The taste of awe
Yesterday, or was it the day before yesterday, with the help of my son I steamed two cabbages to remove the leaves for making stuffed cabbage.
The hardest part for me about making stuffed cabbage is getting those blasted leaves off of the cabbage. I know from reading old Jewish cook books that stuffed cabbage was traditionally served on Purim as a symbol of how Esther had to hid her real identity in order to marry the king.
My mother never served stuffed cabbage on Purim and only made it for the High Holidays. I see the appropriate symbolism more in the making of the cabbage, you need to strip down all of those outer layers to get at the core of the truth.
Regardless of the appropriateness of stuffed cabbage at Rosh HaShanah either for reasons of meaning or for the realities of the season ( It has been sweltering out and perhaps Eastern European wintertime food is not the best choice)when I discussed the menu for this holiday season with my son and cooking partner he was unequivocal. He wanted me to make stuffed cabbage and tzimmis.
My sister called as I was working on the cabbage, so while I made the cabbage, I was taking photos, rolling up the cabbages and talking to my sister all at the same time.
I make stuffed cabbage sweet and sour and in a watery tomato sauce. The filling is chopped meat. I think it is a law that you must add rice to the mix. My friend Anne thinks that adding raisins to the meat is somewhere between silly and gross. I believe it is essential.
Costco was out of kosher chopped beef so I substituted ground turkey.
The meat includes cinnamon allspice ginger, paprika black pepper and brown sugar along with the rice and raisins.
You assemble the stuffed cabbage thus.
Put the cabbage leaf down on a flat surface.
You add a spoonful of meat to the center of the leaf. If you are working with a tough outer leaf, you may want to cut out some of the center rib.
You then fold the right and left sides of the leaf to the center, covering the blob of beef.
Before you put the cabbage roll into the pot shred up the core of the cabbage so your stuffed cabbage rests on a bed of shredded cabbage. this will prevent burning the bottom layer of cabbage.
Last night I used up all of my cabbage leaves and had a bunch of chopped meat left over. I just turned the rest into meatballs which rested on top of the cabbage.
You then open up a few cans of diced tomatoes, and put them over the cabbage, add some brown sugar, salt pepper, paprika and sour salt. you can use lemon juice but my friend Alan Divak taught me the true torah of sour salt.
My mother always started the cabbage out on the stove top and finished it off in the oven.
I did the same, partially because it was hot out and the oven was cooking away two pans of chicken. it was just easier to just heat one thing in my kitchen last night.
Here is my cabbage done.
It is now all packaged up and in my freezer.
The chicken too is bagged and in the freezer.
My giant granite wear turkey roaster was cleaned of all the cabbage and then it was pulled back into duty for tzimmis.
I have been thinking about why I spend so much time making the holiday foods for my kids. I read Filter Fish in the New Yorker that arrived in my mail box yesterday and realized that the awe and terror of the High Holiday season is evoked for me as much from the tzimmis and stuffed cabbage as it is from the sounds of the shofar blasts. A primitive, irrational part me me feels that if my kids taste the foods that were part of my experience of the High Holidays as a child they will also absorb all the rest of my experience of the High Holidays as well.
So I began the tzimmis.
I am not giving specific quantities. The short answer is a lot. The reality is that you can vary the ingredients a fair amount and end up with pretty much the same result.
First you sauté lots of onions. Actually before you do that put some lima beans ( maybe half a cup) and water into a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 7 or 8 minutes and then just leave the beans in the water.
While you are cooking the onions to translucent deliciousness, it’s time to cut up your meat. (Costco does not carry kosher stew beef but they do sell London broil, I bought three. If Costco had flanken ribs yesterday, I would have bought them, but the London broil would do fine)
You toss all the meat into the pan and while the meat is browning you start cutting up root vegetables. Yesterday I used parsnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, a mystery potato like tuber from Peru, and some russet potatoes.
You want to cut the vegetables into big chunks.
Add the vegetables to the pot after the meat has been browned started with the hardest vegetables first.
After all of the vegetables are in the pan add the lima beans, a big handful of prunes, some brown sugar, black pepper, salt cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and paprika and some ( just a couple of shakes) of citric acid.
My mother’s directions called for the tzimmis to then cook in the oven for 90 minutes. it was late. I was tired and I had to get up early for morning minyan. I then had an epiphany.
While my mother made tzimmis nearly every Rosh HaShanah, she used to act like chulent was an abomination. But if you think about it for more than five minutes you realize that this meat and bean tzimmis is actually a chulent.
So I turned the heat in my oven down to 200 and went to sleep. I usually decide that tzimmis is done when it smells not like separate flavors but like every element in the pot has somehow melded. This morning at 4:30am The smell of done tzimmis woke me up. I turned the oven off and went back to sleep.
My freezer is now full of flavor memories for my kids.