Satisfying - by any name

Holishkes are the Romanian version of stuffed cabbage that, in Briton Clarissa Hyman's book, are made with beef or lamb wrapped in savoy cabbage and cooked with lemon and brown sugar.
Holishkes are the Romanian version of stuffed cabbage that, in Briton Clarissa Hyman's book, are made with beef or lamb wrapped in savoy cabbage and cooked with lemon and brown sugar.

Stuffed cabbage is hearty and nutritious, a fact recognized in recipes of many lands.

Posted: February 25, 2010

The Polish call them golabki and Russians golubtsy. In Azerbaijan, they're kelem dolmasi, and generations of Jewish grandmothers called them prakkes.

But it is stuffed cabbage all the same. And by any name it is deliciously satisfying on cold winter days.

Some recipes use beef, pork, or lamb, rice or barley, onion and parsley. Others add apples, raisins, sauerkraut, bacon, or tomatoes. They're served with an avgolemono or egg-and-lemon sauce in Greece. And during Lent, Serbian Orthodox cooks make a meatless version called posna sarma.

If you have Eastern European roots, you likely have a family recipe - and a distinctive name - for this hearty dish, beloved for its rustic flavor and for the fact that it makes the most of a vegetable that's plentiful, inexpensive, and good for you.

Cabbage may be better at fighting some cancers, heart disease, and ulcers than its close cousins collard greens, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and broccoli, or its sibling kale - that according to a book out this month, The 10 Things You Need to Eat by Dave Lieberman and Anahad O'Connor (William Morrow).

A single serving of coleslaw meets the USDA recommended daily allowance of Vitamin K. And cabbage is rich in Vitamins A and C, calcium, fiber, folate, even omega 3.

Still, not everyone's a fan.

"Cabbage has a negative reputation," says cookbook author Aliza Green, a James Beard award winner, "especially among people old enough to recall the smell of overcooked cabbage wafting through the hallways of boardinghouses and tenement apartments."

As a dish of basic sustenance for poor families for decades, cabbage has yet to turn the corner to foodie treat as did its peasant equal, polenta.

The most familiar variety of cabbage comes in tightly packed green heads and plays a starring role in most stuffed cabbage and sauerkraut recipes.

Shredded red cabbage adds color to salads. Savoy is a more mellow variety, with more loosely packed, crinkled leaves that work well with stuffed cabbage recipes too.

Napa, often referred to as Chinese cabbage, is another species altogether. It can be filled with a vegetable mixture, wrapped and steamed, Green says, but it doesn't work as well for traditional stuffed cabbage dishes that are cooked a long time.

In our environs, stuffed cabbage is on the menu almost year-round at Effie's Greek restaurant at 11th and Pine; Famous Fourth Street Deli at Fourth and Bainbridge; Syrenka in Port Richmond; and Balkan Express at 22d Street and Grays Ferry Avenue.

The Warsaw Cafe in Center City offers veal-stuffed cabbage at lunch and dinner. And at Swift Half pub in Northern Liberties, chef Jessica O'Donnell is offering stuffed cabbage on her $3 seasonal snack menu.

Like lasagna, homemade stuffed cabbage is as good the day after - or better.

In her cookbook Starting With Ingredients (Running Press, 2006), Green features two stuffed cabbage recipes. One is an Eastern European version with raisins and sauerkraut in the filling mix and a sweet and sour sauce.

The other uses savoy cabbage stuffed with fennel-studded Italian hot sausage and pistachios (see recipe).

In The Jewish Kitchen (Interlink Books, 2004), British food writer Clarissa Hyman features Romanian holishkes (also spelled as holoptshes, holishkes and geluptzes), made with beef or lamb wrapped in savoy cabbage and cooked with lemon and brown sugar.

On About.com's Eastern European foods page, Chicago-based chef Barbara Rolek presents a vegetarian stuffed cabbage with sauerkraut, sweet peppers, and rice.

And in Mother's Best (Taunton Press, 2009), Lisa Schroeder, the chef/owner of Mother's Bistro & Bar in Portland, Ore., includes a recipe made with condensed tomato soup, ketchup, and brown sugar that most closely resembles my mother's prakkes (see recipe).

That's what we want from comfort food, isn't it? A recipe that comes closest to our childhood memory, regardless of the spelling.


Savoy Cabbage With Sausage and Pistachios

Makes 8 servings

1 pound hot Italian sausage, casing removed

1 cup diced red onion

1 cup diced roasted red pepper

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 cups cooked rice

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary (or 2 teaspoons dried)

3/4 cup golden raisins

3/4 cup coarsely chopped shelled pistachios

2 tablespoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

2 eggs

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 large green savoy cabbage (about 2 pounds), with boiled outer leaves removed

2 cups tomato sauce

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup dry white vermouth

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

2. In a large saute pan, brown the sausage over medium heat, breaking up with a spoon as it cooks. Remove the sausage from the pan and set aside.

3. In the fat remaining in the pan, cook the onion, roasted red pepper, and garlic until the onion is softened but not brown.

4. In a large bowl, combine the sausage, the onion mixture, cooked rice, cinnamon, rosemary, raisins, pistachios, paprika, hot pepper, eggs, salt, and chopped cabbage left over after the larger leaves have been removed and parboiled.

5. In a medium pot, combine tomato sauce, chicken stock, and vermouth. Spread about half the sauce mixture into the bottom of a large baking dish (such as a lasagna pan).

6. Spoon about 1/4 cup of the filling into the center of each cabbage leaf. Fold the sides over and then roll up tightly like an envelope. Arrange the cabbage rolls seam-side down in the baking dish. Spread the remaining sauce over top and cover the pan with foil. Bake one hour, uncover, raise the heat to 375 degrees and bake 15 minutes more, or until the cabbage is soft and lightly browned.

- From Starting With Ingredients by Aliza GreenĀ 

Per serving: 472 calories, 17 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 25 grams fat, 97 milligrams cholesterol, 1,711 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber.


Stuffed Cabbage

Makes 20 rolls or 8-10 servings

1 large head green cabbage

For the filling:

1/2 cup white rice

1 cup water

2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 large yellow onions, finely chopped

2 large eggs

2 pounds 80 percent lean round beef

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:

1 11.5-ounce can tomato juice

1 10.75-ounce can condensed tomato soup

10 ounces water

1 3/4 cups ketchup

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1/3 cup lemon juice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Remove about 20 leaves of cabbage by boiling in salted water. Set the rest of the cabbage pieces aside.

2. To make the filling, place the rice, water, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in a medium saucepan. Cover, bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as it starts to boil, give a quick stir, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, covered, until the water is absorbed, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Then fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.

3. Meanwhile, place a large (12- to 14-inch) saute pan over medium-high heat for several minutes. When hot, add the oil and onions at the same time. Cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Set aside to cool.

4. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and beat lightly with a fork. Add the cooked rice, cooled onions, ground beef, the remaining 2 teaspoons salt, and the pepper. Gently stir the mixture until well combined.

5. Using a knife, shred some of the extra cabbage and arrange on the bottom of an 11-inch-by-17-inch roasting pan.

6. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

7. Make the rolls. Place a blanched leaf on the work surface. Add 1/4 cup of the filling in the center of the leaf nearest the stem end. Fold the sides of the leaf over, then roll up like a jellyroll. Repeat until all the filling is used. (If some of the leaves have tough middle veins, cut them out and place the filling a little higher on the leaf; sometimes the veins don't soften enough during cooking.)

8. Place the cabbage rolls, seam side down, in rows on top of the shredded cabbage so that they fit snugly in a single layer.

9. Make the sauce by placing the ingredients in a medium (4- to 6-quart) saucepan. Whisk, then heat on medium-high until simmering. Pour the hot sauce over the rolls, making sure there is enough liquid to almost cover them (you may need to add more water or tomato juice). Cover the pan with foil and place in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until cabbage is soft and the meat is cooked through.

10. Cool slightly in the pan before handling. Lift the rolls out with tongs and serve either hot or at room temperature.

- From Laurie Rogoway in Mother's Best, by Lisa Schroeder (Taunton, 2009)

Per serving (based on 10): 525 calories, 21 grams protein, 55 grams carbohydrates, 40 grams sugar, 26 grams fat, 108 milligrams cholesterol, 1,551 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.


Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211 or dmarder@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/diannamarder.

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