Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Honoring Family Traditions With the New Family

One of my biggest regrets in life is not paying better attention to my Baba ("grandmother" in Ukrainian) in the kitchen. I know now how spoiled I was growing up. Not only was she a phenomenal cook, she was a phenomenal pastry chef. She was so amazing in the kitchen that there was no reason to go out to dinner--it was never as good as Baba's cooking. Just one of the many reasons I miss her.

Having recently gotten married (8/28/10), this was my first Easter cooking for my in-laws (I hate that word -- how about "new family?"). And I thought it would be the perfect time to introduce a Ukrainian tradition: holubtsi. Holubtsi is essentially a cabbage roll stuffed with rice, bacon and onion. It's been a staple at holiday dinners with the Turkula family since I can remember, most likely because my grandfather was raised in the Ukraine. Funny thing is, when I was younger, I couldn't stand the stuff. But those were the days of ketchup only burgers and my mom stockpiling Brown Sugar Cream of Wheat because it was the only thing I'd eat for breakfast.Oh, how things change.

As I've grown older, holubtsi has become one of my favorite dishes. My Uncle Tom and Aunt Louise both have developed their own renditions of Baba's recipe, and thanks to them, I was able to get the recipe this week to try out on the Bogue family. Here's how it went down.

It was recommended to me to make the first portion - the filling - a day beforehand. This was key. It was hard to resist digging into the filling on Saturday as its aroma filled the house. I also cored the cabbage and soaked it in a pot overnight.

The hardest part, though, came on Easter Sunday when I went to steam the cabbage. This helps you pull the cabbage leaves off more easily and most importantly, intact. Found out at the last minute that there wasn't a double boiler in the house, so we improvised with a round cooling rack in an old pot with some water under it and a makeshift lid. It did the trick, yes, but getting it out of the pot without burning yourself and without breaking the leaves is another story. I found I had to steam the cabbage, peel off the soft layers, then steam it more to get the inner layers off. Took a while and I'm glad I started the stuffing process early. Removing the thick vein in each leaf wasn't too difficult.

Stuffing them was actually fun. It was easy to tell when I had too much filling as it would spill out when I went to roll the cabbage. In hindsight, I'd have used a wider, more square dish to bake them in. We had a round dish that was more deep than wide, and I stacked the holubtsi too high--and the ones in the middle weren't properly cooked through by the time dinner rolled around. Ah well -- I gave it my best shot, and we had enough perfectly cooked holubtsi to make everyone happy at dinner.

If you're curious, I served it with Maple Pecan Sweet Potatoes (a slight variation on my Aunt Zena's recipe), grilled asparagus, and glazed ham, coupled with an Apricot-Mustard Sauce. Dinner was deeeeelish, and I think it safe to say, all left the table quite satisfied! Cheers to a successful "new family" dinner!

Annnnnd first blog, done! Need to get better at remembering to take pictures of my progress!

Have a happy day hopefully filled with good food and good company!

Holubtsi (According to Uncle Tom)

2 medium to large heads of green cabbage (careful not to get ones where leaves or core are already split or torn)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 lb of bacon, chopped into ½ inch slices
3 cups uncooked rice
One can tomato soup/jar tomato sauce (optional)
Freshly ground pepper
Cooking spray
Light sour cream

Large mixing bowl (big enough to accommodate cooked rice, bacon and onion)
Square baking dishes (with lids) sprayed with PAM – large enough to accommodate 24 – 30 holubtsi stacked no more than two high.

  1. Cook rice per package directions, but undercook slightly. Set aside in large mixing bowl to cool.
  2. Sauté bacon and onion together in a large skillet until bacon is fully cooked. DO NOT drain.
  3. Pour bacon/onion mixture (drippings and all) over rice in large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly, adding pepper to taste.
NOTE: If you plan to make the filling ahead of time, combine ingredients before refrigerating.

  1. Preheat oven to 325°.
  2. Core the cabbage and soak overnight if desired. Dispense any brown or broken outside leaves.
  3. Steam cabbage in large double boiler until you can peel outside leaves off easily, then separate leaves.
  4. Shave off center spine on outside (concave side) of individual leaves.
  5. Cup each cabbage leaf in hand and spoon rice mixture into leaf.
  6. Fold outside edges to the center, then roll up with rice inside.
  7. Place completed holubtsi into baking dish, seam side down.
  8. Repeat until rice or cabbage is used up.*
  9. (Optional) If using soup, add enough water to make it “pourable” and pour over holubtsi in baking dish prior to baking.
  10. Cover and bake for 60 to 90 minutes, removing cover for final 20 minutes or until outside leaves begin to brown.
  11. Serve with sour cream.
* I found it difficult to break apart the leaves near the core, so I made a casserole with the remaining rice mixture, chopped cabbage and tomato soup. I just baked it along with the holubsti for about an hour. Made a great lunch for Brandon this week!

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