Editor's note: Philadelphia food writers Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond drop by each week with Meat Lite, which celebrates meat in moderation. Meat Lite was inspired by the book coauthored by the two, Almost Meatless, due out in spring 2009. This week, stuffed cabbage!
As a kid, my neighbor's grandmother always made stuffed cabbage when she came to visit. My friend called these savory bundles "pigeons" (the Polish name for the dish, Golabki, means pigeon), though she assured me that they weren't made from the pesky birds. The name instead refers to the shape of the filled leaves.
The actual ingredients were a mystery, and I never pressed the issue because pigeons were delicious and, as a fledgling vegetarian, I didn't want to know. I've been thinking about this lately because I read that the final scene in the movie Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist takes place at the East Village restaurant Veselka, where I ate many plates of vegetarian stuffed cabbage as an NYU student.
They were never as good as my neighbor's grandmothers, which were obviously stuffed with tons of meats. I created an Almost Meatless version of "pigeons" that combines the hearty richness of beef with the earthy flavor of mushrooms. My take on this classic has only an ounce and a half of beef per serving, but preserves all the beefy flavor I remember.
- Yield:serves 4 to 6
- 15 large Savoy cabbage leaves
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 large red onion, minced, divided (about 1 heaping cup)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup chicken stock, hot
- 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 1/2 pound beef
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup uncooked long grain white rice
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup chicken stock or water
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
- Juice of 1/2 large lemon
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and blanch the cabbage leaves for 2 to 3 minutes or until pliable. Rinse leaves with cold water and place them on a clean kitchen towel to dry.
Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat and sauté 1/2 cup onions until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the olive oil, cremini mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper. Increase heat to medium high and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes or until mushrooms reduce by about 1/3 in volume. Spread mixture out on a plate and put in the refrigerator to cool.
3. Steep dried porcinis in the 1/2 cup hot chicken stock for 10 minutes. Remove mushrooms, chop coarsely and set aside. Strain the liquid and set it aside to cool. Combine tomatoes, sugar and lemon juice in a stock pot and bring to a simmer.
In a large mixing bowl, combine beef, egg, bread crumbs, rice, parsley, chopped porcini and the 3/4 teaspoon salt. When mushroom mixture and strained liquid are cool, add to stuffing and mix thoroughly.
To assemble the cabbage rolls, position leaf lengthwise on a cutting board and place about ¼ cup of filling at the widest part of the leaf. Fold the sides in first, and then roll loosely, giving the rice room to expand as it cooked. Place seam-side down in simmering tomato sauce and assemble remaining rolls.
When all rolls are made and in sauce, add enough stock or water to cover, bring to a gentle simmer, and cook over low heat for 90 minutes, and serve or refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze for 6 months.