I’m a European mutt. I’m pretty sure our dog Jack has a less mixed background than I do. I am Irish, English, German, and Belgian in varying amounts. And that’s what I know. Imagine if I took one of those DNA oral swabs. There could be more. I could have some Italian, Portuguese, and maybe even some Scandanavian.
Muttdom has it’s benefits. Fewer genetically inherited diseases, less likely to marry your cousin, and so on, but being a mutt dilutes your food heritage. For example, my husband Dan is first generation Ukrainian American. For the Eastern Orthodox Christmas, celebrated in January, we have a ethnically proscribed meal of 12 vegetarian dishes that we prepare from scratch using Dan’s mother’s recipes. Cabbage plays a pivotal role in this vegetarian meal of twelve dishes to represent the twelve apostles. We stuff the vareniki with cooked cabbage and dress the boiled sauerkraut dumplings with caramelized onions. We stuff cabbage with rice and mushrooms and kasha and drown it in a mushroom sauce.
During Ukrainian Christmas last year, I learned that variance from the family recipes was not tolerated. Last year, I tried to sneak an epicurious.com Honey Cake recipe in substitution for the Ukrainian one. The epicurious recipe had aromatic coffee to deepen the flavor and was based on an Israeli recipe. The substitution was noticed by my mother-in-law and complimented, but noted to be inconsistent with our effort. Israel is thousands of miles from the Ukraine. No fusion cooking allowed.
As the non-Ukrainian, the least favorable job-boiling the cabbage-falls in my lap year after year. I call it the Cabbage Boil Anti-facial. You hover over a vat of boiling water with a cabbage head floating in it for hours, pealing off cabbage leaves to wrap around the savory stuffing. You need 2-3 heads to feed twenty people leading to a blotchy, sweating complexion. After you are done, you still have to stuffs the rolls, bake them, and make the sauce to cover up the stench of kasha.
Several months ago, a woman cut my hair. During the shampoo, she told me she was Ukrainian. The conversation twisted and turned and eventually she bragged to me that she makes cabbage rolls for her family during the week. During the week, I asked. Impossible. Without the cabbage facial? Her secret–the microwave. “Ten minutes,” she flipped up her hands with a shrug, “It’s done and I stuff them–then I have dinner, and leftovers for lunch for my husband, my children and me.” I was jealous for the first time in my entire cooking life that we did not have a microwave.
Being an ethnic mutt, there is no food that I claim as my own. We claim Irish as our predominant ethnic heritage, and therefore, we have corned beef and cabbage. This may account for the delay in my acceptance of the Brassica family. My mother is a mix of German settlers and Belgians by way of Canada. I always felt a special kinship with the horses on the Budweiser commercials due to this. Despite the central European descent, we never ate sauerkraut or Brussel sprouts while growing up. I didn’t discover my love for Brussies (as they are called in our household) until I was in my 30’s. My adoration from sauerkraut came around the same time, after reading Salt by Mark Kurlansky and discovering Dante’s Dogs outside the Tractor Tavern in my wild days. When I met Dan, he woo’d me with a friend’s Bear Sausage over cooked red cabbage. After that, me and the entire Brassica family were pretty much friends for life.
After two weeks, I thought I had reached my fill of cabbage or kohl as they call it. Fresh sauerkraut, aged sauerkraut, cabbage cooked in pig drippings, raw cabbage on a salad bar, coleslaw, etc. I was starved for a solid green vegetable. Or even broccoli. Or a carrot. Or a meal without pork.
Returning home, our garden was adorned with sungold tomatoes and cherry tomatoes and the first night home, we picked our tomatoes and had a salad with fresh tomatoes and mozarella. But, our second night, I craved…cabbage. It was odd. I would close my eyes and all I could think of was cabbage. Initially, I thought of sauerkraut, but that would takes too long. I needed cabbage and I needed it now.
I bought a cabbage from our local farmer’s market. Initially, I was going to make fresh sauerkraut. But, then, I thought of the freedom of mid-August cabbage rolls. No rules, just filling a leaf full of delectable, in season veggies, without the mindful eye of ethnicity.
Summer Farmer’s Market Cabbage Rolls
1 cabbage head, cored
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 fresh red onion, diced
3 carrots, dices
1 bunch (8 leaves) basil, chopped
2 cups kale, chopped
1 1/2 cups, mixture of Israeli couscous and red quinoa (sold at Trader’s Joe)
1 teaspoon Better than Boullion, beef
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 ounces chevre
olive oil or bottle mushroom or tomato sauce
1. Bring large stockpot filled with about 10 inches of water to a boil. Once boiling submerge cabbage and cook until leaves begin separating. Alternatively, it you have a microwave and are part of the 21st century, consider this technique: http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/beefy-cabbage-rolls-recipe.htm.
While cabbage is cooking, peel off each leaf as it dissociates. Do you see why this is the cabbage facial? This part takes forever; I’d try the microwave. Cut out small amount of each ridge–about 2-3 cm to aid with folding the filling in. Lay on a plate until ready to fill. If they break, line 9 x 13 pan with incomplete cabbage leaves. Preheat oven to 340 degrees.
2. Heat oil in a pan. Cook diced onions until translucent. Add a dash of salt.
3. Add carrots and stir. Cover and stir intermittently over 5-10minutes until carrots softened and add chopped kale or chopped greens. Add basil.
4. Add Israeli couscous mixture and 2 1/4 cups water. If you have Better than Boullion Beef, add one tablespoon. Cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Uncover and cook until most of the water is gone.
5. Add chevre and stir. Stuff cabbage like you would a burrito. Lay unused cabbage leaves along the bottom of a 9/12 inch pan. Cook for 30 min at 350 degrees. Can bake with cherry tomatoes and olive oil with salt, or serve with any sauce you like (mushroom, Marinara, salsa.)