Retrograde Recipes: Peasant-Variety Purple Stuffed Cabbage (Vegan)

Perusing through some of my old writing I discovered some recipes that were compiled within the past few years, that I want to share with you! It’s been a bit of an experience reading through and looking at the photos, taking me back to moments in time that I otherwise wouldn’t be thinking about. These recipes are not just how-tos and demonstrations of my cookery, but personal records for me that take me right back to where I was at in my life.

When I wrote this recipe, I had been living in the basement, where I had no natural light at all to work with at the small toaster oven and the crock pot that constituted my heating elements. I had only the jarring, clanging, flickering, sickening light of the old florescent bars in the ceiling, and a small portable lamp, to illuminate the kitchen, and the images showed it. I think that I did a great job with the ridiculous conditions that most cooks and photographers would deem unacceptable.

But, it’s real. It proves that I can make a hearty, healthy, and colorful meal in the dead of winter in a condemnable basement with only resources that most people would throw to the scrapyard – that’s hardware (both the toaster oven and crock pot were thrown out perfectly functional and respectably-conditioned in neighbors’ garbage heaps) AND software (the food was acquired through the local Community Solidarity organization that redistributes “expired” food to people in need). Everything here, therefore, was salvaged. And, I was saved, too, as I had plenty to eat that winter.

Obviously, this could be modified for a meat-eater. It’s just a recipe, y’all. Do what you will with it.

A Peasant-style Vegan Stuffed Purple Cabbage Feast From Scratch

originally composed Jan 13, 2018

Tonight, I spent a few hours making my first attempt at stuffed cabbage. Inspired (as necessity is the mother of invention) by a half red cabbage that had been tossed around my supply system for about a two months, from sitting whole in the kitchen for a while, to having half of itself used, then the second half kept in the mini-fridge, then put outside in my outdoor cooler in freezing weather to make more room in said mini-fridge, then being brought back inside and put back in the mini-fridge, well, it was safe to say that it was time it got made into something, otherwise it would continue to degrade, and I may be frugal, but there’s a point where something is just too freezer-burnt to use. Combine that with the tomatoes that were so ripe that one finger-press of too much pressure that they would surely burst (they would have been great at the theatre, but I digress), and some leftover rice and lentil mix that was starting to get crispy on Warm in the crock pot, and well, it was time to make stuffed cabbage.

I was blessed with a haul of some cheap, past-prime dried spices lately. One of the selection was two normal-size containers of Oregano (ruled by Mercury in classical astrology – perhaps why I am so compelled to communicate this right after eating it!). I also was gifted some fancy Sicilian Oregano from my mother, but I think I’m going to make some nice salad dressing or garlic bread out of that – something that really features the herb. On the other hand, this cheap and old stuff needs to be used in dishes where it will serve as a backdrop, where I can use it in liberal amounts because frankly I just want to use it up so I have room for better supplies, and where the fact that it’s old and stuffy won’t be a detriment, but in fact, it would give some nice texture, umami, and a generalized herbal baseline. Ah, yes – stewed tomato sauce. Just the ticket.

Uncooked tomato sauce

So, for this part of the meal, I took:

4 extremely ripe tomatoes

about 1/5 cup stale dried oregano

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tbsp olive oil

salt & pepper

1 tbsp paprika

& I let that sit. I did NOT cook it before it went in the oven on top of the cabbage rolls.

I had already made:

2 small-medium onions, already sliced and baked with a little olive oil, more oregano, and salt & pepper,

While the onions were cooking, the sauce was prepared, and when the onions were done, I water-cooked the cabbage in the toaster oven. I had separated the cabbage into the “bowls” that they naturally make. Although, to be honest, they’re more like cups and wide strips, and I figured out from trial and error, that red cabbage seems to be much thicker on the layers, making it difficult to roll up, and difficult to cut, as they are studier and less “membrane-like.” So it is. Hearty, and well, they’re purple, so a small price to pay.

The cabbage pieces sat in hot water at 475 for about an hour, but never boiled.

Once they were drained and cooled (and I plan on using the purple juice to make my next batch of rice. I had been debating whether to toss it after reading a news article about pesticides today, but you know what? The pesticides are in pretty much everything. I might as well get the nutrients from my cabbage that the water took out. If I were able to live a “totally pesticide-free life” I would approach this differently, but getting my supplies from unpredictable sources, I don’t have this luxury. I’m preparing for the nuclear onslaught, maybe), I assembled the rolls.

A little rice and lentils. Onions on top.

Stuffed Cabbage

Just a dab of the sauce.

And there you have it.

From the mise-en-place you saw above, I was able to assemble 6 rolls – 3 large, and 3 small. I put a little oil in the pan first just to make it non-stick.

Then, I added the sauce on top, adding some SMOKED paprika for good measure. I love that stuff. It’s one of my favorite secret weapons.

I noticed that it wasn’t quite liquid enough, so I added about 2 cups of boiling water to make it thinner, knowing that some of the water would boil out during cooking.

The batch sat in the oven at 375 for about an hour and never really reached cooking velocity. This is a dense dish. I turned it up to 475 and left it in there for another hour (so, that means that from beginning to end, including cooking the onions, and assuming that the rice was pre-made, this whole meal took about 3-4 hours, depending on how leisurely one wants to go. Sometimes I like busting it out, other times I like attending to the kitchen all day, This was a day of the latter type). It had a foil lid on it for most of the time, but that was removed in the last half hour or so to broil-boil and brown it.

Once I turned it up to 475, it took off, bubbling and browning at the end.

In oven

You can’t see the bubbles, but they’re there.

 

Once I took it out, I let it sit for about 10 minutes before digging in.

Removed from oven

I delegated a small sample for testing.

HOT! Hearty, and begs you to eat it slowly, not just for the heat of it, but because the cabbage is thick and you have to cut it with slow care and precision so as not to fling the more fluid elements of the dish all over the place. Truly a recipe that prepares like a peasant and eats like a royal.

I discovered that I didn’t add quite as much salt during the prep as I could have, but better to have to add more at the end than have something that’s too salty. All of the starch and cellulose neutralize the seasonings very well. The Oregano ended up giving the sauce the experience of being complex and dense, very dense, with a fine texture.

I was very pleased with how this came out. If I were to try it again, I’d go for green cabbage to make the rolls easier to make, or at least use a whole head instead of a half, so I could actually roll. These were pretty make-shift, but I think I pulled it off well.

I’d also not bother with baking the onions first. I couldn’t sense them in the final dish at all.

Finally, I’d try to include some sort of different texture inside of the roll somehow. The “traditional” recipe calls for ground meat, so perhaps a meat crumble substitute would be a good choice. However, I usually don’t have that on hand. I would try some sort of small bean (aduki, or green or black lentil) in a preparation that would leave it just a LITTLE bit crunchy in the final result. I’d also pay more attention to the salination level. It’s important to add salt throughout the process, and not just at the beginning, or at the end. This is because the alchemy of the cooking process is constantly changing the chemical composition, and the salt is a catalyst for those changes – it needs to be fed regularly. It also makes it taste better – not more salty – but melts the flavors together throughout the cooking.

Thanks for sharing!