ROMANIAN STUFFED CABBAGE - CHOU FARCI ROUMAINIENNE
I've been doing that a lot lately. It's the strangest thing.
Cabbage has cropped up several times here.
Both crisp and limp.
[See: fatty meat and cabbage post January 13 and Sour Cabbage Soup January 10 for the embodiments of cabbage thought. Mui choi kau yuk, suen choi pak yuk, and kapusniak.]
However, having teased your mental taste buds with a hint of kapusta yaprak yesterday, it would be unfair not to dump an entire bucket of the stuff over you now.
Yes, I know, you'd probably far rather have Miss Slavyanka Steelworks 1995 instead, but we have cabbage. It's good for you.
[Golubtsi, Golumpki, Sarmale, Sarma.]
Two heads of cabbage.
Two pounds ground pork.
Two onions, finely chopped.
Two or three garlic cloves, finely chopped.
One cup of raw rice.
Two pounds of tomatoes.
Handful of fresh herbs.
Big pinch dried thyme.
One TBS paprika.
One Tsp. ground pepper.
Pinches salt, nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon.
Three or four bay leaves.
Jigger of sherry.
Juice of one lemon.
Chicken broth or good stock: 1½ - 2 cups.
Several rashers of smoked bacon, sliced.
Sautée the onions and garlic in a little olive oil. When they have become translucent and soft, add the paprika and cook for another minute or so, then set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, bring water to boil in a large pot . Core of the cabbages and when the water boils, dump the cabbage in. Peel off the leaves one by one as they start to get soft and put them on a plate. You need them soft and limp so that they can be rolled; this means painful fingertips. Trim off the stiffest parts.
When done, hold each tomato over an open flame with a fork, to char the skin and facilitate peeling, or blanch them in the boiling water to the same purpose. Personally, I prefer the fire method; it tastes better. Once peeled, core them and remove the pips. Then chop coarsely, and mix in whatever fresh herbs you judge suitable.
Mix the meat with the onions, garlic, rice, and powdered spices, plus a pinch of salt.
Put a spoonful of this mixture on a limp cabbage leaf and roll it up, tucking in the edges like a burrito or an eggroll. Whatever cabbage is left over should be chopped and put in the bottom of the pot. Arrange the cabbage rolls on top, add the bay leaves. Cover this with the chopped tomato, and add the stock, plus water to cover and the dash of sherry.
Dump the smoked bacon on top.
Squeeze the lemon over.
Place the vessel in the oven at 350 degrees for four hours, check on it occasionally.
A very large clay pot is perfect for making this, so is a large enameled Dutch oven or stew pot.
Two things to take note of: the rolls should be loose enough that the rice within can comfortably expand, and the pot should only be half-way filled for the same reason.
If the top surface of the tomato congeals a bit, that will concentrate the flavours, which is something you want.
Serve alongside potatoes or polenta, with some nice crusty fresh bread. A shot or two of plum brandy is traditional, but I rarely have that in the house. And actually, given that the recipe above is enough for half a dozen people I seldom make it like that anyway. There's only one of me, you see, and I'd have to eat sarma for the rest of the week if I did. My apartment mate is not exceptionally fond of such things, and is neurotic about her weight besides.
Hot peppers, fresh or pickled, also belong on the table.
* * * * *
These past few years, whenever a recipe calls for ground pork, I simply use Italian sausage, filling squooze out. The meat is already spiced a bit, and has the requisite balance of fattiness. And anything that requires cooking for longer than an hour, forget about it. There's little point in spending a whole heck of a lot of time in the kitchen when you're not cooking for other people.
I almost never buy European ball cabbages anymore.
There's always too much left over.
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