"Pigs-in-a-blanket" is the name we always gave stuffed cabbage, or cabbage rolls, while I was growing up. We never had these at home, mind you. It was only at the homes of more ethnic-inspired cooks that I had what I now know are properly called halupki, if you’re Slovakian, or golubki, if you’re Polish. All I remember is the wonderfully homey aroma they dispersed and my mental picture of the mama at one end of the table, papa at the other. And us polite kids, hands washed, grace offered, who said, “Yes, please,” as the mashed potatoes were passed. And “May I please be excused?” before running off to play again, but not before taking our plates to the kitchen. (I sound like I grew up in a “Father Knows Best” TV show or a Norman Rockwell painting!)
Dishes like this -- meatloaf, lasagna, pot roast – have hundreds of variations, don’t they? But, I have to admit, while I’ve made many of my own various versions of those classics, I never made stuffed cabbage. And it’s a western Pennsylvania tradition! I was inspired to make this thanks to a review copy of Little Old Lady Recipes I received courtesy of Quirk Books. The book’s subtitle is: “Comfort Food and Kitchen Wisdom.” And it delivers on that promise.
But nothing is fancy. And that’s what author and comedian Meg Favreau wants to share: “What the heck happened to food?” she queries at the start. The book is a tribute to all the simple, good and sassy women who have influenced our cooking over the years. Ms. Favreau says: “It’s time to get back to the comforting foods that made family dinners good. We should be following the advice of women who made those meals and alternated between doting mothers, and tough-as-nails disciplinarians, ladies who worked, raised families, hosted great parties and made the best out of the worst.”
It’s simply a delightful little book. Small in scale but big on kitchen wisdom. There are very few photographs of food in the book. The focus is on “the little old ladies” that Ms. Favreau found and photographer Michael Reali framed. These are real women, with real pearls to share. Take a listen:
“Never taste from the mixing bowl. Or at least, don’t let anybody catch you.”
Amelia, horse trainer, 88
“Everyone’s afraid of lard now.
But it’s not what you eat; it’s how you work after you eat it.”
Eleanor, farmer, 92
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Thelma, homemaker, 88
“Condiments are used to hide bad food.” Loretta, nurse, 89
There are lots more like that. And lots of good food and common sense, simple cooking. Although I didn’t follow the recipe in the book, I’m sure it would be “little old lady” approved. The recipe actually comes from Rachel Rapport’s first cookbook, Everything Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook. You may recognize Rachel as author of the blog Coconut and Lime.
from Everything Healthy Slow Cooker Cookbook
by Rachel Rappaport
Water, as needed
1 large head cabbage
1 teaspoon butter
½ cup sliced onions
28 ounce canned whole tomatoes in puree
½ cup minced onions
1 ½ cups cooked long grain rice
½ tablespoon garlic powder
½ tablespoon paprika
1 pound 94% lean ground beef
Bring a large pot of water to boil, enough water to sit below a steamer basket. Prepare the cabbage: Using a long knife, make 4 or 5 cuts around the core of the cabbage and remove the core. Discard the core and 2 layers of the outer leaves.
Peel off 6-8 large whole leaves. Place the leaves in the steamer basket and allow to steam over the boiling water for about 7 minutes. Remove the leaves with tongs and allow them to cool long enough to handle. Dice the remaining cabbage.
In a non-stick skillet, melt the butter. Add sliced onions and diced cabbage and sauté until the onions are soft. Add tomatoes and break them up with the back of a spoon, Simmer about 10 to 15 minutes.
Ladle one-third of the sauce over the bottom of a 4-quart oval slow cooker. Mix the minced onions, egg, rice, spices and beef in a medium sized bowl. Stir to distribute the ingredients evenly. On a clean work area, place a cabbage leaf with the open-side up and the stem facing you. Place about ¼ cup filling on the leaf toward the stem. Fold the side together and then pull the top down to form a packet. It should look like a burrito. Do the same with the rest of the leaves.
Arrange the cabbage rolls, seam side down in a single layer in the slow cooker. Ladle about half the remaining sauce over the rolls, lay another layer and cover with the remainder of the sauce. Cover and cook on low for up to 10 hours.