Sweet and sour stuffed cabbage to celebrate the harvest

A cabbage leaf ready to roll.

A cabbage leaf ready to roll.

HOW CAN SOMETHING that smells so awful taste so delicious? I’m talking about cooked cabbage, that cliche of novels and movies of immigrants in tenement houses. Specifically stuffed cabbage, this week’s recipe. I will be the first to admit that the scent of cooking cabbage is not up there with fresh bread and popcorn as an enticing aroma. Cooking it as stuffed cabbage tempers the problem a bit, because you also get the bouquet of cooking meat and tomato sauce. But don’t be put off by the fear of cooking cabbage! The end result is well worth it.

Before the recipe, let me tell you why I am coking it this week.

In the Jewish world we are preparing for Sukkot (usually translated as “Tabernacles” or “Booths”), a lovely seven-day festival (eight days outside of Israel) that is known as “Zeman Simchateinu,” the season of our joy. It starts this year at sundown on Wednesday. The festival has a dual purpose. It celebrates the fall harvest, and it also commemorates the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt.

Sukkot is a plural word (the singular is “sukkah”) that sounds like “sue COAT.” You might also hear it pronounced in Yiddish as “SOOK iss.” A sukkah can be built of anything—wood, plastic, canvas—but the roof has to be made from plant material without any nails or other metal fasteners—for example wood slats covered with pine branches, corn stalks or reed mats. You should be able to see the sky through it. In Israel, where the rainy season hasn’t yet started and it’s still warm, it’s not hard to eat and sleep in a flimsy hut with a partly-open roof. In Michigan, and anywhere else in the northern part of the United States, it can be difficult, especially when the holiday falls in October as it usually does.

When our kids were younger, they’d often declare their intention to sleep in the sukkah. Fine, we’d say, getting out the sleeping bags, foam pads and flashlights. There may have been a year—maybe two—when a child actually made it through the night. Usually the good intentions lasted until the wee hours of the morning, when they’d slink back into the warm house.

(Care to read more? This week, Debra Darvick is sharing a chapter on Sukkot from her book, This Jewish Life.)

Zayda Joe Lewis gets help decorating the sukkah.

Zayda Joe Lewis gets help decorating the sukkah.

Kid-centered decorations

The kids always enjoyed decorating the sukkah. We’d hang up their artwork and the paper chains, along with plastic fruit (real fruit rots too fast and attracts bees). We were delighted last year when our granddaughter visited from New Jersey and helped her Zayda decorate the sukkah! We add twinkly Christmas lights—bought at deep discount one year in January. We even have some lights shaped like chili peppers that I bought from the Lillian Vernon cataglog. I covet my friends’ lights that are shaped like bunches of grapes.

Plastic Thai fruit for sukkah decorations.

Plastic Thai fruit for sukkah decorations.

My friends Mandy Garver and Allen Wolf have a unique collection of plastic fruit in their sukkah. They spent two and a half years in Thailand, as employees for Ford Motor Company, and brought back a nice collection of plastic dragonfruit, jackfruit, durian and other weird-to-us southeast Asian edibles.

Fall harvest foods are popular at Sukkot. These include sweet-and-sour stuffed cabbage, a recipe developed by Jews in Russia, Poland and other Eastern European countries. Some call the meat-stuffed cabbage rolls holishkas. My Grandmom Anna, who was born in Russia, called them prockas. This is the way she used to make them.

Tips for making stuffed cabbage

Lots of recipes tell you to boil the head of cabbage and then separate the leaves. This is a mess, because you need a huge pot, and then you have to handle a hot head of cabbage. Others say to cut the leaves off the head of cabbage and parboil them. This is also unsatisfactory, because it’s very hard to get intact leaves off a raw head of cabbage—and then you still have to deal with hot cabbage leaves dripping hot water all over your kitchen.

I have a better way, which I learned from my Aunt Lili. The only drawback is it takes some planning. At least a week before the holiday, buy your cabbage, wrap it well in foil, and stick it in the freezer. After a few days  take it from the freezer and put it in your fridge. A block of frozen cabbage takes a long time to defrost, so allow at least five days! You can speed up the process by defrosting it on your counter, but you’ll still need a day or two. Put the frozen cabbage into a large bowl or deep platter, because a lot of water will seep out as it defrosts.

When the cabbage is completely defrosted, cut out the core and the leaves will just fall away, nice and soft and ready for rolling.

VIDEO: EASIER HANDLING OF CABBAGE LEAVES

You can see what I mean in this little video. Try to ignore the videographer (my husband) telling me to look at the camera and smile.

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Sweet and sour stuffed cabbage to celebrate the harvest

Sweet and sour stuffed cabbage to celebrate the harvest

Ingredients

  • One large, green cabbage, frozen and then defrosted
  • 2 lb. ground beef
  • 1 cup cooked white rice
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine, or 2 Tbs. dehydrated onion flakes
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • 1 egg
  • 6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 2 cups water (use the the tomato paste can to measure so you can rinse out the paste that sticks after you spoon it out)
  • 2 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs. brown sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt or to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • A handful of black raisins

Instructions

  1. Combine the ground beef, rice, onion, garlic and egg. Mix well.
  2. Cut the core out of the cabbage and separate the leaves. Cut off any really hard core pieces from the bottom of each leaf, but save the pieces you cut off. Pile the leaves on a plate and set aside.
  3. Place a cabbage leaf on a cutting board or counter and place a few tablespoons of the meat mixture on the leaf near the bottom; mold it into a log shape. Fold the bottom of the leaf up around the filling, then fold in the sides and roll up the leaf into a neat package. Set the filled rolls aside, seam side down, on a plate or cutting board.
  4. When you’ve used up all the meat, chop up any remaining cabbage and put it, together with the pieces you cut from the bottom of the leaves, into a large Dutch oven or slow cooker. Place the cabbage rolls, seam side down, over the chopped-up cabbage.
  5. Combine the tomato paste, water, lemon juice, brown sugar, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well. The sauce should be fairly thick. Take a tiny taste to see if you like the balance, and add more lemon juice, brown sugar or salt and pepper if necessary.
  6. Pour the sauce over the cabbage rolls. Try to cover the tops of all the rolls with sauce, but the rolls won’t be submerged in sauce yet. The cabbage and meat will produce a lot of “juice” and increase the volume of sauce, so don’t fill your pot or slow cooker to the very brim. You may need to use two pots.
  7. Throw a handful of raisins into the pot(s) after you’ve put in the sauce.
  8. If you use a slow cooker, cook the dish on “high” for at least six hours. If you use a Dutch oven, cover the pot and heat on a medium-high flame until the liquid boils. Now you have a choice: you can continue to cook on the stovetop at a simmer, or you can put the pot in a 300-degree oven. Either way, you will need to cook the stuffed cabbage for about three hours.
  9. Another suggestion, useful if you plan to freeze the cabbage rolls: place the cabbage rolls, seam side down, in an oblong aluminum foil baking pan and pour the sauce over. Cover with foil and cook in the oven. Then you can just pop the whole pan into the freezer.
  10. Check periodically to be sure the tops of the cabbage rolls aren’t getting too dry and that nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add water as necessary. As the cabbage cooks, the sauce should get much thinner in consistency.
  11. This amount of meat, rice and cabbage will make about 20 cabbage rolls of varying sizes.
  12. The cabbage rolls will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. They also freeze very well.
http://www.readthespirit.com/feed-the-spirit/sweet-sour-stuffed-cabbage-celebrate-harvest/

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Categories: Meat, Poultry & Fish