Not all my cooking creations are successful. The first time I tried cooking Hungarian stuffed cabbage rolls—a dish I was brought up on by my mother and great-grandmother—the rolls all fell apart. I didn’t know the trick of trimming the thick “veins” in the cabbage leaves, and I don’t remember parboiling and coring the cabbage.
This week, I got it right. First of all, I consulted with my brother, who is by far the best cook in the family. Then he sent me the recipe he uses. Here it is.
It took me five hours to cook the cabbage rolls from start to finish, though much of that time was waiting for the rolls to boil for 1½ to 2 hours. I used four different kind of meats in my recipe: smoked Hungarian gyulai kolbasz, Hickory smoked bacon, ground pork, and ground beef. Fortunately, there’s a great butcher shop at Alpine Village in Torrance which has several different types of kolbasz.
Once you make stuffed cabbage rolls, it’s easy to cook enough to feed a family for several days. Our lasted five days, with some left over that we had to discard because i have a rule that no cooked dish I make can be eaten for more than five days.
If you should try the recipe, be sure to get some fresh dill and some marjoram and—most important of all—real Hungarian paprika from Szeged, Hungary. The Spanish stuff has the color, but not the flavor.
During this hyperextended coronavirus quarantine period, I have picked up a few good habits. Perhaps the best of them is taking authenticity more seriously in my cooking. I have been making Indian vegetarian dishes for over thirty years, but now, thanks to YouTube, I am more serious about trying to cook them approximately the way a resident of India would.
For one thing, that involves a more serious attention to the spices used in Indian cooking. Fortunately, there are a number of Indian groceries in Culver City along Venice Boulevard, my favorite being India Sweets & Spices. Just to give you an example, here is a list of spices for Chickpea Pulav, which I will be preparing later this week:
Cumin seeds (jeera)
Bay leaves (tajpat)
Ginger (I use a bottled ginger/garlic paste from Laxmi)
Mango powder (amchoor)
Garam Masala (which is mostly cardamom)
In addition, I will also be adding a few additional spices not called for in the recipe, including powdered red chile, cumin powder, cilantro, and coriander powder.
If you are interested in Indian vegetarian cooking, I highly recommend Manjula Jain’s Cooking with Manjula, 2nd Edition, which can be obtained for $5.00 in a downloadable format. (In my case, it turned out to be Microsoft Edge PDF, which took me a little while to learn how to print so that it doesn’t stretch off the page.) There are approximately 150 pages of recipes, which make it a good deal for the cost involved.
I highly recommend you try the Chickpea Pulav first, which Manjula calls a “Spicy Rice with Chickpeas.” I am going to be busy trying her other recipes, which you can also find on the web and YouTube. Here’s the YouTube recipe for the Chickpea Pulav: Click here.
I Have Shown Myself to Be Ignorant of Facebook Security
If you have tried to follow the links to my brother’s recipes, you will have found out you can’t see any of them because you are not a friend of Jennifer’s. I have not given up hope: I will investigate how to get around Mister Zuckerface’s security. Stay tuned to this spot in the coming days.
Although I still have a shelf of cookbooks, it is unlikely that I will add to it. For my own ventures into cooking, I am increasingly turning to YouTube where I can see the dish being made and what it looks like when it is completed.
As I grow older, I am becoming more interested in vegetarian cuisine. And which is the greatest vegetarian cuisine, but the foods of India. If I am cooking for myself these days, I am more than likely to go for a good curry recipe like one of the following:
Chef Harpal Singh’s Mumbai Mast Tomato Pullao
Chef Harpal Singh is a charming presence who likes to entertain you by singing (or is it singhing?). I have not made this dish yet because Martine prefers me to cook dishes with meat. So I have to wait until she has an episode of irritable bowel syndrome before trying it. (Those episodes last for about a week.)
A Tasty Eggplant and Potato Curry from HowToCookGreatFood.Com
The chef here does not introduce himself by name, but he is a wizard. I have prepared this dish twice and love it. My friend Mona, who is a health nut, thinks I am crazy for liking a dish whose primary ingredients are both members of the deadly nightshade family. Happily, I have not yet succumbed to any sort of nightshade poisoning.
There are other sources, which I may introduce at some later date, such as Chef Odon Hankusz from Budapest. Unfortunately, his instructions are all in Hungarian, but his Gulyás Leves is a dish for the gods!
One of my favorite dishes as a child was Hungarian Káposztas Tészta, or Cabbage Noodles, which was both cheap and good. The recipe below is taken from 2009 posting to Blog.Com describing the way I prepared it for a Hungarian Meet-Up Group potluck:
Take one head of cabbage, grate it as finely as possible. Deposit it into a large mixing bowl and salt liberally. Then cover it with a clean dish towel and come back a half hour later. You will find that the salt draws the water out of the cabbage. Pick up handfuls of the cabbage, squeeze the salt water out of it over the sink, and place in a colander. Then squeeze it hard again.
Now it’s time to get a large saucepan and melt some unsalted butter in it and add an equal amount of olive oil. (The old Hungarians used bacon fat, but butter and vegetable oil is just as good and better for you.) Sauté the cabbage and keep stirring for upwards of an hour, until the cabbage starts to get a little brown around the edges. Don’t leave the cabbage to burn: You have to attend to it fairly closely.
Around this time, start boiling water for egg noodles. My mother used to make her own, cutting them into three-quarter-inch squares that were perfect. But prepackaged noodles are almost as good. Drain the cooked noodles and add to the cabbage. I used my Chinese iron wok to mix the two together. While turning the mix around, I added salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.