Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hellaciously good holupki

I was weaned on holupki.  Honest to God.

Coming from a large extended Polish family has its privileges.  You get to eat the best kielbasa, hand made by your great-aunts, which pretty much makes store-bought keilbasa the equivalent of Cool Whip (not the real thing and not even close).  Just a whiff of those garlic-laden links at family reunions made grown men weak in the knees.  I remember hearing the women who made those sausages gossip later in irritated voices about how the menfolk piled their plates high with keilbasa, leaving little for the people in line behind them.

If you're from a Polish family, you get to eat the best sauerkraut--and never you mind that the house STINKS for days during the fermentation process because your grandmother got a wild hair during her annual summer visit and made a crock full.  You get to eat the best dill pickles, which are made with garlic and dill and salt and good old lacto-fermentation.  We were spoiled with real Polish pierogi, which are without peer--the dough thin and delicate, the fillings perfectly seasoned.  Offer a Pole a Mrs. T's pierogi and you'll have insulted him.  At Christmastime, you can get the best Polish nut bread and a vast variety of kolachki pastries, none of them too sweet to stop you from eating far too many.

And you get to eat the best holupki.

Holupki (you might know them as golabki or another alternate spelling that translates as "cabbage rolls") are a warming and satisfying comfort food that I remember my mother serving on chilly winter nights in upstate New York.  I loved my mother's holupki, which were pretty much identical to my grandmother's holupki.  I made holupki this way after I left home for years because they were homey and satisfying.  And then I found a recipe called "Cabbage Bundles in Paprika Cream Sauce" in the Family Circle ABZ's of Cooking, a 12-volume set of paperback cookbooks that I had purchased week by week in a local grocery store during my first marriage.

Once I started making these and then later, adapted the recipe to my own tastes, I wanted no other holupki.  Tender and flavorful with a tangy, creamy and gently-spiced gravy, they are a magnificent and elegant version of my childhood favorite.  I made them recently for a large dinner party and they vanished.  Several guests (who claimed they were of Eastern European descent) became misty-eyed when they tasted their first mouthful.

Yep, they're that good.

Now, I don't claim that these are authentically Polish.  In fact, since I use white wine and chicken broth to simmer them in instead of the traditional beef broth or tomato juice, add a good dose of both sweet and half-sharp Hungarian paprika (where my grandmother would have used none) and then use both light cream and sour cream when finishing the sauce (which was never done in our house although Polish cooking does sometimes rely on cream), I would say that they're the best of all worlds.  They're definitely the best of Vindaloo's world.

Photo credit:  Family Circle ABZ's of Cooking (1982)

Cabbage Rolls for Company   
                  ( adapted from Family Circle ABZ 's of Cooking)

     These are time-consuming to prepare, but worth every minute.  I use a #40 scoop (about 1 5/8" in diameter) to fill the cabbage leaves quickly and less messily.  Omit the light cream and sour cream if you want a less rich dish.  Serve these with a carrot and apple salad (substituting honey for the sugar in the recipe), sourdough rye bread and a side of Polish dills.  A fruity, dry Merlot like Bonterra 2010 (Mendocino County, CA) is a great accompaniment.  Or you can go with a hearty, heavier beer.

1 large head green cabbage (approx. 3 to 3 1/2 lbs.)
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup cold water (or substitute dry white wine)
1 lb. ground chuck
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup cooked rice
1 large clove finely minced garlic
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, sliced
2 tsp. Hungarian sweet paprika
2 tsp. Hungarian half-sharp paprika
1 tsp. kosher salt
4 oz. dry white wine
4 oz. chicken or beef broth
8 oz. canned tomato sauce
4 oz. canned diced fire-roasted tomatoes and their juice
4 oz. sour cream
4 oz. light cream or half-and-half
chopped fresh dill or parsley, for garnish

1.)  In a large kettle, bring enough water to boil to submerge the cabbage whole.
2.)  Trim any damaged outer leaves from cabbage.
3.)  Stick a large fork deep into the core and lower the cabbage into the boiling water, holding on to fork securely.
4.)  With a small, sharp knife, cut loose and remove 12 to 16 leaves to a colander or plate; cabbage leaves should be slightly softened and the rib slightly pliable.
5.)  Drain cabbage leaves and chop remaining cabbage coarsely to make about 6 cups.
6.)  Combine bread crumbs, salt, pepper and water in a large bowl.
7.)  Add ground chuck, eggs, rice, garlic and onion.
8.)  Mix beef mixture well, tossing lightly.
9.)  Using a small scoop or a couple of teaspoons, put about 1/4 cup meat mixture on each cabbage leaf near the thickest part of the leaf, folding in sides and rolling up leaf over stuffing.
10.)  Repeat until all leaves are used.
11.)  Heat butter in a large oven-proof skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
12.)  Add onion and let it soften for a few minutes, then stir in carrots and chopped cabbage.
13.)  Saute vegetables, stirring often, until soft, about 10 minutes.
14.)  Stir in both paprikas, salt, white wine, broth, tomato sauce and diced tomatoes.
15.)  Bring mixture to a simmer, then arrange cabbage rolls, seam-side down, close together, over cabbage mixture.
16.)  Cover and simmer on the stove-top over low heat for about an hour (or you can bake these in the oven at 375 degrees for 30 minutes then at 350 degrees for another 30 minutes).
17.)  To serve, remove cabbage rolls to a warm platter or serving dish, cover and keep warm.  Stir together sour cream and light cream; add to pan and stir gently to incorporate.  Spoon sauce over cabbage rolls, shower with chopped dill or parsley.  Serves 6 to 8 people.

No comments:

Post a Comment