Having lived 21 years in my hometown left me no space and perspective for seeing Ukrainian cuisine in the big picture. I was a consumer there, some dishes were good, some of them were bad, some of them were my favorite. My grandma was the one who was cooking for all of us and I remember that there was no day that our fridge was empty. Cooking was a cult for her, and sharing food was a ritual through which her generosity was expressed the most. Whenever my friends were visiting me, the food would appear on the table and Mrs. Anna never cared if you were full, she had her own way to make you taste her dishes. And who could resist?! Who would be able to say No to homemade stew or warm bowl of soup prepared from scratch using seasonal ingredients or simply a cup of tea with a pie or cookies or her favorite brioche croissants with jam inside. She loved observing people and the way they were eating. Her philosophy “the way you eat, the way you work” could tell her more about your character than you would expect. Playing with the food or eating too slow was like a personal offence for her. She believed in people with a good appetite, she trusted them she knew that they would be able to work hard. That was her world where people ate big portions of homemade food and no one counted calories, the time where gluten was a friend and smoothies for breakfast would be considered as a frivolous behavior.
Sharing the recipe of Cabbage rolls is paying tribute to my Ukrainian roots, my attempt to understand the value of my cuisine and its uniqueness. The recipe embraces my grandma’s way of preparing them and my love for Middle Eastern spices.
1 green cabbage
150 gr ground beef
1 cup short-grain rice
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
several cloves of garlic, sliced
handful of chopped dill
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup sour cream
1 cup water
handful chopped dill
Trim off the large tough leaves of the cabbage. Make four deep cuts around the core of the cabbage in order to make the leaves easier to pull off later. Leaving the cabbage whole, put it in a deep, large pot with the core facing down and pour a full kettle of boiling water over it- the cabbage should not be fully covered in water, just about a half. Add a tablespoon of vinegar to water for preventing cabbage from getting mushy. Put a lid and simmer over low heat until the cabbage leaves have softened (It is hard to say the exact time because it is all about the type of cabbage you are going to use. Some get soft after 15 mins and some need more time)
Meanwhile prepare the filling by putting the beef, rice, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, oil, garlic and dill. Mix well with your hands. (A useful tip: prepare the filling before making the cabbage rolls and leave it in the fridge over night, in such way the spices infuse the filling and it is full of flavor as a result)
Remove the cabbage from the water and very gently pull off each leaf, always from the base to avoid tearing.
The Size of the leaf will determine how much stuffing you put in. Be careful not to overfill. Place the leaf sideways, so the spine is horizontal to you, and put the stuffing in the middle, running along the spine like a sausage shape, but leaving room at either side of folding. Place in a deep frying pan or a Dutch oven, tightly packed. When the pan is full. Mix the ingredient for the sauce and pour over the cabbage rolls (the cabbage rolls should be completely covered with the sauce, if you lack sauce add more water mix with sour cream and tomato sauce)
Simmer over low heat around 1 hour occasionally checking the readiness of cabbage and filling. When the cabbage rolls are ready, don’t forget to place one generous spoon of sour cream for topping. Enjoy the flavors of autumn.