10 great pacific northwest cookbooks, plus extras

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I’ve done some thinking on Oregon and greater Northwest cookbooks and other food books after receiving such interest in the cookbooks section of my annual holiday food gifts post.  I thought I’d share them for you, my dear last-minute gifters.  These are books that are not just local, but actually provide singular and excellent recipes and/or comprehensive techniques (not the case with the still-in-print for its baffling popularity, A Taste of Oregon cookbook).

If you can’t get your hands on The Oregonian from 1942 or some of our earliest and most rare cookbooks from the 19th and early 20th century — like the Web-Foot Cook Book (1885), A Portland Girl at the Chafing Dish (1890), or the Washington Women’s suffrage fundraising cookbook (1909) — and you can’t make a visit to the UO Knight Library Special Collections, might I suggest:

  • Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast is a comprehensive system from the esteemed Portland (and former Eugenius) baker/restaurateur.  It provides the intermediate-and-above home baker with techniques to make various starters and big, beautiful loaves.
  • The Paley Place Cookbook by Vitaly and Kimberly Paley is one of the classics of PNW regional cooking.  As I wrote in a review in 2009 for Eugene Weekly, “The gorgeous photos and high quality paper make the coffee table-sized [book] a visual treat. […] Some fabulous dishes that can be recreated by the creative home cook, like lamb shoulder on hay and lavender, are just the beginning. I found myself marking so many pages: homemade cranberry juice, ricotta cheese, summer corncob stock for light soups … wow. A section called “Hazelnuts Make Everything Taste Better” and portraits of wild salmon fishermen and mushroom foraging stamp this book as a PNW classic. Some very complex dishes, such as the elk shoulder, are interspersed with simpler preparations, like a mint and fava bean pappardelle or a side of peas and carrots with bacon.”
  • The Grand Central Baking Book, from the same review: “I had to wrestle it out of my editor’s floury fingers. She was muttering something about gingerbread, so I thought quick and baked up some delectable oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and a rosemary bread pudding before she could renew her strength and overtake me. This one’s a delight. Piper Davis, the co-owner of Portland’s celebrated Grand Central Baking Company, has partnered with pastry chef Ellen Jackson in a beautifully produced collection of breads, cakes and sweet and savory projects, all outlined with clear instructions and images on beautiful paper.”
  • James Beard’s tome, American Cookery, is not exactly a PNW cookbook, but it includes recipes distilled from years of writing a column in The Oregonian.  One might likewise check out The Oregonian Cookbook, which has a full chapter on Beard’s recipes, plus another good chapter on recipes by local chefs.
  • Beard’s good friend Helen Evans Brown’s West Coast Cook Book, is the best cookbook from the 1950s I’ve seen and perhaps the only truly regional/locavore one from ’round these parts written in that era, full of historical sources and then-contemporary recipes from up and down the left coast.  She’s witty and has a good palate, too.
  • Scio, Oregon-based Linda Ziedrich’s twin preservation cookbooks, The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Preserves and The Joy of Pickling, are undoubtedly the two books I turn to most often for preserving local produce.  Everything from rosehips to peas to prunes, with most techniques based on her Master Food Preserver training, are covered in the books.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda for the Register-Guard a few years ago.
  • Modernist Cuisine at Home, by a massive team led by former Microsoft CTO Nathan Myhrvold, will delight the science/molecular gastronomists in your home.  This isn’t really my style of cooking, but everyone who enjoys it seems to be thrilled by this giant handbook.  It’s a less giant and more home-oriented version of the 6-volume monster version for the professional cook, which I have perused and written about and exhibited and pondered at length, so I can predict with some authority that the little brother is likely beautiful and precise and gel-dust-sous vide-foamy.

And here are two more for your consideration, not cookbooks but still excellent for the PNW food and bev lover:

  • Lisa Morrison’s Craft Beers of the Pacific Northwest came to my attention after taking her class on beer glasses in Astoria, and I did a tiny interview with her for AAA’s Via magazine.  She’s part owner of Portland’s Belmont Station, and knows the PNW beer scene better than almost anyone.  The book provides breweries, beer lists, and pub crawls.
  • The Resilient Gardener by Carol Deppe, a seed steward, agricultural activist, and Harvard-trained scientist whose vegetable lines are grown by local Willamette Valley farmers to great acclaim.  The book sets out a plan for improving your garden’s health and heartiness by cultivating the most nutrient-enriched foods, like squash (Carol’s own breed of ‘Oregon Homestead’ sweet meat squash, which I wrote about in Eugene Magazine this fall), beans, potatoes, corn, and reaping the best from small livestock, like her heritage Ancona ducks.

And these were the cookbooks I mentioned earlier, just for completion’s sake:

  • Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book, one of the only cocktail books out there to offer a solid, technique-based guide for the home bartender.  Expect to understand principles and classics, not fancy trends.
  •  Boat, a Whale & a Walrus by Seattle chef Renee Erickson, whose restaurants — modern, chic, vibrant, briny — embody perhaps the epitome of contemporary PNW cuisine.
  • Not a cookbook, quite, but Heather Arndt Anderson’s new book about the food history of our fair City of Roses to the north, Portland: A Food Biography, promises to be filled with fun facts and even some descriptive recipes.  Her Tumblr page is fascinating and reflects her research acumen; be sure to click through to buy the book directly from her or the publisher. It also has a chapter on vintage Portland and Oregon cookbooks.
  • Anthony Boutard’s Beautiful Corn, the best treatment I’ve seen on the science and culinary merit of corn from a mellifluous farmer/writer in the tradition of Wendell Berry.
  • Beans, Grains, Nuts and Seeds: Further Adventures in Eating Close to Home by my fellow Eugene locavore, Elin England, whose second book concentrates on the local Renaissance of staple crops we’ve been experiencing.

Disclaimer:  Apart from the two books I reviewed for EW, I didn’t get any of these books for free, dang it.  Doing it wrong, as usual.  But the pleasure in the purchase is all mine.

 

summer salad and a meditation on value

IMG_6779IMG_6754IMG_7476IMG_7552IMG_7581IMG_7588Who could have predicted the percentage of pleasure in the back corner of a quarter-acre lot?  When we talk of commercial real estate, we use the language of profitability: so many ridiculous dollars per square foot in value.

I weigh the square footage of my garden, instead, in pleasure units per annum, and I am a wealthy woman.

The garden produces pleasure at a rate far greater than the sum of its parts. Through my cultivation, I live history and I plan for the future; it’s a living record of failures and hopes. I began this garden by digging out the dirt and forming the growing plots and subsidizing the soil with every bit of dirt capital I had.  It has evolved over the last six years and its topography traces the story of my life.

Exhibit A:  This square foot is ruled by a fat clump of chives with now fading lavender puffballs with papery feathers that I planted when I established the herb row six years ago.  It gave me volunteer ‘Seascape’ strawberries (2) that are darker and sweeter than my main crop ‘Bentons’ that are better for jam. It also killed off two generations of lemon thyme, never hardy, prompting me to move a new pricey start to the middle where the sun will establish it more firmly. It is coddling three shiso seedlings, all marked by slug attacks at the seed leaves, the red shiso the worst of the lot.  I need the red shiso to experiment further furikake, a dried crumbly topping for rice, since the stuff last year wasn’t quite right without salt.  The green gets salted and used as wraps for summer barbecue.

Exhibit B:  This shady square foot is tayberries, now nearly as long as my thumb, which I planted after marveling at them at the market three years ago. The tayberries, yes, that the squirrels have been eating, I’ve discovered, after crowing that those little rascals have been leaving my strawberries alone this year.  The tayberries are threatened, too, by a patch of mint rooted in a deep-set plastic pot to contain it, tucked far back in the shady corner of my garden, but longing to colonize new, more fruitful lands.  And the terrible threat of losing the sun: the elderberry planted to shade the glorious fragile ‘Virginia Richards’ rhody (since discovered to not have the proper sun trajectory) and hide a sagging gutter on the neighbors’ garage (since fixed, since moved out) is now 15 feet tall, and shading the tayberries instead.

Exhibit C: And this square foot, anchoring the potato bed ringed in cedar logs from the branch that fell in the winter storm two years ago, has an Italian fennel sentinel, the fronds used for gravlax and fish and salads.  Its pollen I cultivate for fig jam for the ‘Desert Queen’ fig that — please! — is rallying with leaf buds now after the freeze that wiped out fig season for the year and killed many fig trees wholesale.  The sentinel guards three ‘Marechal Foch’ grape scions and four little apples: ‘Karmijn,’ ‘Esopus Spitzenberg,’ ‘Canadian Strawberry’ and ‘Pendragon,’ all rare, all volatile, all fighting the fleeting nature of life and the suffering that reminds us it will be over too soon.

See?

But the garden is more than just a record of a personal past, and, as a hedonist, I hesitate to say this, but it’s more than just pleasure.  It’s resistance and power.

One example will have to suffice.  Because I cook from my garden, I am free to experiment with the idea of a salad.  Yes, a salad.  Something that’s drummed into us by industry as the paragon of a healthy meal.  It’s a diet meal.  It’s a female meal.  It’s the kind of meal we should not only eat but exclaim delightfully over, Oh, it’s so fresh and healthy and I feel so good while eating it!

And we do this while we are masticating over-processed bagged mesclun made of differently shaped little leaves that all taste exactly the same. Do they harbor e. coli?  We don’t know.  What matters is that we bought it, and when we buy it, we buy into values that promote performing fitness as a marker of class.  The open secret is that these salads don’t create pleasure.  They traffic in anxiety.  They separate the growers from the consumers with an idea of what we *should* eat, not what we *can* eat if we can just…

…wander out into the garden with not even the faintest anxious pressure for ‘eating healthy’ or ‘being fit.’  I eat my salad in the morning.  I bundle a sour sorrel leaf and an odd little papalo leaf around a gooseberry and a tiny carrot.  I smush a strawberry on a tender escarole, slightly bitter, and wrap it burrito-like around a rattail radish pod.  I make a sandwich out of two pea pods, two leaves of tarragon, and a beet leaf. I pick pale yellow collard flowers and pink-white radish flowers and purple johnny-jump-ups and magenta and pale pink pea flowers and eat them as a chaser for the tip of a garlic scape.

Not a single one of these can be eaten in a restaurant or out of season, or really, in someone else’s garden.  It is mine.  My salad is the product of my labor, my fiddling, and my palate that hungers for bittersweetness.

My labor is worth very little to nothing, all the institutions in my life tell me.  But in its nothingness, it’s everything to me, because I cultivate hope each year and breed out failure and have momentary, seasonal, nearly unique and nearly wholly my own momentary pleasure and joy in living.  There is nothing more valuable in the world.

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Images (top to bottom): lovage, tayberries, haskapberries, garlic scapes, raspberries, gooseberries, Bruno Jupiter Bright, kitten extraordinaire, growing in the kale bed.

berries with frothy custard clouds

IMG_3571I have my repertoire of berry recipes indexed, if you’re interested, but my new obsession is berries with frothy custard clouds…or as the Italians call it, zabaglione.  The first time I had it, I was a teenager, and thought it was the most exquisite dessert in the world.  I’m not sure if I’ve been disabused of that notion.

It wasn’t just the taste of the custard. I said the word to myself repeatedly, slowly, sensually: zah-BAG-lee-OHN. As a word, it was a marriage between other things I loved to say: zamboni and linguine and Sierra Lione.  It was much nicer, indeed, than the French word sabayon, a similar custard, the cookbooks told me, but one that seemed vastly different to me — almost smug in that way the French can be. No, zabaglione was what I wanted to float away upon if I could choose any liquid for Lethe.  Zabaglione, take me away…

And as a young adult who reads more about the world than circles it soon discovers, I realized I had been saying it incorrectly.  ZAH-bahl-YOH-nay.  Makes sense, no?  Much closer to sabayon, much further away from my version of linguistic heaven where custard canoodles on the perfectly shaven-smooth clouds of West Africa.

Nevertheless, it’s still good, the perfect summer evening dessert.  With three ingredients: farm fresh egg yolks, sugar, and marsala wine (the sweet, fortified wine you can find in better supermarkets, but for godsake don’t buy the cheap stuff), it’s easy to count on it.  Use the best eggs you can. Ones straight from the chicken will yield a lemon yellow custard; supermarket eggs, even good quality, will give you more of a pale froth.

You’ll need a strong arm.  It’s a thin custard, sometimes served like a soup, but you’ll need to froth it to triple its volume.  I’ve long loved the small drama of walking around a dinner party whipping cream by hand with a big whisk.  Whipping the zabaglione takes just as long, anywhere from 10-15 minutes, and you really want a full volume.  Pour it into long, skinny glasses over your favorite fresh berries, either macerated with a bit of sugar and marsala or just left nude as the way you found ’em.

And don’t skimp, you frugal American, as I did in the photo.  I saw a version at an Italian restaurant in San Francisco a couple of months ago that was served absolutely overflowing a tall pilsner (?) glass, frothing down over the sides of the glass and piled up a little on the charger plate.  It was a disaster and fabulous and a showstopper.

If you’re interested in stabilizing the custard and serving it cold, see Elise Bauer’s recipe or others for the incorporation of whipped cream.  You might also try Marcella Hazan’s cold red wine version, reprinted here.  Just don’t put any extra flavoring crap in it, like vanilla.  It’s perfect the way it is.

I was charmed by Giovanna Zivny’s history of the recipe, which reports the old fashioned way was to make the custard using the egg shell as a measurement, with a 1:1:2 ratio (egg yolk: sugar: marsala), so that’s how I eyeball it when I add the sugar and wine.  Egg shells, however, differ in size and it’s an utterly bad way to measure things, not to mention the recontamination issues when handling egg shells in a dish that’s already suspect because the eggs aren’t completely cooked.

Also notable is that Zivny never uses a double boiler, so it’s not essential, but if you don’t your custard won’t be as frothy and will surely curdle on the bottom. Also, you might need to worry about the higher level of heat if using fragile glasses.  Does that stop me?  No.  But you might be more particular, or have nicer glasses.

Zabaglione

Serves two, preferably lovers, and preferably on a warm summer night.  Whisper it to your partner in a husky voice: ZAH-bahl-YOH-nay is served!

  • 3 eggs, as fresh as possible
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup Marsala or another fortified or sweet wine
  • 2 cups or more fresh berries of your choice

Separate the eggs, place the yolks in a small bowl, and reserve the whites for another use.

Clean and slice berries, if necessary, and place in tall glasses or wine glasses.

Prepare the double boiler by placing 1-2 inches of water in a medium saucepan, then place a stainless bowl on top of the pan. Note you’ll need a large bowl to accommodate the whisking and triple-volume of the final product.

Bring water to a gentle boil on medium-low heat.

Whisk together the wine and sugar in the heated bowl until sugar dissolves.  Add eggs, whisking constantly, and whisk them for 10-15 minutes, until the custard has thickened slightly, tripled in volume, and is very foamy and pale in color.  If the eggs start to cook, turn the heat down to low and remove the bowl for a few seconds.  Be careful, as this custard, like all custards, will break if overcooked.

Serve immediately, pouring the custard over the berries until barely overflowing.

the juices of june

IMG_3534My hands are Oregon hands, stained wine-dark with the juices of June. My arms, too, are speckled with red, but that’s my own blood from being stuck, a reminder of the thorns that accompany the best pleasures.  On my t-shirt there’s a mix of berries and blood.  The juices of June.

Within moments of returning home, I was in the garden picking handfuls of raspberries and black raspberries.  I didn’t need a bowl, not where those berries were going.  My right hand man gave me fingers to pluck; my left was bowl and scoop.  As soon as I filled up my primal vessel I did as the cavemen (in Oregon? Sure — poetic license), yes, the cavemen did: stuffed the entire handful in my mouth.

Because I can.

My lust for these berries won’t be sated for another month.  I planted another row last year, and it’s still not even remotely enough.  I’ll u-pick them, buy flats at the market, buy flats at the farm, buy them in restaurants and pick them at friends’ places.

It’s gluttony, I know, and thanks to teaching the Professeur, M. Brillat-Savarin, for so many years now, I know the difference between the gourmand — the delicately attuned lover of food with a capacious palate and appetite for the finest and most appropriate foods for his class — and me, the glutton.  It doesn’t matter where and how when it comes to raspberries, I just want to stuff my face with them.  Even when I lived in California, I’d buy those horrible cellpaks of ‘Willamettes,’ which are harder and larger than some of the other Oregon varieties of raspberries so we trade them to our neighbor to the south for their inedible monster “strawberries.”  But unlike the strawberries, I’d buy those horrible cellpaks with their nasty kleenex pad and eat raspberries all in one sitting, just so I could take some edge off the craving.

Here in Oregon, I can eat the soft ones and the sweet ones, the acidic ones and the monstrous ones, the golden ones, the dark ones and the pink ones and the warm ones bright in the sun.  We have a month of fresh raspberries ahead.  I like raspberries far more than strawberries, which are delicious but always seemed a little obvious to me, kind of like a sweet plump girl who means no harm and doesn’t quite get the jokes.  They have a dumb-looking bonnet and they get turned into cartoons.  Raspberries, on the other hand, lent their name to that gross gesture of blowing spitty air out of your mouth.  Raspberries have a bit of punk in them.

And if raspberries have an edge, black raspberries are rude boys.  Raspberries I always knew, but I remember very well the first time I spotted black raspberries under the stairs leading down to my grandfather’s dock in northern Michigan.  I’m not sure how old I was, but I must have been close to the ground, even though those steps were steep.  Anyway, they were feral and growing through the stairs to scratch the legs of little girls.  I had to eat them.  I knew I’d get pricked and didn’t know if they were poison or not, but they were glossy and becoming and beckoning.

My parents weren’t in sight, and my grandfather was busy gutting fish down the dock.  He held a chinook aloft and showed me the egg sac.

“You see this? Rich people pay good money for these fish eggs,” and with a snort he dumped it all with the guts in the bucket.

Rich people, thought I, would pay me good money for these shiny berry eggs.  So I’m going to taste them.  And when I did and their wild dark tart sweet seedy little bits entered my mouth for the first time, I realized some things were too precious to be sold to rich people.  My black raspberry empire thus ended where it began, in Manistee, Michigan.

Now I grow them and I still don’t have enough, but I know I’m the luckiest girl in the world for just one second in June when I collect them by the handful and take that very first mouthful, unadorned.  I close my eyes and am grateful, hardly possibly, for another year.

the long way home

IMG_3318I’m in Ashland on an almost sunny morning, on my way to Michigan via San Francisco for my grandmother’s funeral. I had been planning to take a road trip south to have time away from the administrative onslaught, time to think, but life seems to be relegated lately to one of those car chase video games where the ills of modern civilization — flaming tires, the bodies of fallen comrades, police cars —  keep being flung in one’s path.   All we can do is swerve.

I have to write a eulogy, and it will probably involve food, for my grandmother was without question the earliest food influence in my life (well, besides my mother and breast-feeding, I suppose).  She was the only one in my family who really wanted to talk to me about cooking.  What are you making, she’d ask, and always listen eagerly as if I were a cooking show.  She bought me a wok for my wedding.  I don’t even think she knew what a wok was.  Our last conversation involved an oven and baking, my neighbor baking.  What’s baking, she asked.  And then I knew she was gone.

I think: I’m kind of too sad to write right now, though.  Then I think: if you can afford to be too sad right now to write, you should count your blessings and get to work, missy.  Chop chop.  Do you have to raise five kids?  Do you have to get up at the crack of dawn and go work at some shitty factory job?  Do you live in Detroit?  There are people who are too sad and there are people who just get it done. Something about the devil and idle hands, right?  Idol hands.  Chop chop.

I remember Polish rye bread and real butter.  Frozen strawberries.  Coconuts.  I begged for coconuts.  And, starved for carbs, we ate Liv-a-Snaps meant for the dog.  They were in the drawer with the paddle, the menacing paddle with pictures of naughty children on it.  I don’t think it was ever used, it was just a Foucauldian symbol, and an ineffective one if we saw it and still ate the dog biscuits.  Whole milk. Radish flowers. And always kielbasa, yards and yards of it.  My intestines are made of kielbasa.  Funny that I don’t remember many casual meals with her.  I think we ate lots of soup: either chicken or vegetable beef.  She accidentally burned me with a soup pot when I was very young and underfoot.  My first kitchen lesson, my initiation scar.  Oh yes, and fried bologna sandwiches and hard salami.  I still love hard salami.  And the cookies she spirited away from the Polish bakery.  Almondy sugar cookies in vague shapes and pointless powdery chrusciki, angel wings.

So here’s what I’ve got so far:

Leokadya “Lillian” Ann Kuznicki Mendrek, 1924-2013. A formidable presence, caretaker, cook, comedian, beloved mother of five, grandmother of seven, and great-grandmother of five. She’d take care of any baby anywhere, playing a major role raising me and my siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews. She sang in the kitchen and gave us butter and made lists for Grampa and mobilized the forces. And she never let rules stand in her way, hiding a few kids to convince the anti-Catholic real estate agent the family would fit perfectly into the new suburban development in Inkster; inventing plastic-wrapped diapers to minimize leaks (she had twins, no time for nonsense); baptizing my nephews in the bathtub herself so they wouldn’t linger in purgatory; pretending at reunions that she had attended high school and not worked in the factory across the street from St. Francis in Detroit. God only punished her when she smuggled the baked chicken from Sweden House in her purse for Uncle Dennis. A long life filled with love. We’ll miss you, Nanny.

a world of possibilities for stuffed cabbage rolls, fermented!

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Polish stuffed cabbage (golabki, or little pigeons, pronounced, basically, Guh-WUMP-kee) was never a favorite of mine growing up.  I don’t particularly like the mixture of ground beef, rice, and sweet tomato sauce — often ketchup — in the funky steamed cabbage that forms the roll.  It is rarely seasoned properly, so it lacks salt and flavor, and with its yellow-grey leaves and smear of orange sauce is just about the ugliest thing to emerge from a pot ever.  And the name is vaguely horrifying.

But, I reasoned, if a dish has survived generations across an entire continent, it should have a good reason to continue.  I do like meatballs, and I do like cabbage, and I do like the Greek dolma stuffed grape leaf filling with lemon.  I’d try to pull together a tomato-free version of the classic stuffed cabbage recipe, something that improved the taste and the look as much as possible.

Turns out I can’t stop eating them now.  They’re surprisingly light and flavorful, and would make a great new year meal.

The beauty of stuffed cabbage is the variety of possibilities.  If you can break away from your Eastern European traditions, or look more deeply into them, you’ll see that stuffed cabbage has as many flavors as Eastern Europe had geopolitical borders.  And the little pigeons graciously subjugate themselves to our new emphasis on local and whole grains, too.

The basic recipe is 1 cup of rice, 1 lb. of ground beef, and an egg, with seasonings.  Instead of a boring swap to brown rice, we could start with kasha or buckwheat groats (or cracked grains), a traditional substitute for rice golabki.  Quinoa or couscous would be similarly mushy and appropriate. And if we go there, we could easily move over to wheatberries or rye berries or frikeh or fregola sarda for a less firm stuffing, but still very delicious.

We used black “forbidden” rice, then swapped out the ground beef for some ground veal and pork sausage I had languishing in the freezer.  The pork sausage added a moistness and flavor from within.

From without, well, I had the brilliant…I’m going to go there, BRILLIANT…stroke of BRILLIANCE to use whole leaves of fall cabbage that I had fermented sauerkraut-style a few months back.  These sauerkraut bombs I nestled in between rolls wrapped more conservatively with savoy cabbage, a light variation on the more traditional round cabbage leaf wrappings.  When cooked in chicken broth instead of tomato sauce, it make for a tangy and delicious stuffed cabbage.  Don’t have whole cabbage leaf sauerkraut?  Just use regular sauerkraut, mixing some in with your filling and adding a layer or two in the cooking pot for more flavor.

If you’re meat-free, I suggest using any number of fillings to substitute for the meat.  It’s perfectly traditional to use farmer cheese or potatoes or mushrooms with your rice/kasha (try this Jewish version with mushrooms, kasha, and a cream sauce). And why not lentils and chopped walnuts and carrots?  Kohlrabi!  Leeks!  Parsnips?  If you’re afraid of the filling not holding together, just add another egg.  I also suggest bread crumbs to help on that score.

The decadent can skip the grains altogether. Chopped pork shoulder is divine.  How about a traditional tamale stuffing of shredded pork or beef, almonds, and raisins?  And think about it: do you like stuffed peppers?  Same filling, so why not make an inverted stuffed pepper, and put the peppers inside the cabbage rolls?  Chef Tiffany Norton at PartyCart even uses pickled ginger for her forcemeat.  Why can’t you?

Yes, the world is your cabbage.  You can stuff it with anything.

EDITED TO ADD:  More ideas from the Queen of Preservation, Linda Ziedrich!

EDITED AGAIN TO ADD:  A vegetarian Polish option from a reader, Linda Peterson Adams.  Thanks, Linda!  “Parboil the cabbage to remove leaves. [Mix] 2 cups cooked dry rice, pearl barley or buckwheat groats, a few tablespoons soaked and chopped fine porcini mushrooms, salt and pepper. Stuff rolls with this mix. Put a layer of leaves in a dutch oven, and add 2 cups fermented rye liquid or stock with the mushroom soaking liquid. Dot with butter. Cover and simmer until tender, about an hour. Thicken leftover liquid with beurre manie. You can also add sour cream at the end. You can also use sauerkraut to nestle the birds in in cooking.

Tangy Stuffed Cabbage Master Recipe

  • 1 large head savoy cabbage
  • 1 cup cooked grains (try short-grain rice, black rice, kasha, quinoa)
  • 1 lb. ground meat (try a combination of beef, veal, pork, pork sausage, etc.) or 2 cups farmer cheese or sauteed wild/button mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs IF you are using the vegetarian fillings only
  • 1 large egg
  • 2-4 cups sauerkraut, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • paprika to taste (optional)
  • 2 cups chicken broth

Cook the rice or other grains as necessary and cool.

Prepare the cabbage leaves.  Heat a pot large enough to submerge whole cabbage leaves with enough water to blanch the leaves.  Carefully remove the core and outer leaves, keeping the whole cabbage intact.  Peel off the layers of leaves without tearing if possible, and rinse thoroughly.  Reserve the inner, smaller leaves for the bottom of the pot.

Trim the thick bottom vein of each leaf by either cutting it out or shaving off layers until it is almost as thin as the surrounding leaf.  (If you do not do this, it will make rolling harder.)

When the water comes to a boil, blanch the prepared leaves for about 30-45 seconds, or until pliable and easy to roll.  Note: plain cabbage should be blanched longer, about 2 minutes; if you are using whole-leaf sauerkraut instead of savoy cabbage, just rinse the leaves, don’t blanch them.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and place the smallest leaves in the bottom of a dutch oven or similar large pot with a lid.

Mix up the filling.  Add the cooled, cooked grains, the meat/cheese/mushrooms, a large egg, and a cup of the sauerkraut (eliminate sauerkraut if you are using whole leaf sauerkraut as a wrapping, add breadcrumbs for structure if you are using the vegetarian fillings).  Drop a bit of the filling into the steaming water or the microwave for a few seconds, so it will cook enough so you can taste for seasonings.  Adjust seasonings with salt, pepper, and paprika.

Roll the cabbage rolls by placing about 2 tablespoons full of filling at the thick end of the leaf, folding the end over the filling, then folding the two sides over the filling, then rolling up to the end tightly.  Place seam side down into a dutch oven.  Repeat for all rolls.  If there is filling left, roll it into a meatball and nestle it among the rolls.  Nestle the rest of the sauerkraut between rolls and between layers.

Add chicken stock, cover, and cook for about 2 hours, or until the filling is firm and most of the stock is soaked up into the cabbage rolls.  Better the next day.

Serves 4-6.

fermentation projects

I’m experimenting with various vegetable ferments, including a zucchini “cornichon” with tarragon, chowchow with green tomatoes, slivovitz, and this lovely, mild(er) highlighter-yellow wax pepper sauce.

The unusual smell of the wax peppers reminds me of my childhood, when my father used to grow and pickle these, and tell us how they would burn us to cinders if we dared to eat them.  They are really quite mild, as far as hot peppers go.  But eat them I would not, especially after they were used under my fingernails as a deterrent to biting said fingernails.  Ah, Dad, I still bite my fingernails. Though now I eat banana peppers, too.  I’ve doubled my resolve.  Unstoppable.  Funny how that works.