Winter Comfort Food: Stuffed Cabbage

Filed under: Recipes , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , January 7, 2019

Chefs, how many of you rely on cherished family recipes that come from your people or your clients’ family? Given how closely knit food, tradition, and love are my guess is that even if you don’t exactly replicate those recipes many are the basis for the dishes you prepare for clients–and, of course, yourself and your own family.

When I was in my 20s I hounded my grandmother, Tillie Gould, to write down her recipes for me. The result was a small denim loose-leaf notebook with a photo she taped on the front page of her with my grandfather Abe carving a Thanksgiving turkey. The photo was taken before I was born and I treasure it and the notebook, which is filled with all sorts of family favorites. The recipes vary from holiday classics–Jewish holiday classics, that is–to kind of strange salads of the day, jello molds, chuck roast, dill pickles, and hummus. And lots of desserts. Tillie was a wonderful baker.

But one of the most cherished recipes in this book is for stuffed cabbage, or prakas in Yiddish. Unfortunately, by the time Tillie wrote it out for me her handwriting was moving toward illegible and she had a tendency to leave out ingredients or directions in her old age. So I took out a red folder filled with recipes my mom has given me over the years. There it was. But the ingredients list was slightly different. I gave Mom a call and together we reviewed the process with me typing and editing as she talked. Then I got an assignment last summer from the San Diego Union-Tribune to write a piece on holiday dishes for Rosh Hashanah. We spent a day in late August making it together in anticipation of the photo shoot. The great thing is that this fairly labor-intensive dish is freezable, so we were able make a ton of it for the shoot and then freeze it to enjoy later. You see, prakas is a traditional Rosh Hashanah dish, but it’s not exclusive to the holiday. In fact, it’s the perfect comfort food for a cold winter’s dinner.

Stuffed cabbage is one of those peasant dishes that makes great use of inexpensive ingredients to create a large filling meal. Traditionally, it’s made with ground beef but I’ve had it with ground turkey and it tastes wonderful too.

Here’s the trick for getting the leaves off the head of cabbage intact. Core the cabbage head, then microwave it in short bursts. That will loosen the larger leaves enough so you can more easily pull them off. Then trim the thick membrane and blanch the leaves so they’ll fold.

Stuff them with the ground meat mixture like you would a burrito and place the rolls seam side down in a tall-sided pan. You’ll cover them with crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, as well as dried apricots and prunes.

After two hours pull out as much  of the now soft fruit as you can and some of the juices. Instead of pushing them through a sieve, like my mom and Tillie used to do, make life easier for yourself and puree them in a blender with the pan juices. Then add a mixture of lemon juice and sugar to the puree, stir, and pour back into the pan to continue cooking. By the end you’ll have a thick sauce enveloping your cabbage rolls. I think this sweet-and-sour sauce is the dish’s most important element. Play with the lemon juice and sugar amounts until you get it just right. It should have some punch to it.

Try to make this at least a day before you’ll be serving it so the flavors can deepen.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Yield: About 20 rolls, depending on size

Ingredients

2 large green cabbages
2 1/2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
2 cups cooked or instant rice
½ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Large can of crushed tomatoes
Medium can of tomato sauce
½ pound each seeded prunes and dried apricots
2 bay leaves
1 ½ cups of sugar
Juice of 2 1/2 lemons (to taste to get sweet and sour flavor0

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring large pot of water to boil. Core cabbages and microwave each for about a minute and a half to begin to soften the leaves so they can be gently lifted with as few tears as possible. Once they become difficult to separate, microwave again at 30-second intervals. You only want the largest leaves but pull off some smaller ones to use as patches in case larger ones tear. On the back of the leaves is a thick membrane. Slice a thin piece off to make the leaf more flexible for rolling. Blanch the leaves in batches in the boiling water for about 40 seconds or until the spines are pliable. Drain and stack on a plate. Set aside.

Mix together ground meat, rice, pine nuts, garlic salt, kosher salt, and pepper. Place about 2 ½ ounces—depending on the size of the leaf—toward the bottom of the cabbage leaf. Fold the bottom up and over the meat mixture. Then fold in the sides and roll to the top. It should look like a cylinder. Place each roll in a high-sided pan with the seam of the roll on the bottom. You can stack a couple of layers.

Scatter the prunes and apricots around and on top of the rolls. Pour crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce over the rolls. Add bay leaves. Cover and bake for about 2 hours or until the leaves begin to look wilted. Starting after 45 minutes in the oven, baste the cabbage rolls with the liquids. Do this a few times in 20-minute intervals (more or less).

While the cabbage rolls are cooking, mix together sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl. After the two hours, remove the pan from the oven and spoon out a little of the hot cabbage roll liquid and add to the sugar/lemon juice mixture to dissolve the sugar and create a sweet-and-sour sauce. Remove as many of the prunes and apricots you can find. Put them in a blender and add the sweet and sour sauce. Puree and pour the puree back into the pan with the cabbage rolls. Stir it around to incorporate well. If it’s too thick, add a little water and stir into the sauce.

Taste and correct with more sugar or more lemon juice until flavors are balanced sweet and sour but not bland. Make sure the sauce covers the cabbage so it absorbs the flavors.

Cover and return to the oven to cook for another hour. Then remove from the oven and remove the bay leaves. The cabbage rolls can be served at this point but the flavors are best when this is made a day ahead. It can easily be frozen with the sauce.

What family recipe do you most love to share with clients? How have you updated it?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

photo 5

Come September and it’s soon time for the high holidays. This year, they fall late, with Erev Rosh Hashanah (the eve of the Jewish New Year) falling on October 2 and Kol Nidre (the eve of Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement) falling on October 11. Rosh Hashanah and breaking the fast of Yom Kippur call for traditional Jewish comfort food–and in my family that always includes a sweet noodle kugel–or lokshen kugel if you want to go all the way with the Yiddish.

Noodle kugel (there’s also potato kugel for Passover)–basically a noodle pudding or casserole–is dish usually made with wide egg noodles, sour cream, cream cheese, eggs, sugar, and butter. Made well, it’s a sweet, fluffy, cheesy dish. When I was growing up, my grandparents would often show up at our house for Friday night dinner, almost always bearing three things–her Hawaiian chicken, a Pyrex dish bubbling with a warm kugel, and mandelbread (the Jewish version of biscotti) for dessert. Because kugel is such a cholesterol nightmare it’s no longer something I eat much of, but if I get half the chance I’m all over it. Plus, it holds up well as a leftover or frozen and reheated. For personal chefs with Jewish clients who call on you to make Jewish holiday foods, this is a must-have in your repertoire.

I’ve had many versions of noodle kugel over the years and tend to avoid it at most Jewish delis because at least our local ones in San Diego don’t do a great job with it. A lousy kugel is kind of flat and dense and unpleasantly chewy. Whether it includes raisins or other dried fruit, pineapple chunks, or peaches (as one friend prepared it), it should be a bite of rich creaminess under a crisp top. In looking at other recipes over the years I’ve found a key difference between my Nana’s and these others. Nana always separated the egg yolks from the whites and beat the whites until stiff. You can’t miss with that technique–even if you use cottage cheese (yet another ingredient option).

This recipe below is about as traditional as you can get. But you can change it up with extra ingredients you enjoy, like reconstituted dried or fresh or canned fruit, and different toppings. I added a little brown sugar to my most recent kugel and enjoyed the deeper flavor it created.

Nana’s Noodle Kugel
Yield: 12 servings, depending on how you slice it

Ingredients
1 pound dried wide egg noodles, cooked and well drained
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit (optional), soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, then drained
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted
1/2 pound cream cheese, softened and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pint sour cream
6 eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Beat egg yolks with sugar and add to cooked noodles.

photo 3-1
Beat egg whites until stiff. Add butter, cream cheese, and sour cream to noodles. Gently fold in egg whites. Yes, it will be loose. Don’t worry. It will come together while cooking.

Pour mixture into buttered 13-inch by 9-inch baking pan. If you want you can make a topping with brown sugar, cinnamon, and granulated sugar (and/or breadcrumbs, crumbled graham crackers, streusel, or crushed cornflakes).

photo 4-1

Bake for about an hour until the center is set and the noodles are light brown on top. Let the kugel rest for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing.

Kugel tray

What special dishes have your clients requested for the High Holidays? Do they ever give you family recipes to make?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

This week marks the beginning of the Jewish High Holidays. On Wednesday evening at sundown, Jewish communities around the world will welcome Rosh Hashanah–the New Year (the Hebrew year 5775). Ten days later comes Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is also a day of fasting. That day ends with a celebratory meal that breaks the fast.

gefilte fish

Gefilte fish

There’s hardly a Jewish holiday that doesn’t involve food–and foods specific to the holiday. Come Rosh Hashanah, celebrants will be sharing slices of apples to dip into bowls of honey to harken a sweet new year. Challahs, usually braided into a straight loaf for each Shabbat Friday night are still braided but shaped into a circle for the High Holidays. Most traditional Rosh Hashanah meals will include dishes like gefilte fish served with horseradish, chicken soup with matzo balls, roasted chicken or brisket, and perhaps an apple or honey cake for dessert. To break the fast at sundown of Yom Kippur, many Jewish families choose a  buffet of light fare–usually dairy oriented–with noodle kugel or cheese blintzes; salads; bagels, lox, and cream cheese (as well as white fish and smoked cod) on a platter with sliced tomatoes, red onions, and capers; maybe some chopped liver, pickled herring, egg salad, and lots of mini rye and pumpernickel breads.

Personal chefs with Jewish clients may find themselves asked to prepare holidays meals for them and their families. So, for those who haven’t much experience with this type of food we thought we’d give you some resources for planning a meal and finding recipes–including your own APPCA colleagues–along with discussions here on our forums that offer recipes.

APPCA member Shelbie Wassel of Shallots Personal Chef Service in Maryland grew up with traditional holiday fare. “We had matzoh ball soup, chopped liver (made with mayonnaise, not schmaltz–chicken fat–I come from a family of bad stomachs), and brisket in Lipton’s onion soup,” she says. “I’ve long given up on the powdered onion soup–too much salt!–and now make a brisket with coffee.”

Mrs. Ribakow’s Brisket
Courtesy of Shelbie Wassel
Serves 8

3 1/2 to 4 pounds brisket, first cut
2 medium onions cut into chunks
1 bunch celery, leafy tops only, sliced
1 large bay leaf
1/3 cup ketchup
1/2 cup black coffee
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sprinkle salt and pepper on the bottom of a roasting pan. Place brisket in the pan and sprinkle the top of the brisket lightly with more salt and pepper. Arrange onions and celery around and on top of the brisket. Drizzle with the ketchup. Roast meat, uncovered for 15 minutes to sear.

Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Add bay leaf and coffee, then cover tightly with foil. Continue cooking for approximately 2 1/2 hours longer. The meat should feel tender when fork is inserted in the thickest part.

Remove from oven and let cool before slicing. Refrigerate gravy and vegetables. Skim off fat.

To serve: Puree gravy and vegetables in a blender. Pour over sliced brisket. Cover with foil and heat through in 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Add some kick to the dish by offering freshly grated horseradish on the side.

Tzimis

Tzimis

So, what would you serve with the brisket? Well, tzimis is a really traditional dish focused on roasted carrots and dried fruit. Do it right and each ingredient sparkles. Mess it up and you got a mushy mess. So, epicurious.com to the rescue with a contemporary tzimis recipe here. But you don’t have to go completely traditional. A great salad, a side of grains of some kind, and veggies all work great.

And remember, you’re probably also serving matzoh ball soup and gefilte fish even before you hit the main event. Let’s talk matzoh balls first. These are Eastern European Jewish dumplings made with matzoh meal, eggs, water, and a little fat. The goal is for them to be light (floaters) as opposed to dense (sinkers)–although there are some who prefer sinkers.

APPCA member Linda Berns of CustomKosher,LLC. in Maryland has been making her gramma’s recipe for matzoh balls all her adult life. It’s oh so simple. And, as Linda explains, according to Jewish lore, matzoh balls are eaten at Rosh Hashanah because they remind us of the cycle of life and change of season ushered in by the new year.

Linda Berns’ Matzoh Balls

Yield: About 8 to 9 matzoh balls

1 cup Streits matzoh meal (be sure to use the Streits brand)
4 eggs
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Bring a large pot of water to the boil with a liberal 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt. While the water is coming to the boil, set a bowl filled with water next to the stove. You’ll use the water to moisten your hands while forming the balls.

When the water come to the boil, crack the eggs into a large bowl and beat vigorously. Add approximately 1/8 teaspoon salt to eggs and continue to beat. When the eggs are well beaten, add the matzoh meal and continue to stir to combine with the eggs. Your mixture should be sticky to the touch and not shiny.

Dip a hand into the bowl of water to wet it, then scoop out enough matzoh mixture to form into a dumpling the size of a large golf ball. Drop gently into the boiling water. Repeat until you’ve used all of the matzoh mixture. If your batter becomes too dry, stir in another egg and a little more matzoh meal to avoid having hard matzoh balls.

Bring the water back up to the boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and let the matzoh balls simmer for approximately 30 to 40 minutes. You’ll see your matzoh balls float and puff to approximately twice their size. Take care to not let the water boil out of the pot or your matzoh balls will stick together and stick to the bottom of the pot.

Once the matzoh balls are done cooking, you can add them to the chicken soup. You can also make them in advance and keep them refrigerated, covered so they don’t dry out. Add them to the soup pot as you heat it up on the stove. When serving, place the matzoh ball(s) in the bowl first, then ladle out the soup.

Photo from Linda Berns

Photo from Linda Berns

Here are some websites where you can get more recipes for both matzoh balls and the chicken soup. Be sure to cook them first, then add to your chicken soup. P.S., You’ll see Passover mentioned a lot in recipe notes–matzoh balls and chicken soup  are multi-holiday dishes.

Andrew Zimmern’s version in Food & Wine

Smitten Kitchen version

Bon Appetit version

As for the gefilte fish (also served on Passover), this is a dish filled with tradition. Like many Eastern European Jewish dishes it was a way to create a nutritious dish on a very limited budget. Back in the day, this dish was handmade with inexpensive white fish (often carp, mullet, or pike), ground and then mixed with onion, eggs, and matzoh meal–or other ingredients–and shaped into individual ovals. Then they’re poached, cooled, and served chilled with a side of ground horseradish. These days, most people simply buy jars of it and perhaps doctor it a bit by adding cooked, sliced carrots and onions. But our Shelbie makes her own and you can find her recipe here.

Photo from Shelbie Wassel

Photo from Shelbie Wassel

Can’t forget the challah (egg bread)! Here we send you off to one of the best teachers of classic Jewish cooking–Joan Nathan. Our Caron Golden has been making challahs since she was a child, but when she saw this video of Joan Nathan making this challah, she converted. Try it; you’ll like it.

Round braided challah

In fact, for any of these dishes, simply Google the dish and Joan Nathan and you’ll get something splendid. Like her apple honey cake, which Caron made last year. You’ve got to try this!

Joan Nathan's Apple Cake

Now for Yom Kippur. You don’t really need to do a lot of major cooking since you want a gentle meal to follow a day-long fast. Salads are good–including a good tuna and/or egg salad. Pick up some rye and pumpernickel breads at a Jewish bakery, along with some challah, to put out. If you want to make chopped liver to create a real old-timey table, here’s a terrific recipe from Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa), which is more modern than what your client’s bubbe (grandma) probably made. For chopped liver, you’ll want crackers or broken pieces of matzoh to serve with it.

A classic treat for Yom Kippur (although you can serve this anytime of the year–except Passover) is noodle kugel. This is a sweet, rich casserole made with wide egg noodles, sour cream, cream cheese, eggs, and sugar. Some people like to add fruit–fresh, canned, or dried–to it and top it with everything from bread crumbs to ground up Corn Flakes. Caron recently published her family recipe on her blog San Diego Foodstuff, which is as traditional as it is simple to make–pure comfort food.

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Another favorite is blintzes–crepes usually filled with a soft cheese like farmer cheese or ricotta, but also fruit–commonly cooked blueberries or apples. We send you back to Smitten Kitchen for these.

These dishes should get you started and will certainly make your clients happy as they ring in the new year!

What dishes do you make for the High Holidays? What is a client favorite?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

 

 

 

 

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