Friday, December 5, 2014

From the Sahel to... the Holy Land!

It's been a long time since my last post. But, I have an excuse. My husband, dog, and I packed up and moved away from Niger. We spent the better part of a year studying Hebrew and Arabic, and the last year getting to know our new home...


Now, I'm sure you are wondering why on earth it has taken me so long to come up with something to write about as the food in Jerusalem is amazingly varied, delicious, and famous. There are numerous cookbooks highlighting recipes from this region, like Yottam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Jerusalem.

Well, that is exactly the problem. For someone who loves all kinds of cuisines and whose spice drawer is overflowing with re-purposed jam jars full of cumin, coriander, and za'atar, this place is heaven.

Where to begin?! That has been my conundrum. I've also been distracted by the beautiful scenery and plethora of things to see and do...

Finally, tonight, I've decided to just start with what is cooking in my oven at this very moment.

Yes, the humble stuffed cabbage leaf.

It's not sexy looking, and it certainly doesn't scream Jerusalem. But, it was inspired by the organic veggie box I have been getting weekly for the past six months. Chubeza is a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm located about 36 km west of Jerusalem. Every week, boxes bursting with whatever they have growing in their fields are packed up and ready for pick up or delivery.

Recently, cabbage has been making a regular appearance. Not being a huge fan of cabbage, I've been kind of at a loss for what to do with the cabbage heads waiting patiently in my fridge. So, I turned to Claudia Roden's, The Book of Jewish Food, for inspiration. According to Roden, "Cabbage is the historic Ashkenazi vegetable" (p.161). People in Central and Eastern Europe prepare the leaves in various ways - stuffing them with meat being one of them.

Roden's recipe seemed a little lean to me, and I haven't had much luck baking uncooked rice, as she suggests, in vegetables before. So, I combined her recipe with another one from Extending the Table, a useful little cookbook my mom bought for me before my first move overseas. The resulting dish is surprisingly simple to prepare, light, yet filling, and the perfect combination of savory-meaty flavors that define good comfort food. Enjoy!

Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

12 large leaves from a medium to large head of cabbage
1 medium onion, finely chopped
olive oil
1 lb (500 g) ground beef
1 cup cooked rice
1.5 teaspoons dried rosemary
1.5 teaspoons dried oregano
2 medium eggs, beaten

3 cups finely chopped tomatoes, or 1 can tomato puree
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup chicken stock

Remove the core of the cabbage by cutting a deep cone around the stem-end of the head.
Immerse the whole head of cabbage in a large pot of salted, boiling water.
Carefully remove the leaves one at a time as they begin to soften. I did this with two wooden spoons, placing the detached leaves in an empty bowl next to me.
Next, prepare the filling by frying the onion and beef in about a Tablespoon of olive oil.
When the meat begins to brown, season it with salt, pepper, the rosemary, and the oregano.
Remove the meat from the heat and allow it to cool while you prepare the sauce.
Combine the tomatoes, lemon, sugar, and chicken stock in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Once the meat has cooled a little, mix in the eggs and the cooked rice.
To stuff the leaves, lay one cabbage leaf on a plate.
Put approximately 2 rounded Tablespoons of meat mixture on the leaf near the stem end.
Fold the sides over the meat and roll the leaf up creating a little packet.
Place the stuffed cabbage leaf in a rectangular baking dish, seam-side down.
Continue with the rest of the leaves and meat mixture until the baking dish is full.
The stuffed cabbage packets should be packed in fairly tightly.
Next, pour the tomato sauce over the cabbage rolls.
Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and place in a preheated 350F/180C oven.
Bake for about an hour and a half.
I served the stuffed cabbage leaves with polenta and a balsamic and oil dressed salad, prepped by my hubby.