Friday, January 27, 2023

Stuffed cabbage is one of my favorite comfort foods. I love those plump, neat packages of green cabbage stuffed with meat and rice, cooked in a sweet and tangy sauce. So the idea of adapting this dish for the vegetarian palate was less daunting technically than it was psychologically. How would it fare? Would the comfort food factor be qualified? Would it be so similar to the dish of my childhood that the missing meat wouldn’t be an issue?

My solution was to create a very different stuffed cabbage dish with a paprika and sour cream sauce made with a rich vegetable stock. The result was delicious, hearty and satisfying. The Savoy cabbage packets stuffed with rice and portabella mushrooms cooked in a paprika sauce and topped with additional sour cream and fresh dill received excellent reviews from my vegetarian guest. In fact, Julia loved it. And so, Choux Farci Julia was born.

The next day, I craved the piquant, honeyed red sauce of my childhood and made a second batch cooked in a tomato-based potage, spiked with caramelized onions, cider vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and honey. I was more than pleased with the results: on a cold, rainy day, those familiar sweet and sour cabbage rolls hit the spot, even sans meat.

This week’s recipe is Choux Farci Julia with two sauce options: one redolent with paprika, rich with sour cream and decidedly Hungarian, and the other, unambiguously and humbly Proustian. The sauce recipes will suffice for 22 substantial stuffed cabbage rolls.

What You Need:

Large nonstick sauté pan with high sides, or a nonstick pot suitable to hold eight cups

Large mixing bowl

Pot to hold stock if making Sauce Julia

Large Dutch oven or similar heavy, lidded pot that goes from the stove to the oven

Olive oil

1 large head of Savoy cabbage

5 cups of cooked rice

4 cups chopped onion

20 ounces chopped Portobello mushrooms

2 T chopped garlic (about 3 large cloves)

1 shallot, finely chopped (about 2 T)

3-4 eggs to bind the stuffing

1 T salt, adjusted to taste (I used a combination of truffle salt and sea salt)

2 T butter

Fresh ground black pepper, several turns (1/2 – 1 tsp.)

Dash nutmeg

Dash cayenne

Sauce Julia (Paprika and Sour Cream)

5-6 cups vegetable stock. Osem can add a fantastic flavor. Take care with salt since many commercial vegetable stocks have a high salt content.

1 T chopped garlic

½ C celery, finely chopped

1 ½ C chopped onions

½ C finely chopped shallots

4 T flour

2 T butter

3 T sweet Hungarian paprika

1 tsp. sugar

Salt to taste (will depend on the vegetable stock salt content)

Dash cayenne

½ C sour cream or crème fraiche or a combination

Additional sour cream or crème fraiche for serving

Fresh dill to garnish

Sweet and Tangy Sauce

5 C tomato puree

½ C cider vinegar

¼ C soy sauce

3 T honey

Dash cayenne, optional

3 T sugar (1/4 C if you prefer a sweeter sauce)

¼ C ketchup

3 large onions cut into 1/8 to ¼ thick rings

Water to thin sauce if necessary

Chopped fresh dill to garnish

What To Do:

Freeze the Savoy cabbage, then thaw, divide into leaves and steam the leaves until tender. Freezing and thawing makes the leaves easier to separate and the separated leaves cook more quickly and more consistently than boiling the whole head of cabbage. Slice and steam the innermost heart comprised of leaves that are too small and/or too tight to divide and roll.

Heat the non-stick skillet and add one or two tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the onions and, as they soften, add the shallots. When the shallots have softened, add the butter, then the garlic and a couple of turns of fresh black or mixed pepper. Sauté for just a minute, taking care not to let the garlic brown. Transfer the sautéed mixture to the mixing bowl. Add the dash of nutmeg and cayenne, about half a teaspoon teaspoon of sea salt, and blend. Return the skillet to the heat and add one or two tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the mushrooms until just about a quarter cup of their liquid remains in the pan. Add the butter and a couple of turns of fresh pepper. Sauté for half a minute more and transfer the contents to the bowl containing the rice mixture. Blend well. Add salt to taste. You can add truffle salt if you want to enhance the earthy, mushroom flavor. When the mixture is cool, add the eggs. Start with three, and add a fourth if the mixture needs more binding agent to hold a shape.

Coat the bottom of the Dutch oven with about half an inch of sauce. Spread the sliced, cooked cabbage hearts on the bottom of the pot. Stuff the cabbage leaves by placing a mound of rice and mushroom mixture about an inch from the thicker stem end of the leaf, folding the stem end over, then the side leaves in and rolling the rest of the way to create a neat package. Place each stuffed cabbage leaf seam-side down on top of the sliced cabbage hearts in the Dutch oven. The finished packets will be covered with the sauce of your choice.

Sauce Julia

Heat the vegetable stock in a pot and have a ladle ready. Heat the non-stick pot, or the nonstick sauté pan with high sides, and add one or two tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the onions first, and when the onions start to wilt, add the shallots. After the onions and shallots soften and begin to caramelize, add the butter and the garlic. Add a few turns of black pepper. Reduce the heat just a bit and add some of the flour alternately with some hot stock to create a thick, pasty sauce. Add the paprika. Keep stirring as you add the stock. Add the teaspoon of sugar. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding salt, truffle salt and a dash of cayenne if desired. Pour the sauce over the cabbage rolls. Cover the pot. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for about 1½ hours. Place the Dutch oven back on the stove. Carefully place the cabbage rolls in a deep serving platter, bowl or casserole suitable for the table. Cover with foil to keep the rolls warm. Over a very low flame, stir half a cup of sour cream into the sauce in the Dutch oven. Taste to adjust salt, pepper, cayenne and/or truffle salt. You can also add a tablespoon of truffle oil to the sauce. Pour the sauce over the rolls and garnish with chopped dill. Serve with additional sour cream on the side. I served the dish with Sriracha and found it gave a tasty kick to the rolls.

Sweet and Tangy Sauce

Heat a non-stick pot, or a nonstick sauté pan with high sides, and add one or two tablespoons of olive oil. Sauté the sliced onions until they are soft and starting to caramelize. Add the tomato puree, soy sauce, cider vinegar, sugar and honey. Cook over medium heat for several minutes, then taste to adjust sweetness (sugar or honey) and tang (vinegar) and add salt to taste. If the sauce is too thick, add some water. Pour the sauce over the cabbage rolls. Cover and bake as directed with Sauce Julia. Serve garnished with chopped dill.

Enjoy your Choux Farci both ways!

By Lisa Reitman Dobi

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