I like to mix up some parts of the traditional Ashkenazi culinary calendar. The reason for this is simple: for fifty-one weeks of the year, a.k.a. not Pesach, I see no reason not to eat poppy-seed hamantaschen, and am of the opinion that these herald the new year far better than the pastry-who-shall-not-be-named. That said, I’ve been known to serve latkes on Shavuot and cheesecake on Hanukkah – the latter of which happens to be actually somewhat traditional. And this green recipe is simply a colorful Passover rendition of another holiday’s treat.
Stuffed cabbage, also known as holishkes, is traditional to Simchat Torah. (Continue) Holishkes are one of Ashkenazi Jewry’s oldest borrowings from neighbors in Eastern Europe – it appeared in Jewish cooking from the 14th century, when a similar dish emerged in Eastern Europe. Since then, it has been a frequent feature of the Jewish Sabbath table – not just in the Ashkenazi-dominated regions of Carpathia and Galicia (now Eastern Poland and Western Ukraine), but also throughout the Sephardi communities of the Balkans, where the dish became popular later. (Nota bene: the dish is Ashkenazi in origin.) Cooking and serving methods vary. Whereas in Hungary and Romania the holishkes are slow-cooked in a fantastically flavored tomato sauce, and Bulgaria’s are stuffed to the brim, the Greek lahmanadolmathes are cooked on top of a bed of vegetables. I blended the two methods – I made the stuffed cabbage in the Greek style, but added the tomato sauce from further north.
Creating Passover-friendly stuffed cabbage proved to be an interesting challenge. The traditional carbohydrate of the filling is rice, which is eaten by some Jews, but not by most Ashkenazim. Meanwhile, flour cannot be used to thicken the filling if it is too thin, but matzah meal would make the filling too dry. I settled instead for walnuts, which add body to the filling and a characteristic nutty, but not too savory, undertone.
Stuffed Cabbage for Passover (Holishkes)
1 medium head cabbage
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup ground walnuts
1 tbsp white salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground smoked paprika
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 large apple, cored and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
Water or stock
1. Cut the end off the cabbage. Then, place it in a pot of boiling water, and leave in until the outer leaves begin to fall off. Carefully remove about 20-30 leaves, without tearing them. Then, take the core of the cabbage out. Set the leaves and core aside, separately.
- In a large bowl, mix the beef, walnuts, eggs, and spices together until you have a consistent and solid mixture.
- Dice the core of the cabbage, and place the pieces at the bottom of a medium-sized stockpot with the apples and onions.
- Now it is time to make the holishkes.
- Take a leaf and lay it out flat on a flat surface.
- Cut off the nib of the leaf (the hard bit) at the bottom. (Throw the nib into the pot on top of the rest of the apple-onion-cabbage bed)
- Place about a teaspoon of the beef mixture into the lower-center part of the cabbage leaf.
- Fold the bottom bit of the leaf over the filling, and then the two bottom-side bits.
- Now, roll the leaf up to completely conceal the filling. Congrats, you have made a holishke!
- Place the roll on top of the bed, open side down. (This prevents the stuffed cabbage leaf from opening during the cooking process.
- Repeat until you are out of cabbage leaves! Nota bene: if you have leftover filling, you can fry them into little keftes.
- Cover the contents of the pot with water and/or stock.
- Place on the heat, and bring to a boil. Then, simmer for one to one and a half hours, basting – pouring liquid over – the holishkes regularly.
- Serve with carbs and the vegetables from the “bed,” with the additional option of tomato sauce.
Tomato Sauce (optional)
2 cups cooked, crushed tomatoes with their juices (or 1 can)
1 medium onion, chopped
Five cloves garlic, chopped
1.5 tsp salt
1.5 tsp black pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Olive or sunflower seed oil
1. In a medium saucepan, sauté the onions and garlic in oil until soft. Add the spices and vinegar and mix in thoroughly.
2. Add the tomatoes and mix in thoroughly. Bring to a boil, then simmer for five minutes.
The author would like to thank Jeremy Swack for being an excellent sous-chef during the testing of this recipe.