Sweet and Sour: Memories of Stuffed Cabbage

My maternal grandparents George and Francis (Fannie) Ginsberg
-Atlantic City - June 4, 1936
Stuffed cabbage is like a time machine. It transports me back to my childhood when my maternal grandparents would make this special meal and bring it to us when the weather turned cold and our stomach's would growl. 

I wonder if on June 4, 1936 when this photograph was taken, my grandparents imagined that they would be memorialized in this blog as I share their recipe for this Hungarian delight. I guess in 1936 they weren't thinking about blogs. 

Pop and Grandma Fannie were quite a team. Sometimes George & Gracie and sometimes their own vaudeville routine. And like many Eastern European Jews who came to America, my Grandmother brought with her a joy from cooking native specialty foods. My grandmother came from Austria. Her stuffed cabbage is that rare dish that is both sweet and sour. And, like life during the Depression and during World War II, there were plenty of moments of both. 

My vivid memories are triggered by the exquisite taste that washes over me when I eat this wonderfully simple but joy filled meal. To honor the memory of my grandparents and how they would share this meal with friends and family, I am sharing their recipe with you. 

I have adapted it since they did use beef and I am substituting turkey. However, the flavor and the love is ever present. 

Life is like stuffed cabbage;  sweet and at times a little sour
The ingredients: 

2 lbs of ground turkey 
1 naval orange
1 fresh bunch of sage
1 head of green cabbage 
2/16 oz jars of crushed tomatoes 
6 vine ripened tomatoes 
2 lemons (you will use the zest and the juice) 
1 vidalia onion 
1 purple onion
2 cups of cane sugar
kosher salt 

#1 Cook and separate the cabbage leaves. Take a big pot that can hold hold an entire head of cabbage and fill 3/4 with water. Bring to a boil and drop in the cabbage having cored it out. This will allow the cabbage leaves to slowly come away from the cabbage head. Slowly take each leave after it separates and place on a dish towel. This process, from the time you put the cabbage into the boiling water can take about 30 minutes. 

The cabbage leaves should easily separate when dropped in the boiling water

Core the cabbage so the leaves can easily come apart

Drop the cabbage in the boiling water

The leaves are beautiful- just let them dry on the dish towel or paper towel 
#2 Chopped an entire vidalia onion into small cubes and saute in olive oil. While it is sauteing, open the two cans of crushed tomatoes and place in a large pot. Chop the vine ripened tomatoes and drop them into the pot with the crushed tomatoes. When the onions are soft, add them to the same pot. Add the zest of 2 lemons and the juice from them too. Add about 2 cups of sugar. The tastes will blend together over time and you should consider tasting it after the cabbage have cooked for at least 30 minutes. Usually these proportions are about right but fine tuning is often needed. 

Don't cry for me vidalia onions

Quarter the vine ripened tomatoes

Open the canned tomatoes 

Whole Foods house brand of puree tomatoes is a reasonably priced high quality product
#3 Preparing the filling. Take the 2 lbs of chopped turkey (beef can be substituted) and place in a large bowl. Add the zest of one entire orange. Add salt. Add about 1 cup of finely chopped purple onion (raw). Add about 1/2 cup of chopped fresh sage. Blend together by hand (or fork) until mixed together. 

The chopped turkey with sage, purple onion, orange zest and kosher salt
#4 Stuff the cabbage. Now take the leaves that have been resting on the dishtowel and put about one tablespoon of the raw turkey mixture inside. Fold like an envelope where you start with the bottom, fold in each side and then wrap the top over it. It should look like the photos below. 1 head of cabbage should yield about 18 stuffed cabbages when you use 2 lbs of ground turkey. 

Sorry this is out of focus- my hands were a little wet

As long as the cabbage is wrapped tight- it will be fine

Tuck the end inside the fold

Fold, tuck and repeat
MomentSlater author Jeff Slater

A thing of beauty
#5 Let the cooking begin. Immerse the stuffed cabbages into the tomato sauce mixture on a low simmer for about one hour. You have to gently add each one to the pot making certain they don't fall apart. You can add some of the cabbage that has broken apart into the tomato base. My grandmother would not have wasted one ounce of anything. Take your time and place the stuffed cabbages in gently. Lightly cover the pot and after one hour, take off heat. Remember to keep the light low so it simmers. 

Let the cabbages cool for one hour and then place into smaller containers. Ra El and I can eat about 3 each in one sitting so I usually make 3 batches of 6. I'll freeze two of them for future meals and enjoy the other one the next night. This is a recipe that is about 100 times tastier on day two as the flavors blend together. You can season this further to get just the right blend of sweet, sour and salt. Like the three bears you don't want it too sweet, too sour or too salty. 

Yum. I can smell it through the Internet

I am at peace. 
As mentioned above, this meal is best enjoyed the next day. I am writing this 24 hours after making these beauties and will enjoy it for dinner tonight. As I eat, I'll be remembering my grandparents and savior the sweet and sour savory sensations from these memories. 

Meet the Ginsbergs whose recipe I am sharing today
My only regret in making this meal is that I forgot to get rye bread. Friends don't let friends eat stuffed cabbage without a nice Jewish rye bread. Please don't make the same mistake as me. 

Stuffed. What a wonderful feeling. 

I can't believe I forgot the rye bread.

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