Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Stuffed Cabbage and Roasted Beet Salad with A Trip Down Memory Lane

My birthday is often a time of nostalgic rendezvous into the past; a time when I wish to acknowledge those who have contributed so much to my life and made me who I am. This year, newly involved wih the food swap that gives me an opportunity to cook for others, I had the opportunity to reflect on my love of cooking and the people who helped to make it what it is. Looking back over my 35 years, I realize that my affinity for "kitchen time" exists for many, many reasons.

I love the quest for a perfect recipe- one that makes you salivate and giggle with glee just anticipating the flavor explosion that will happen if you follow the recipe properly. I love experimenting with flavors and textures, trying to satisfy a random craving. The rhythm created with the rocking knife blade as I dice and slice, the delicate shifting of my wrist that comes with pot stirring, and the shuffle from chopping block to stove is like a sacred dance meant to serve as a form of communication, or a tribal ritual. I love the quiet time, when I slip into some sort of Dervish trance. Cooking, on many levels, turns into a religious experience.

Some people step into a church to pray, others a temple. I step into the kitchen. The origin of my worship practice isn't hard to track down. My mother was always creating amazing 7 course meals, complete with home made bread, savory main courses like Beef burgundy, and desserts that could make anyone feel closer to heaven with just one bite. My Aunt made tea parties and baking a staple part of our many interactions, so much so that I cannot think of her without an olfactory recall of blueberry pie baking in the oven. My greatest memories center around food- those amazing moments when your nearest and dearest are gathered around a table, enjoying a meal together, laughing and emptying bottles of wine for hours on end. These memories of breaking bread together are vast, but when I think of the first time I recall knowing that sharing a meal together was a sacred act was on one of my many summertime visits with Grandpa George, my mother's step father.

Gramps was a dashingly handsome man, with a sort of brat pack air about him. He loved big band jazz and cold beer, and using words like "Broad," "Doll Face," and "Sweet Heart." He also loved taking me, his "girlfriend" on dates to the restauarant of my choice where he inquired about my life's ambitions and gave me lessons on troublesome boys over scrumptious meals. Gramps also loved cooking up a "small snack" in honor of my summertime visits. These daily "snacks" started with breakfast: eggs in a basket, bacon, fresh juice, ham, pancakes- all in one meal. Then came lunch: Chicken Paprikash that simmered all morning, Johny Marzetti and vegetable soup with fresh made biscuits. And then there was dinner. Heavenly roasted turkeys, smoked hams, baked beans, stuffed cabbages, and slow cooked fresh green beans. Dessert was homemade baklava and chocolate cakes. If we ever had a meal with just one dish, I don't recall it. Of course, Gramps knew that a good dish begins with the right ingredients.

Going to the grocery store was a twice, sometimes thrice, daily excursion. He taught me the importance of taking your time when selecting your goods, and the proper path to follow when in the store. You have to be willing to go to the specialty shops if you want the best cuts of meat, freshest produce and homemade pastas. Don't buy packaged bread, get it from the bakery. Always get fresh sliced cheese from the deli, and produce from the farmers market. Just as much as he was a stickler for shopping protocol, Gramps steadfastly believed in proper table protocol.

The table must be properly set, and you must sit properly when at it. Nonfood related items, such as handbags, hair brushes, and toys, had no business near the table top. And you never, ever, say "yuck" to food. It is a standing order that you try everything at least three times before you can say you don't prefer it. One thing was clear about this statuesque man: sharing a meal was sharing love, and the table was the sacred alter where it was offered out. Even after he lost the ability to taste and swallowing became a challenge from throat cancer, Gramps cooked up his traditional buffet anytime we came to visit.

As I was trying to decide what to cook for my newest friendship circle this weekend, I felt the need to draw inspiration from family and friends who have made my life experiences so spectacular. This birthday weekend dish is made up to honor my Gramps, the man who taught me that sharing a meal with friends is the greatest way to say thank you, I love you, and I hold you dear. It is also a dish that pays homage to the wonderful friends who often joined together at a fabulous Greek restaurant in Philadelphia to celebrate birthdays and Wednesdays. Effies served the finest stuffed cabbage you will ever have, next to Grandpa George's that is!

Hope you enjoy!

Warning this is a bit of a time consuming meal that goes with my lengthy introduction!

Roasted Beet salad In Citrus Vinaigrette

1-2 medium sized red beets, carefully washed
Tblsp Olive oil
Salt and Pepper
Handful of Pistachios and almonds
Reggiano Parmesan Cheese
Fresh micro greens and arugula

After washing the beets and drying them, coat the skin with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Wrap in foil. Place in a preheated 400 degree F oven. Roast beets for about 90 minutes, or until they are soft. Remove from oven and rinse with cold water. Peel off outer layer. When cooled, thick julienne the beets. Add to bed of greens, top with shavings of Reggiano, diced almonds and pistachios.

3 Tblsp. grape seed oil
1/2Tblsp orange juice
1/2 fresh squeezed lemon or lime
1/2 Tblsp. grainy dijon mustard with whole seed
1/2 Tblsp honey
dash of sea slat and fresh ground pepper

Whisk all ingredients together and serve over salad

Stuffed Cabbage:

1 1/2 pounds chopmeat (I used Lamb)
1/2 cup slightly cooked rice (I used the Korean packaged rice)
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon finely chopped or crushed fresh garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 cups plain tomato sauce (I used two cans diced tomatoes tomatoes & 2 Tblsp. tomato paste)
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 Tblsp OJ, or you can use 1/2 diced up orange
2/3 lemon, chopped with peel into 1/2-inch pieces; remove pits
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tblsp brown sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 large lightweight young green cabbage
. You'll need 4 cups (if you don't have enough, supplement with leftovers from the large cabbage).


1. In a large bowl, combine all the stuffing ingredients. Stir them with a fork, then mix thoroughly with your hands. Cover and refrigerate.

2. In another bowl, thoroughly mix all sauce ingredients. Cover and refrigerate.

3. Fill a very large stockpot three-quarters full with water and bring to a rapid boil. While bringing the water to a boil, use a thin, sharp knife to make deep cuts around the core of the large cabbage (cut into the cabbage in a circle about 1/4 inch out from the core). Lift out the core, making a hole about 2 inches wide and 2 1/2 inches deep. This is a bit difficult — persevere.

4. Set out a baking tray neat the stove. Stick a long cooking fork into the core hole of the large cabbage, and plunge it (carefully, so you don't splash yourself) into the pot of rapidly boiling water. The outer leaves will begin to fall off. Leave them in the boiling water for a few minutes until they're limp and flexible enough for stuffing; then take them out one at a time, and place them on the baking tray. Try not to tear the leaves. When all the leaves are on the tray, transfer it into the sink and pour the boiling water from the pot over them. Wash the leaves carefully in cold water. With a small, sharp knife, trim off the tough outer spines and discard them.

5. Find your largest leaves, and set them out on a plate. Set out all other leaves on another plate. One at a time, line each large leaf with another large leaf or two smaller leaves. (The idea is to strengthen your cabbage wrapping so that the stuffing stays securely inside during cooking. Be sure to align the spines of inner and outer leaves.) Stuff with 3/4 cup of the meat-rice mixture, roll very tightly along the spine, and close both sides by tucking them in with your fingers. The spine should be vertical in the center of tour roll.

6. Stir the 4 cups of chopped cabbage into the sauce. Pour 3/4 inch of the sauce into a large, wide-bottomed stockpot. Arrange the cabbage rolls carefully on top of the sauce, and pour the remainder of the sauce over them to cover. Cover pot and simmer for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Serve with boiled potatoes and a vegetable.

This recipe is variation of the recipe found here:

Hope you enjoy!




  1. Erin,

    What a wonderful entry! I enjoyed reading it almost as much as I did eating the stuffed cabbage and beet salad dinner. And I just discovered a word on that very aptly describes what it is you wrote here. A foodoir! "An author embarks on an emotional journey, returning to her ancestors' roots, and perhaps, by extension, root vegetables (beets!!), in what is both a cookbook and a memoir". You could easily write one of those! You know, if you decided to modify your life plan again. :)

    Looking forward to more delicious creations from your temple, sorry, kitchen,

  2. Loved it! This dish also reminded me of a family recipe. Wonderful.