Last week was not my week in the kitchen, friends. I had great, ambitious designs on a rhubarb meringue tart that would be pink and pretty with a scalloped tart-shell edge and a meringue that looked like piped roses that had toasted petal tips. But as the week went on and as various really non-torments in the greater definition of the word but nonetheless tormenting to me mounted — thin curds, too thick curds, beige (you know, the color of pink rhubarb + multiple yolks) curd, slumped tart shells, wet meringues, useless broilers, blowtorches so close to empty, they emit the useless wisps of sleepy dragons, refill canister AWOL — my enjoyment of the project plummeted. But, because I’d like to teach my kid one day that he should follow through and finish what he started, I did, and lo, it was good, you know? Maybe I’m just not a meringue pie person and I forgot? None of this matters because the finished pie slid off the plate flopping face-down into the open fridge as I tried to put it away and then, as I crouched on the floor in front of the open fridge scooping fistfuls of meringue and curd into a garbage bag and questioning my life choices, my son walked in and asked what I was making for dinner.
Prior to November, what I knew of stuffed cabbage rolls were limited to the Jewish/Eastern European variety, which I make the way my mother-in-law does. I hadn’t given it further thought because as far as I was concerned, it was never broken, and needed little improvement, and when there’s little room for me to tinker in the kitchen, I quickly lose interest. But if I had, it might have occurred to me that cabbage, being one of the ultimate peasant foods, has probably been wrapped around meat that’s been ground and then stretched (always budget-minded, those peasants) with other ingredients and cooked in a sauce in a zillion different ways over the centuries. And oh, the fun we might have been having this whole time.
As it turns out, it could be argued that any region that can grow large cabbage leaves is indeed stuffing them with something. The most cursory of Google searches leads one on a tour of Greek lahanodolmathes, stuffed with ground beef and rice and covered with a traditional egg and lemon (avgolemono) sauce; French chou farci, stuffed with beef or pork, sometimes mushrooms, wrapped in large layers of cabbage leaves and served in wedges; Polish gloabki, or “little pigeons,” with pork and beef, and rice or barley (sigh); Slovak holubky or halupki; Serb or Croatian sarma with (hold me) sauerkraut and ham hocks, and Arabic mahshi malfouf which adds lemon juice, cinnamon and mint (swoon) to the usual ground meat and rice medley. And guys, I’m just getting started. The idea that there are this many ways to fall in love with stuffed cabbage torments me, and leaves me daydreaming about a Westeros-length winter wherein we could audition each one.
The inspiration for this slaw is a mango salad I order way too often from a local Thai place in hopes to offset the inevitable damage from the pad Thai I order with it. It has strips of mango, slivers of red pepper, red onion and mint, large toasted cashews and a spicy dressing with a lot of lime in it. It’s always a surprise; sometimes the mango is underripe and sour (which I understand to be more traditional) and sometimes it’s sweet and almost overripe. The best part is that the salad tastes good no matter how the mango arrived that day.
Of course, being me, I had to slaw it. Because that’s what I do, you know? Broccoli! Green onion! Better than old-school and dead simple! Tartar sauce slaw, pickled slaw and three more where that came from. I mean, salads are great but crunchy slaws that you pile on a burger or alongside anything grilled are the best heat wave antidote and this is my favorite one in a long time. It manages to be both sweet (my mangoes were very ripe) and sour, packing a little heat in the background and it was an incredibly refreshing change from the creamy dressing hegemony.
I know that on the surface, peering in from your side of the computer screen, this looks like a pile of shredded cabbage, a poorly lit one (look, it was late, okay?). But from my site, from my seat right here, this is pretty much the best thing ever, a yearly event I like to call First Slaw of the Season.
Yes, friends, rooftop grilling season is back (or it was, er, briefly last Saturday afternoon but not really by Saturday evening, when we shivered around the actual grill; details) and I could not possibly be more excited. That means summer is coming. That means Jacob and I get to go to barbecues as separate human beings this summer (aw). That means that this one, the adult one, gets to have a beer (yay).
I had great plans for our holiday weekends, my friends. We were all going to kick it off by making homemade hamburger buns that we could use right away, or stash in the freezer until the weather cooperates. Really, nothing should have been simpler. Most hamburger buns are an enriched white bread, which is ridiculously simple to make, and rolls are so much quicker to bake than large loaves. Because isn’t it funny how in this day and age where so many of us grind our own meats for our signature burger blends that we’re generally still getting those buns from a bag or bakery?
Well, eight hours of frustrated cooking later, I can tell you that the force was not with us, or at least nowhere within a mile radius of the dud recipe I chose. It took all of the flour (and the patience) I had to (barely) pull it together. It nearly overflowed in the bowl twice. The suggested height of the buns didn’t yield anything you’d want to prop a burger on (but perhaps some falafel, with its pita-like proportions) and the flavor was nothing spectacular. A few hours later, they were already stale (never a good sign). And thus it is with a heavy sigh that I tell you that this will not be the Smitten Kitchen-approved hamburger bun recipe I’d dreamed of. Stay tuned this summer: homemade hamburger buns will be mine. Ours.