Sunday, March 4, 2012

Just fry it up a little


Blood orange curd, meet rhubarb curd, rhubarb, meet blood orange.

The pictures you see above are not stuffed cabbage but they are related to the subject of stuffed cabbage. Bear with me for a moment. All will be revealed. What you see above are various parts of my Purim prep-mini cupcakes, various curds (rhubarb and blood orange) etc, and for me Purim is synonymous with stuffed cabbage.

Every year for the past 30 or so years my parents have hosted the same group of friends at their annual Purim party. Some of these friends we would see only once or twice a year and some of them we would see weekly, daily even (hi, Saphs!). For the adults, it was (and I imagine,is) a time to catch up, eat, drink and talk. Us kids, inevitably bored with all the talk would make our way to the basement where we would watch old episodes of Rocky and Bullwinkle. One year, some of the kids decided to put on a skit, and that too, became tradition- a tradition that was passed on to my nieces and the other third generation party goers. Yes, the party still happens. Every year. The same people. The same group that started out as young couples and are now grandparents, still gather to talk, catch up and eat.

Like Rocky and Bullwinkle, the guest list and the skit, the food didn't vary much either. For starters, stuffed cabbage followed by vegetable soup, cornflake crumb chicken and occasionally, when my mother had time, shlishkalach- Hungarian potato gnocchi. Sometimes, the salads brought by guests would change a bit and sometimes my mother would make rice or some other starch in place of the shlishkalach, but we always, always started with stuffed cabbage.

It's been eight years since I've been at my parent's Purim party and I still miss it. Purim is nice, to be sure. I have a few traditions of my own, but I miss the gathering and the rootedness of my parent's house. I miss the chaos and the smells and the people I would see once or twice a year and the people I would see weekly and daily. Purim without stuffed cabbage just isn't the same. 

My mother got her stuffed cabbage recipe from her grandmother. When taking down the recipe from my great-grandmother (or, Big Babbe as we called her) my mother asked: "So you saute the onions, right?" To which Big Babbe replied: "What saute, you just fry it up a little". So, when I tell you to saute the onions you must know that what I mean is fry it up a little.

My  Mother's Stuffed Cabbage

1 head cabbage

1.5 pounds ground meat (or more, if your head of cabbage is very large)
1 large onion per pound of meat, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 egg per pound of meat
3/4 cup of rice (1/2 cup per pound of meat)

48 oz tomatojuice
1 can whole berry cranberry sauce
2 tbl ketchup
fistful of brown sugar
1-2 onions, sliced
odds and ends of the cabbage that you did not use for filling

1. The night before you make the stuffed cabbage stick the head of cabbage in the freezer.

2. The next day, remove the cabbage from the freezer, core it and then quickly blanch it in a pot of boiling water. The leaves should separate easily. Lay the leaves on a kitchen towel to dry a bit, and then cut out the tough, middle stem (the smaller leaves may be malleable enough that you don't need to do that).

3. Now, make the filling. Saute the onions and garlic in a bit of vegetable oil until soft and slightly browned. In a large bowl mix together the meat, egg and rice. Add the onion and garlic mixture. Knead briefly so that it holds together. You may need to add a drop or two of water to get the right consistency. Set aside.

4. Make the sauce. Line the bottom of a big, heavy pot (a stockpot will do) with onion slices and odds and ends of the cabbage (this will keep the stuffed cabbage from burning). Add the rest of the ingredient to the pot, mix and bring to a boil. (You want the sauce to be at a boil when you put the cabbage in).

5. Stuff the cabbage: put an egg sized amount of filling in the middle of a cabbage leaf. Fold the two vertical sides over the stuffing, then fold the side closest to you up and roll it so that you get a nice little neat meat-filled cabbage package. Place the cabbage roll, seam side down, in the pot. Repeat with the remaining cabbage.

6. Once all the cabbage has been placed in the pot, check the sauce. You want it to be just covering the cabbage. If it is not, add a bit of water. Turn the heat down to low. Cover the the cabbage and cook at a very low simmer for 2 hours or more, giving the pot a good shake every 20 minutes or so.  (The longer it cooks, the better it'll taste). Stuffed cabbage reheats nicely (on a very low heat) so feel free to make a day or two in advance and reheat before serving.

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