try that today. Unstuffed cabbage. I noticed a lot of times people eat the filling out of the rolls and leave the cabbage, so this way maybe with the cabbage incorporated more into the entire dish, it will be more palatable. Eat the cabbage, man! It's healthy!
SLO Veg came through with all the essentials for my Ukrainian cabbage rolls
As I am sure I have mentioned a thousand times, my Mom was an American-born Ukrainian, and her signature recipe was stuffed cabbage rolls, which she called "holopschi" (or holubsti). Its what she made for every church potluck, family picnic, or large gathering, because she could make one or two large pans full and tote it to wherever we were going. I remember church potlucks becoming a smorgasborg of cultural dishes, from the Filipino pot stickers, Italian spaghetti and meatballs, Greek dolmas, Irish potatoes and Polish perogies. Our town was a bit of a melting pot, and each lady would always bring her specialty--it was expected. "Our next potluck dinner will be __________". "Mary, are you going to bring your cabbage rolls?"

My new cookbook
My Mom's birthday was in February, and its the perfect time of year to celebrate her heritage in our family by having a Ukrainian-themed family potluck in her memory. My brother makes his version of cabbage rolls, spicing it up with sausage, while my sister likes to make borscht. I usually make sides and desserts. I have been trying different recipes that I find online, but this year I received a cookbook gift from a cousin in Philly, "Ukrainian Cuisine", by Bohdan Zahny, featuring a huge assortment of dishes from appetizers to desserts. It gives a good feel for the hearty type of foods the Ukrainians eat, with lots of pork, veal, fish, eggs, rice and millet, cabbage, onion, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots and potatoes. Sauces are creamy, using sour cream or mayonnaise and seasonings are basically salt, pepper, dill, parsley, and lemon. Sweeteners are usually honey or raisins and a lot of recipes call for Farmer's cheese, which I guess is similar to cottage cheese. 
Simple cabbage rolls

While the cookbook features over a dozen recipes for borscht and even more fillings for vareniky (filled dumplings similiar to perogies), I was disappointed to find only two recipes for stuffed cabbage rolls, and they were both very simply seasoned with salt, pepper and vinegar. My Mom didn't have a recipe; she tried to recreate the dish her mother had made so often when she was growing up in Philadelphia in the 1920-30s, where they lived amidst a Ukrainian population in their neighborhood. After moving across the country with my Dad, she didn't have anyone to ask, as the small West Coast town we lived in didn't have any Ukrainians other than my Mom that we knew about. Mom seasoned her filling with onion, garlic, oregano, dill or thyme. She cooked the ground beef first and then mixed it with the cooked rice, whereas a lot of recipes I see call for raw hamburger formed into little balls, then wrapped in cabbage and baked for a longer amount of time. She usually made her sauce with tomato soup mixed with sour cream, but I am sure my Grandmother didn't have Campbell's tomato soup back in the 1920s. Sometimes Mom added cheddar cheese to the top, but I don't think that is all that traditional. I have seen recipes with a brown gravy, slices of bacon, tangy tomato sauce spiked with lemon, or just bare, with maybe a squeeze of lemon. Here is another Holubsti recipe I found online that sounds more like what Mom made, except for she seasoned her's more: http://www.ukrainianclassickitchen.ca/index.php?topic=5815.0
Note: this site contains a variety of cabbage roll recipes, some meatless. This author is a Canadian Ukrainian, and she says recipes vary a lot by region, as it does in the Ukraine and surrounding countries. Makes sense.

I started by browning the ground beef and seasoning it with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. Then I added a mirepoix of onions, celery and carrots, along with some freshly minced garlic and let that all cook together to blend all those wonderful vegetable flavors with the meat. I added one can of diced tomatoes, one can tomato sauce, and one cup of chicken broth. Meanwhile, I had a pot of water boiling and blanched the cabbage for one minute, then chopped it up and stirred it in with the meat mixture. I added a little more salt-pepper-garlic seasoning, a tablespoon of dried oregano and a pinch of dried mint, and gave it a taste. Oh, lemon juice! I sliced one of my beautiful Femminello Italian lemons that came in yesterday's box delivered by SLO Veg, and squeezed the juice into the mixture.

So let's see: I have Turkish mint flavoring with Mexican oregano and Italian lemon. Nothing especially Ukrainian, but from the recipe I found in the Ukrainian Cuisine cookbook, those rolls seem so nondescript they need some influence. They don't even have any tomatoes, for crying out loud! There are plenty of other recipes to try in this cookbook, starting with the borscht. But that's a blog for another day. Or the archives, because I have blogged about it before. Whatever suits your fancy! Maybe I will research the dumplings some more. That could become my Ukrainian speciality! Even though my mother never made them that I can recall. One of my brother's comment last year, "I don't remember Mom ever making vareniky." True, that. Sigh!

When I tasted my mixture today, it was good. I guess I could have used dill instead of mint for a little more tradtional Ukrainian taste, but this was fresh and tangy and satisfying. I put it into a glass casserole dish and will heat it up later tonight for our dinner. Some rye bread rolls would sure be good to go along with this. My Mom loved her dark rye bread, for sure. I miss my Mom!

Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls

1 head green cabbage
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1/2 yellow onion
3 ribs celery, with leaves
3 carrots
3-4 cloves garlic
1-2 tsp. Santa-Maria style seasoning blend
     (salt-pepper-granulated garlic)
2 cups cooked rice

15 oz. can diced tomatoes
6 oz. can tomato paste
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried dill (or mint, if you prefer)
1 cup chicken broth
juice of one lemon

1) Prep the vegetables: slice and chop the onion, celery and carrots. Minced the fresh garlic.
2) Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch the cabbage for one minute. (I halved the cabbage so I could slice it up more easily after.) Let cool in a strainer, then quarter and slice into ribbons.
3) Put a swirl of olive oil in a saute pan and brown the ground beef on medium heat. Season with 1 tsp. Santa Maria-style seasoning. Add the mirepoix (onion, celery, carrots) and the minced garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the rice, tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, dill and chicken broth. Squeeze in the lemon juice. Add the chopped cabbage and cook for a few more minutes, adding more salt and pepper to taste.
4)Put some olive oil in the bottom of a glass casserole dish. Spread the meat and cabbage mixture in the dish. At this point, you could top it with some grated cheese or more tomato sauce with a little lemon juice mixed into it, or a sour cream and mushroom gravy sauce. Heat in the oven for 30 minutes.

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