This recipe holds a special place in my heart – it is the only recipe I have from my grandmother Sylvia of blessed memory.
Sweet and sour stuffed cabbage is a classic Ashkenazic (Eastern European) recipe that is rarely served today. That’s a pity, because when properly made, it is a flavorful and delicious meal with strong iconic roots for many families hailing from that region.
I include the recipe as she made it – for me, I would probably add a spoonful of Major Grey-style chutney and some crushed garlic to the sauce, but then, it wouldn’t be hers, would it…
A cabbage roll is a dish consisting of cooked cabbage leaves wrapped around a variety of fillings. Meat fillings are traditional in Europe, often beef, lamb, or pork seasoned with garlic, onion, and spices. Grains such as rice and barley, mushrooms, and vegetables are often included. Pickled cabbage leaves are often used for wrapping, particularly in southeastern Europe.
Cabbage leaves are stuffed with the filling which are then baked, simmered, or steamed in a covered pot and generally eaten warm, often accompanied with a sauce. The sauce varies widely by cuisine. Always in Sweden and sometimes in Finland, stuffed cabbage is served with lingonberry jam, which is both sweet and tart. In Eastern Europe, tomato-based sauces or plain sour cream are typical.
The version called holishkes is traditionally eaten by Jews on Simchat Torah; stuffed cabbage is described by Gil Marks to have entered Jewish cooking some 2,000 years ago. Recipes vary depending on region; Romanians and northern Poles prefer a savory sauce, while Galicia and Ukraine favor sweet-and-sour, for example.
FYI – my grandmother’s secret ingredient were the crushed gingersnap cookies in the gravy.
Food is perhaps the strongest and most visceral connection to memory and the past – it defines our core essence and evokes an emotional response as few other things can.
My memories of her have faded after 30+ years…but when I make this dish, the smell of it alone sparks a flood of emotion and her face locks into focus.
Thank you, Grandma Sylvia – you are missed and remembered.
Battle on – The Generalissimo