Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cabbage rolls from the old country

Since I am reuniting with family at my cousin's wedding this weekend, I felt inspired to recreate our heritage food.  There is something so satisfying about food from the old country.  Making meals that your great great Bubbie and Zeyda prepared in the same way in a sense connects you to your past.  Families pass down recipes much like antiques or heirloom jewlery; they foster a sense of pride, connection, and belonging.

One of my all time favorite comfort foods from childhood are cabbage rolls:  Rice and Beef stuffed in cabbage with a sweet and sour tomato sauce.  Variations of cabbage rolls are found all over Eastern Europe and in Russia too, but my memories stem from recipes passed down among the Jewish-Polish-Belarusian population.  (Cabbage rolls on Wiki, very interesting)

When I decided to make cabbage rolls my mom was upset as she couldn't find her recipe anywhere (the recipe her mom made for her and that she made for me).  She recounted to me what she could remember and I filled in the blanks with various recipes from Jewish cookbooks in the house, Polish grandmother's on the internet, and a little bit of my own improvisation.  I think what I have is pretty close to what I remember.  Memory is a tricky thing though.  I'm sure the way I remember it is not the way it actually was.  In any case, my parents gobbled it up and applauded my efforts.  A success.  I'm definitely going to make this one again, perhaps tweaking it in pursuit of my memory gold.

A head of cabbage
1 onion, small diced
Garlic, minced
1/2 carrot, small diced
About a pound of ground beef (+/-)
About 1/2 cup uncooked rice (+/-)
1 or 2 TB tomato paste
1 28oz can tomato product
2 TB sugar
1 or 2 TB vinegar (apple cider)
Salt + pepper

Core the cabbage.  Boil a pot of water, turn off and put the head of cabbage in to soften for 10-15 minutes.  In the meantime sweat the onion, adding the carrot midway and then the garlic.  Set half of the sweated veg to cool and to the other half add the can of tomato product, sugar, and vinegar.  Heat and adjust sweet and sour to taste.  In a separate bowl mix the uncooked rice, ground beef, cooled veg, tomato paste, salt, and pepper.  Now take the cabbage out of the water (if you haven't already).  Take the leaves off and cut the main vein out.  Some leaves will yield two rolls and some only one.  Roll about 1/3 cup beef filling in the cabbage like a burrito and place in a baking dish.  Once all the rolls are lined up in the dish, pour the sauce over.  Cut up the extra cabbage (some or all) and add loose to the baking dish.  Add a little hot water to the dish so that the rolls are almost covered (and to allow for evaporation during cooking).  Put in the oven at 375 and bake for over an hour, until the rice is cooked (there should be enough liquid in the pan to ensure the rice will cook).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Chickpea Stew, a vegetarian meal

Sometimes your body just needs a little nourishment à la vegetables.   Before working in the kitchen I ate meat but it wasn't commonplace by any means in my diet.  It would happen when I went out to restaurants or every blue moon at my house.  Meat was expensive to buy and as the poor student I mostly just didn't bother.

In the past year and a half my diet has shifted and become much more meat heavy because of working in a restaurant.  Everyday staff meal has a meat component or a meaty star (i.e. meatloaf, braised chicken, beef stew, sloppy joes, fried chicken).  My body has adjusted nicely and for all that talk about the unhealthy fats of meat I seem to be getting thinner rather than larger.  (I should interject here that our staff meal bowls serve about 1/3 of the amount I'd normally eat at a meal, and it is my firm belief that butter and other fats aren't actually bad for us, so long as we eat them in moderation).

Nevertheless, in tow with my new diet I have been exploring meats in my days off as well, shoveling out the extra cash to practice at home or develop my palette.  Yesterday I went to a new butcher shop specializing in local organic sustainably-raised everything and ate their sandwich of the day: brown butter sage beef sausage with summer squash and thinly sliced red onions on a fresh roll.  It was delicious, so much so that I devoured that sandwich with all four sausages, which is three more sausages than I would normally eat and that my body really wanted to handle at that moment.  I knew that for dinner and possibly into the next day I needed some vegetable detox to balance myself out.  I went shopping at the grocery store and got the ingredients for a chickpea stew to make at my friends house.  Nourishing, healthy, spicy, and not lacking in the flavor department.  I was well fulfilled after this meal and my body felt balanced and at peace with itself.

1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic (more or less depending if you're a garlic fiend)
1 carrot, small diced
1 can crushed tomato
A few cups vegetable stock (onion, carrot, leek + whatever else, boiled for a couple hours and strained)
1 15oz can garbonzo beans/chickpeas/pois-chiches/ceci, or dried beans cooked separately
1 medium potato, cut in smallish-medium cubes
1 squash, cut however you like
Kale, taken off the stems and cut into smaller pieces
Some eggs (the fresher the better, I had just bought fresh farm eggs)
Spices: A lot: cumin, paprika/cayenne pepper
           A little: crushed pepper (for spice), nutmeg, ground ginger, cinnamon
           Salt + pepper

Sweat onions till translucent.  Add carrots, sweat, then add the garlic and cook till nice and fragrant (without browning).  Add spices, then add tomato product and veg stock (to cover all the ingredients with a little extra room but not to make it too soupy).  Bring to a boil and adjust seasonings.  Add the garbonzos (either cooked separately or drained and washed from the can) and potatoes, simmer until the potatoes are cooked through.  Add the squash and kale and cook for a few more minutes.  Put the stew into a baking-friendly dish, crack some raw eggs on top, and put it under the broiler in the oven until the eggs hold together (but still have runny yolks).  Serve over couscous, rice, quinoa, or anything else.