17 March 2014

The Irish aren't the only cabbage lovers!

I enjoy a good helping of Colcannon as much as the next gal, but there are plenty of other ways to enjoy crisp, sweet, early spring cabbage besides hiding it in mashed potatoes.  I grew up eating it "creamed" at the holidays, a dish that sharply divided the family into lovers and haters.  My grandma would boil sliced cabbage in milk, butter, and a little salt, and when it was good and mushy, she'd stir in enough flour to make the sauce a medium-thick paste.  The smell of that thoroughly boiled cabbage would complete with even the smell of turkey roasting in the oven, filling rooms on the other side of the house for days afterwards. Now that I think of it, the room may have been divided into dutiful vegetable eaters and people who wanted to enjoy their meals.  But I loved it! I was, like, five, and I didn't have to chew it very much.  

What I didn't ever eat growing up, even though I am partially Lithuanian and hail from the south suburbs of Chicago, is holubki (golabki if you're Polish).  These silky smooth cabbage rolls are usually filled with ground meat and onion and smothered in a mild, faintly exotic tomato sauce, but they are just as easily filled with rice, lentils, and mushrooms, as I have done here, or any other combination of grains and protein you favor. The recipe has several steps, but it's not complicated to execute, and it will fill your house with the old-world smells of a comforting casserole, lovingly prepared by your babushka, even if you never had one.  Holubki will also necessarily yield some extra steamed cabbage, which you can save for a round of Thai-style spaghetti squash later in the week.  

Vegetarian Holubki

Serves 4 (two rolls each)

1 large cabbage
2 cups brown rice, cooked
2 cups brown lentils, cooked
1/2 cup onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
4 oz. mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (12 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (12 ounce) can tomato sauce

Core cabbage, place in pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and cover with a lid. Cook until slightly softened. Remove cabbage and place in a dish to cool.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, saute onions, mushrooms, and garlic in the olive oil until transparent. Remove from heat and add lentils, rice, spices, egg, and vegetable broth. Mix well.

When cabbage is warm to the touch, peel leaves and place on cutting board. You should have eight  large leaves.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Divide filling mixture into six equal parts.

Fill cabbage leaves and roll tucking in ends like burritos. Place filled rolls with folded end down into baking dish.

Combine tomato sauce and tomatoes along with tomato juice from can in separate bowl. Add half of ¼ cup water to sauce. Mix well.

Ladle over rolls. Cover rolls in aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes or until cabbage is easily poked with a fork.