I'm always torn between embarrassment or pride...Am I a cheap SOB or a resourceful thrifty individual? If I was going to dive into complete disclosure I think I would have to claim bi-partisanship. It totally depends on the space and time. If I'm feeling particularly flush, dropping serious coin on a dinner in a fine establishment can bring me joy, soul satisfaction and inspiration. The 90's had a lot of those moments.... Lately, ethnic “dives” in shady neighborhoods resonate more precisely to my pleasure points.
And while I personally would never pay more than $20 for a haircut, I could completely justify shaving my head and selling my hair to afford an original piece of art that I fell in love with. Can I really tell the difference between a $100 Italian Barbera and a $12 Chilean Carmeniere? I'd like to believe I could. But can I justify the expense? I'm feeling a lot less self confidence on that... It's just me.
What I do know is how smugly self-satisfied I get when I make “something from nothing” in the kitchen. This is nothing new. Grandmothers and professional chefs have relied on this perspective for years. That’s why they buy whole chickens and whole fish instead of parts and filets. They want the bonus of the bones, backs and giggly bits that go into making stock. But in our contemporary home kitchens, most of us don't take the time, and convenience becomes our thru-line.
I've written in the past about the intelligence of saving scraps to make stocks, especially vegetable and chicken stocks. It's so much common sense and given the stupid high price of canned stocks, it's basic home economics. I've also sung out with my exuberance of making asparagus soup from the woody stems of asparagus destined for the trash bucket. Similarly broccoli and cauliflower trimmings and leftovers can be soupercized into a winter cup or bowl of comfort food.
Equally important to getting the most out of a food budget is holding onto leftovers. Whether it’s an uneaten ear of corn or the remainder of a package of tofu, creative thinking on how to re-purpose the bits and scraps that can accumulate in your pantry can go a long way to stretching a budget. Plus I hate, hate, HATE wasting anything. It’s a part of our American lifestyle that makes us look spoiled and ungrateful.
Today I am singing the praises of stuffed veggies as a way of cleaning out leftovers. Following is what I came up with facing the flotsam and jetsam of my particular refrigerator. FEEL FREE TO IMPROVISE!!!!! That’s kind of the point! That said, I also sing the praises of this recipe as both a lightened up version of comfort food, as well as a way of squeaking tofu into a meal.
Here I’m setting forward cabbage leaves. Most Central and Eastern European countries have their own version. Gołąbki, Holubky, Golubsty, Töltött Káposzta, Holubsti are all names that may linger on the tables of your family trees. My stuffed cabbage are a more modern twist on Grandma’s. If the rolling of cabbage rolls seems too labor intensive for your schedule, roasted sweet peppers, eggplant or zucchini boats would be other quicker options.
STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS – NOT YOUR GRANDMA’S
Makes 12 - 18
1 Large Head of Cabbage
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion – peeled and finely diced (about 1 cup)
1 Small Red Pepper – (seeds & stem removed) finely diced ( ½ cup)
1 Small Jalapeno - (seeds and stem removed) finely minced
2 cups Thinly Sliced Mushrooms – white, cremini, shiitake, or whatever
2 Medium Garlic Cloves – minced
½ teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 medium/large carrot – peeled and shredded (about ½ cup)
20 ounces Ground
1 cup cooked rice - brown or white
½ pound firm Tofu – shredded on large holes of a box grater
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
¾ teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 Tablespoon Unsalted Butter
5-6 scallions – thinly slice, white and some green (about ¾ cup)
1 14.5 ounce can Petite Diced Tomatoes
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 ½ cups water
1 cup Sauerkraut (drained and rinsed) – OPTIONAL
1 small apple – peeled and grated (avoiding seeds and core) - OPTIONAL
Core the cabbage and set aside.
Heat a large sauté pan and add the oil. Add the onion, red pepper, jalapeño, mushrooms and garlic. Sauté for several minutes until onion and peppers start to soften. Add salt, pepper and carrot. Cook one more minute, then remove from heat and allow to cool.
Put the cabbage in a very large pot. Add enough water to cover well. Remove the cabbage, salt the water and bring it to a boil.
While waiting for the water to boil… Put ground turkey, rice, tofu, Worcestershire Sauce, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add cooled vegetables and mix well. Set into the refrigerator.
In a large sauté pan, warm the butter until bubbling. Add scallions and sauté for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, paprika, salt and water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes. Add the sauerkraut and / or apple if using. Warm through. Remove from heat.
Carefully put cabbage in the boiling water. As the outside leaves cook, pull them loose from the head and remove to a bowl of cold water. Continue removing the leaves as they cook until you have 20. They only need to be cooked enough to make them pliable for folding. Trim the bottoms of the leaves and shave away some of the tough rib.
Remove filling from the refrigerator. Put a cabbage leaf in front of you with the base at the bottom, the leaf curling up on the edges naturally. Place about 1/3 cup of filling an inch or so above the base. Roll the leaf forward, tucking the base in. Fold the right and left sides of the leaf in and continue to roll forward, forming and enclosed package. Set aside and continue until all the filling is used.
Line a large Dutch oven with some left over cabbage leaves. Layer the cabbage rolls on top of the leaves, spooning some of the tomato sauce over each layer. When all the cabbage rolls are in the Dutch oven, cover with remaining tomato liquid. Cover with a tight fitting lid and place over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to keep the rolls cooking at a low simmer.
Cook 60 – 75 minutes depending on the size of your cabbage rolls.