Friday, March 21, 2008

Ashkanaz Stuffed Cabbage -- Indian style

I'm not sure why I'm on an Ashkanaz cooking kick. No wait, I do. As I posited yesterday while baking Hamantaschen for Purim for the first time, Americans tend to associate "Jewish" cooking with "Eastern European Jewish" cooking because the vast majority of American Jews can trace their lineage back to that part of the world. Things like Gefilte fish, Matzo ball soup, Challah, and Kugels are, shockingly enough, not traditional fare for Mediterranean Jews or Middle Eastern Jews. The same goes for words like Chutzpa, Klutz, Kvetch, and Shmooz, which are all Yiddish words. If you set a plate of traditional Sephardi cooking in front of a typical American and introduced it by its Ladino name, he would probably associate the food with Arab or Magreb cuisine and think that you spoke Spanish quite badly. Yet it's really tough to break these tangential cultural associations.

So, being a professed victim of popular culture, I served a traditional Ashkanaz dish for Purim dinner -- Stuffed Cabbage.

According to Gil Marks, "Cabbage, one of the oldest cultivated plants, is the most important vegetable among Ashkenazim [...] The now familiar green cabbage, with a firm, mild head, evolved in Germany around the twelfth century. Stuffed Cabbage originated in the Near East as a way of using the tough outer leaves by simmering them in liquid. Thanks to the Tartars and the Turks, stuffed cabbage spread throughout eastern and central Europe in the fourteenth century."

I bet you that Polish and Russian Jews couldn't care less that Purim usually occurs during Lent.

In fact, I bet you that most didn't even know what Lent was.

(Ok, I cheated. I happen to have learned in college that most Russian and Polish Jews spoke only Yiddish and had very little contact outside their rural communities).

To get to the point, most recipes for stuffed cabbage involve meat of some sort. Crap.

Which is where the Fairy Godmother of Vegetarians (or at least, of our brief foray with vegetarianism) steps in: Madhur Jaffrey just happens to have a recipe for Cabbage Stuffed with spiced mashed potatoes (ish).

Wow. just wow. The stuffed cabbage was so incredibly satisfying that you didn't even notice enough to feel pious about the fact that it was both seasonal and vegetarian. Hearty, comfortably spiced filling, meaty texture, almost succulent. D claims that the cabbage wrapping didn't add anything, but I think it was the perfect contrast in texture, taste, and presentation to take this from a side dish to a main course. Now, admittedly, dealing with the cabbage is somewhat a pain in the arse, not really a weeknight venture (or at least, not the same weeknight that you're baking Hamantaschen and have sore muscles from your gym class). And I'm not sure that the last steps of frying and steaming the stuffed cabbage added much. But oh man, was it good. I snuck back and ate leftovers for both breakfast and a post-Good Friday service snack. So satisfying!

We enjoyed this dish so much that we're sending it over to Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging, this week hosted by Katie of Thyme for Cooking. We hope that everyone likes it as much as we did!

Madhur Jaffrey's Cabbage Leaves stuffed with Potatoes

5 medium potatoes
7 medium onions (I used 3 average supermarket ones... M.J. must have written this recipe in a pre-GM era)
Vegetable Oil
2 tsp whole fennel seeds
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1 tsp Garam Masala
Cayenne pepper (optional)
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 medium head of cabbage

For the Filling:

  1. Boil the potatoes, then cut them very small (you'll be mashing them soon)
  2. Peel the onions, cut them in half lengthwise and slice into fine half-circles.
  3. Heat 6 Tbs of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and fry, stirring, separating the rings until the onions are brownish, about 7-8 min; they should not get crisp.
  4. Add the fennel and cumin and fry another 7-8 min on lower flame. The onions should look a rich reddish brown now.
  5. Add the diced boiled potatoes to the onion mixture and continue frying. As you fry, mash the potatoes with the back of a slotted spoon or potato masher.
  6. Add the garam masala, 2 1/2 tsp salt, lemon juice, and cayenne to taste. Mix and set aside
The Cabbage:

  1. Cut off the hard stem of the cabbage, remove the hard, damaged outer leaves and wash it. In a pot large enough to hold the whole cabbage, bring to boil salted water. Drop the cabbage in (water should cover at least three-quarters of it), cover, and boil 5 min. Lift cabbage out of boiling water (don't drain that hot water!), run under cold water, and carefully remove each leaf, taking care not to break them. Dry. If the inner leaves are still crisp, drop them again in the boiling water until they go limp. Remove and cool under water.
  2. Spread out one leaf at a time. Snip out the hard core of the outer leaves with a pair of kitchen shears. You can snip to about an inch into the lead, removing a kind of narrow V. Now place a tablespoon of stuffing in the center and fold the edges over. Squeeze out the extra moisture; this also helps to keep the stuffed cabbage leaves tightly closed.
  3. In a 10" skillet, heat 4 Tbs of oil over medium heat. Fry the stuffed cabbage a few pieces at a time, until each piece is browned on all sides. Take care not to let the leaves open. When all the pieces are done, lower the heat, arrange the stuffed cabbage pieces in the skillet in tight layers, add 2 Tbs of water, cover and cook on very low flame for 10-15min.
Serves 6-8. (For real. We would have leftovers for a week, except we've both been eating them at every possible occasion, including breakfast this morning! That's how good they are!)


Kalyn said...

I'm realizing as I read this that I've never made stuffed cabbage of any type, although I once had a D.C. cabdriver from Poland give me step-by-step instructions for making it on a long ride to Dulles Airport, and I had every intention of making it. This sounds like a delightful version. Very informative post, thanks for making it so interesting!

katiez said...

I have stuffed cabbage leaves with sauerkraut before (I know, sounds redundant - but is was wonderful) but never with potatoes.
Sounds delicious!
But it is a challange for a weeknight (although that is when I do it, too)

Kevin said...

That looks like a tasty stuffed cabbage dinner.

Lisa said...

Now this does sound satisfying. Though I have made many of Madhur Jaffrey's recipes, somehow I missed this one. Noted!

Jan Scholl said...

Thank you for visiting my blog-and yes, cooking the garlic before assembling the soup did tone it down a bit. But still taking a chunk of the garlic in my mouth was heaven! I have heard there is garlic out there that is less intense-WHY?

anyways, I like this cabbage recipe here-sometimes I get a craving for cabbage and I don't know why. I have a wonderful cookbook with Jewish recipes in it-most are not vegetarian of course-and why did I have it to begin with??? and when I was recently downsizing my humongous collection (hundreds), I almost gave this one away. Then I just sat and read it over and over-I don't think I have ever made anything from it but it was the stories and photographs inside that made me keep it. I love cookbooks that are more like a travelogue or history book and this was one. now I am going to the grocer for some cabbage and a small bottle of rum (I am making brownies for hubby with black beans in them! he will eat anything)

michelle @ the smackdown said...

i've never made stuffed cabbage - in fact, i've always though i didn't like stuffed cabbage, although now that i think about it i don't think i've ever tried it! this was a great post, and i think i need to do this one day soon!

Laurie Constantino said...

Fascinating recipe. I've made lots of vegetarian stuffed cabbage, but it's the Greek version with rice. The potatoes sound like a terrific alternative.

Flanboyant Eats said...

Hi Neen! Thanks for stopping by! Check out the Wash Posts's food blog by Kim O'Donnell--she did a post on something very similar, I'm sure you'll appreciate.

Adonde aprendiste escribir o entender Espanol? Me doy cuenta que no eres Latina, asi que siempre encuentro eso muy interesante... denuevo, gracias por haber visitado mi blog de comida Cubana y Latina. Espero que regreses!

Buen provecho!

Psychgrad said...

Hi Neen - we're on a bit of a Jewish cooking kick lately too. We'll be posting a cholent recipe soon.