Every year for as long as I can remember, my mom has prepared a holiday feast of borscht, perogies and cabbage rolls, followed by apple or carrot strudel in honor of my father’s Old World roots. His parents emigrated from Germany at the beginning of the 20th Century to the prairie lands of Saskatchewan, Canada.
Over a hundred years later, my family continues to celebrate my paternal grandparents – and my father’s – tenacity and fortitude with the foods that I expect were often their only comfort in those dire times of homesteading, living in a sod shack, breaking raw land to farm wheat.
I love the collective nature of this menu, indicative of the geographical motion and melding of peoples at that time– borscht associated with Russia; perogies with the Ukraine; cabbage rolls, meat and rice wrapped in some sort green is found everywhere in European cuisine; and apple strudel, from both German and Jewish food traditions.
My mother learned the preparations from her mother-in-law, a daunting task for the young wife of a man who worshiped his mother and her cooking. But she learned, and she taught me, and now these foods are an integral part of my own family’s holiday traditions.
Theses days we split this amazing meal into two, so every dish gets its fair attention in our tummies. On the night before Christmas Eve we serve cabbage rolls and strudel; on Christmas Eve we enjoy borscht and perogies. (I promise I’ll share those recipes, too!)
My father passed on many years ago, but every holiday season as my mom and I prepare the beets for borscht, stuff the cabbage with meat and rice, and “pinch” perogies, we remember him and the happy times around our Christmas Eve table, watching him savor the foods of his childhood, a boyish grin from ear to ear.
We will see that same grin on my sons’ faces in a few days … and the circle of tradition goes round.
2 heads of cabbage, cored 1 15 ozoz.an of sauerkraut
1 cup vinegar 6 slices of bacon, cut in half
1 cup uncooked rice
1 ½ – 2 pounds ground beef
½ cup chopped onion
Salt and Pepper to taste
Add about 1 inch of water and ½ cup vinegar to each of two Dutch ovens. Place 1 cabbage in each pot, core side down, and cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook for 15 – 20 minutes (until the cabbage turns yellowish). Do not drain cooking water!
In the meantime, cook one cup of rice; let it cool slightly. In a large bowl, add the rice to the raw ground beef and onion. Add salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly with hands.
When the cabbage heads are cooked, take them out of the pots and set on counter to cool slightly. Then gently separate the leaves, placing them singly in a line on the counter. Starting with one leaf, slice out the hard part of the core and discard. Using approximately one heaping tablespoon of meat mixture, put it in the leave and roll it up, burrito style. * Place the rolls in the Dutch oven, Repeat process, fitting the rolls tightly together in the bottom of the pot. The start a second layer. You should have 3 layers of rolls by the time you are finished.
*NOTE: cut the big outer leaves in half to make two rolls. And, the inner core leaves are too small to use for the rolls. Use in soup or slice thinly and sauté with onions and garlic, as a vegetable side dish for another meal.
Spread the can of sauerkraut over the top of the rolls; lay slices of bacon over top of the sauerkraut. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce immediately to the lowest setting and cook for approximately 2 hours.
Remove, but reserve, sauerkraut and bacon before serving with tomato sauce (recipe below) and sour cream, accompanied by mashed potatoes.
Or, to freeze for later use, separate into smaller portions transferring rolls one by one into ovenproof containers; pour a bit of the cooking liquid into each container and top with portions of sauerkraut and bacon. To reheat: thaw and cook slowly in a 275-degree oven for 1 ½ to 2 hours.
Tomato Sauce: Make a rue of 2 T of butter and ¼ cup flour, add a can of diced or stewed tomatoes, and heat thoroughly. Put in serving bowl so each person can use sauce, if desired.
Sour cream is delicious as a condiment to cabbage rolls, as well. Sometimes we serve mashed potatoes with the rolls, but I’ve taken to making spaetzle, a German noodle dish my husband’s mom often made, which is revered by my entire family. My dad loved spaetzle, too. I think he would be very happy with the addition to the tradition.
Season’s Greetings to All!
Eat well. Be happy.