Sorry about the not posting bit. You see, things were going along just fine until last Friday when my lovely daughter poked me in the eye. What ensued was a weekend of Urgent Care and Eye and Ear ER visits. Thankfully, all is well now but those were not days when I felt like cooking. Luckily, my father was visiting and he enjoys cooking. So we did some meals together (BLTs- I made the bacon, he did everything else) and when I was feeling better I did some on my own (Chicken burgers). Sadly, he has now gone back home.
Today, I wanted to post an actual Grandmother family recipe. See? I promised I would and here I am, doing as I promised. Just a little later than promised. Still counts, though, right?
When I was growing up, my grandmother was a little old Jewish lady in the time of Dr. Ruth, Julia Child and Sophia Petrillo. She was a combination of all of these women plus a whole bunch of just herself. Grandma always had food for anyone who wanted it, always had a nonjudgemental ear to listen and a shoulder upon which to cry and always had stories to tell about our family and her life. Plus, she was short (which was the center of much ridicule in my family since she claimed to be five feet tall but we’re all pretty sure she was actually 4 foot, 11 inches). But Grandma was also pretty modern in a lot of ways. She learned to cook foods outside of the traditional Jewish realm. She traveled the world, read a great deal and was pretty up-to-date with celebrity gossip, technology (especially in the kitchen) and fashion. So a nice mix of traditional and modern.
Lots of the stories she told were about her mother, Mama Giller, who is legendary in our family. I didn’t know Mama since she died before I was born but I’m told that I inherited her hands (I have rather large fingers when compared to the other women in our family) and to prove it, I have a ring she used to wear that fits me perfectly. If my grandmother was the typical Jewish Grandmother with a twist of modern, Mama was the typical Jewish mother/grandmother, period. She was tough but loving. She’d survived many years of hardship but retained a fierce kindness and love for her family. This did not mean they were above criticism, however. Like I said, she was tough. I’ve heard lots of Mama stories but my favorite is when she met my father for the first time.
My father was not Jewish. His family were, in fact, Christians who had converted to Jehovah’s Witnesses. My father wasn’t particularly religious and hadn’t converted with them but he was definitely not Jewish. So when he came to the house for dinner for the first time, he met Grandma, Grandpa, Mama, Papa and my mother’s brothers. Everyone liked him (as well they should, he’s a pretty charming fellow) and after dinner, Mama, Grandma and Mum were in the kitchen doing dishes. “That Bobby,” Mama said, “is such a nice, Jewish boy!” Grandma and Mum looked at each other, not sure who should say it.
“Um, Mama?” My mother finally piped up, “He’s not Jewish.”
Without missing a beat, Mama picked up another dish and began drying it, “That Bobby,” she said, ” he was such a nice boy.”
Of course everyone got over the not-Jewish bit and before they got married, my father ended up converting. So a rabbi married my parents and Mama was happy.
In honor of Mama, I’m giving you her stuffed cabbage recipe. It’s some work to steam the cabbage so it’s soft enough to roll and there’s a bit of an oddity what with the ginger snaps (yes, the cookie) included in the tomato sauce but it’s good. And traditional. And Jewish. Such a nice, Jewish recipe.
Mama’s Stuffed Cabbage
Like any good family recipe, this one has no measurements. In fact, here’s Mama’s recipe, word for word (as written neatly on an index card by my grandmother):
Buy loose cabbage. Place in large pan and our boiling water over it to soften. Remove core so water seeps through. Roll meat in leaves and tuck edges inward. Place in flat pan, not too deep. Add tartar salt, pepper, salt, and a little sugar or honey and a bay leaf. At end thicken with ginger snaps.
We also have a recipe for stuffed cabbage from Aunt Mary (I’m not positive whose aunt she was but I’ve heard about her as well), again via my grandmother’s neat handwriting:
Core small head cabbage. Cook 1/2 hour. 1 lb hamburg, 2 tbsp cooked rice, moistened bread, 1 egg, salt, pepper, ketchup. Fill cabbage with meat and add 1 can tomato soup, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup raisins, juice of 1/2 lemon. Bake one hour.
And finally, a recipe that seems to by my grandmother’s as it’s a mix of Mama’s and Aunt Mary’s:
1 lb chopped meat, 2 tbsp uncooked rice, 1 beaten egg, 1/4 cup water. Separate cabbage and parboil 2-3 minutes. Place broken and small leaves in bottom of pot. Fill rest of leaves with meat mixture. Cover with leaves, add 1 cup water. Cook on top of stove 15-20 minutes. Add 6 ginger snaps, some raisins, juice of 1/2 lemon and brown sugar to taste. Cover. Bake in oven 1-2 hours. Tomatoes may be added if desired.
It’s kind of neat to see how a family recipe mutates and changes over time. The following is the one I used, after reading these three.
1 small head of green cabbage
1/2 lb ground meat (chicken, turkey, beef or pork-FYI, Mama would NEVER have used pork as it’s not kosher but it does taste good.)*
1 sweet onion, chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
2-3 stalks of celery, cleaned (i.e. cut off the ends and rinse the stalks) and chopped
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 cup cooked white or brown rice
1 egg, beaten
1 can peeled, ground tomatoes
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
handful of ginger snaps
handful of raisins (optional)
salt and pepper
*You can also make this using already cooked meat which has been ground in a food processor or meat grinder. Just skip the cooking the meat step and go right to mixing everything together.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Peel off the outer cabbage leaves (the ones that are big and sort of wilted) and discard. Chop off the end, where the stem is. Place cabbage (whole) in a steamer basket over boiling water. Cover and let steam for a few minutes. If you’re really intent on shortening the whole process, you may want to core the cabbage (i.e. take out the tough middle stem) before steaming it. Or I suppose you could just buy loose cabbage leaves, if you can find them. Remove and peel off the soft leaves, setting aside to cool. Repeat until you have only small leaves which would be unlikely to hold much stuffing. You may want to peel off part of the stem on the leaf, without making a hole in the leaf but I never bother with this part.
In a saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, onions and celery and cook until soft, being careful not to burn the garlic (it gets bitter when it’s burned, yuck). Remove from pan and set aside to cool. In the same pan, add a little more olive oil and brown the meat over medium heat. It will be going into the oven so don’t worry if it’s not completely cooked- just get it browned up so that there isn’t a lot of pink left. Let the meat cool.
While it’s cooling, heat the tomatoes in a small saucepan. Add salt and pepper to taste. Crush the ginger snaps and add to the sauce, letting them get mushy and sort of melty into the sauce. If using raisins, add them now. You may want to think the sauce out a bit with a little water or broth- I prefer mine on the thicker side. Add the brown sugar and let it all meld together for a minute or two.
Spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a baking dish. Depending on how big your cabbage was, you may want to use a lasagna pan or perhaps a pyrex casserole dish.
In a bowl, mix the meat, the onion mixture, the rice and some salt and pepper. Add a beaten egg.
Place a soft, cooled cabbage leaf on a flat surface- counter or cutting board works. It should be Add one to two tablespoons of meat mixture (depending on how large the leaf is), keeping it toward the back of the leaf. Roll the leaf over the filling, tucking in the sides as you go, kind of like a burrito. (click here for a more detailed explanation). Place the leaf steam side down in the baking pan with the layer of sauce. Repeat until you’ve used up the leaves and mixture or until you’ve run out of space in your pan. Or until you’re tired of the whole endeavor.
Pour the remaining sauce over the cabbage leaves, covering them entirely. Bake for 15-25 minutes (depends on your oven, mine is quite unreliable these days!). You’re looking for them to be heated through and for the sauce to be bubbly.