I have been promising you my mother-in-law’s recipe for stuffed cabbage or “golubtsy”, which was her mother’s recipe for stuffed cabbage, for ages but do you know what is even sadder about how long it has taken me to get to this? That if I remember correctly, I jotted this recipe down on a page from my planner (a planner! with pages in it! many moons ago, my friends.) while sitting in the back seat as we drove to check out some wedding locations. Alex and I got married in 2005.
And really, I have all sorts of places to blame for how long it has taken me to actually make the recipe at home. The first is Neptune on 1st Avenue, only my favorite place to sit outside for beers in the summertime and if you think that stuffed cabbage can’t taste good after a few Polish beers on a warm night, you obviously haven’t tried it yet. (With a side of kielbasa and pierogis, thank you.) The second is Veselka, also in the East Village — this is where I go for my winter stuffed cabbage fix. (Also cabbage soup. Small hands… smell like cabbage. Nobody else gets that, do they?) And the third is Alex’s mom herself, who often brings us extra that she has made, rendering it completely unnecessary for me to make any effort whatsoever to decipher my four year-old notes.
Alas, this week it brutally cold and officially Time to break it out. And of course my notes made no sense but fortunately with some phone counseling I think I did alright for a newbie. What I forgot to do — dry the cabbage leaves — led to a too watery sauce and also I under-seasoned it — I hate that. But it’s not like you could test uncooked beef. — and yet it was still totally delicious. And I love it when I try to break recipes and they still come out well. I consider it a good omen.
Alex Mom’s Stuffed Cabbage
1 head Savoy cabbage
1 pound ground beef
1 small to medium onion, chopped small
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, shredded
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 parsnip, shredded
1/2 cup uncooked white rice
1 to 2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 to 4 cups of your favorite simple tomato sauce, tomato juice or V8
Cut the core out of the cabbage but leave it whole. Place it, with the empty core area facing up, in a large bowl. Boil a small pot of water and pour the water over the cabbage and let it sit for ten minutes.
Heat the oil in a saute pan. (I like to use the large one I will cook the final dish in — a deep 12-inch saute pan — to save dishes.) Cook the onions until they are soft, add the carrot, celery and parsnip and saute them for a couple extra minutes — until they are also soft. Season the mixture with salt and pepper, transfer it to a bowl and let it cool a bit. Mix in the meat, rice and tomato paste and season again with salt and pepper.
Drain the head of cabbage. Pull off large leaves, cut out the large vein — if the leaf is very large, you can make two rolls from each, if it is smaller, you can cut the vein out partially and pull the sides to overlap before you roll it into one roll. Pat the leaves dry with towels. Roll about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of filling in each leaf (depending on the size of your leaf) and arrange in a large, wide pot. Pour in enough juice or sauce to cover the rolls. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat, letting them simmer covered on the stove on low for about 45 minutes. Serve immediately. If sauce has thinned a bit, you can heat up any additional sauce you didn’t use and pour it over as you serve the rolls.
[These also freeze very well.]