Monday, August 23, 2010

Vegetarian Pigs in a Blanket (Cabbage Rolls)

I am intensely fortunate.  While I am still struggling with wrist and hand pain from my new Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis (about which I am still totally and completely all "WTF?!"), I have dear friends who will stand in the blog breach for me.  Today begins a series of guest posts from friends of mine, mostly located in places far from New Orleans, who love food and are generously willing to bare their kitchens, recipes and restaurants to our wondering eyes.  This post is from the lovely Melinda, who lives in the beautifully fair city of Seattle.  Please make her feel welcome, folks!  *warm round of applause*

Hi! I'm Melinda, and I'm excited to be guest-blogging here at NOJuju. At first I was hesitant to write for this blog - after all, I don't live in New Orleans, and I know next to nothing about the food culture there, other than the fact that everything I have ever eaten there was extremely delicious and made from crawfish. I live in Seattle, where it's easier to get good Eritrean food than anything that hails from Louisiana (which is a whole 'nother blog post), and where we can't even grow okra or peppers because it doesn't get hot enough. I live right in the city with my husband, who enjoys cooking as much as I do.

And after an introduction like that, I have to tell you that this post of mine isn't even about food specific to Seattle. It's about cabbage rolls. Except that I don't even call them cabbage rolls - everyone in my family has always called them 'pigs in a blanket', much to the confusion of almost everyone else I talk to here, who think of pigs in a blanket as being hot dogs stuffed inside croissants. If you're wondering why that is, Wikipedia has the answer, as usual: it turns out that "In regions heavily influenced by Slovak immigrants, such as northern Pennsylvania, the term usually refers instead to stuffed cabbage rolls, such as the Polish or Ukrainian Gołąbki." Seeing as how I'm originally from Michigan, which is full of people of Eastern European descent, there's no surprise there. In Michigan, people get excited about pastries that nobody has heard of outside of Poland and the Upper Midwest.

A few months ago, I went to visit my grandma, and she made pigs in a blanket for everyone who descended upon her house that day. When I stopped eating pork about ten years ago, I figured I'd be giving up pigs in a blanket along with my bacon, but grandma made some extra ones with a meat substitute too, and they were darned good. They inspired me to start making plans for the enormous cabbage that has been growing in my garden since last September.

Pigs in a blanket aren't normally the nicest thing in the middle of August - they involve the crockpot being on all day, and that's much nicer when it's cold out. Ordinarily, I'd want them in January, but the cabbage's day of reckoning has finally arrived, and drastic measures are needed to use it all. I could only fit about half of it in the crockpot today; luckily, my husband promises that he has plans for the other half. I, for one, am half-hoping that he doesn't, because I'd love to try my hand at making kimchi or sauerkraut.

I ended up leaving these in the pot for around 7 hours, and they were tender and delicious. I attribute some of the niceness of this recipe to the homegrown cabbage, but I'm excited about how well my first attempt at pigs in a blanket turned out! I could definitely see them becoming a winter staple. I'd like to experiment with stuffing them with mushrooms instead of sausage; lots of nice mushrooms grow in the Pacific Northwest, and there is a wonderful variety of them available here during the fall and winter.

This recipe is vegetarian. To make it with meat, omit the olive oil (it's there to give the fake meat enough fat), and use ground pork or pork sausage. You can also use rice instead of bulgur, if you're so inclined. Some people parboil the cabbage leaves first in order to make them easier to manipulate, but I didn't.

1 package of vegetarian sausage
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups of bulgur wheat
1 onion
3 green peppers
1 box strained tomatoes
salt, pepper and herbs to taste (I used oregano, since the sausage already had some sage in it)
1 ordinary sized head of cabbage

Dice the onion and green peppers, and put them in a big bowl, along with the olive oil, bulgur wheat, and sausage. Smash this all up with your hands like you're making meatloaf. Roll it up in cabbage leaves and place them in the crockpot. Mix the strained tomatoes (or tomato juice, or tomato paste with water, or ketchup, if you're really in a bind) with salt, pepper and herbs. Dump over the top of the cabbage leaves. Turn the crockpot on and wait.


(Shown with a side salad that my husband made)


Tim August 23, 2010 at 4:51 PM  

Man, that sounds good. My borother-in-law's mom makes pretty good Golbacki (she's a Ukranian grandmother, of course they're good!) but I've never tackled 'em myself.

However, I have made Kimchi and it's fantastic. If the Mister uses you cabbage, a decent head of Napa works brilliantly. I wish I could make it again, buy my poor wife was really irritated by the smell. Sigh, she'll never understand my need for stinky goodness.

Anonymous,  August 23, 2010 at 9:27 PM  

hi melinda! welcome to this awesome blog.

your recipe looks delicious. i'm going to have to make it this week!


Melinda August 23, 2010 at 11:46 PM  

Thanks guys! I have exactly the same problem with kimchi - I am the only one in this house who would eat it, and so I don't feel justified in making it right now.

We've come up with excellent uses for the remaining cabbage though; I hope to write about them soon!

the Mister August 23, 2010 at 11:46 PM  

I made cabbage soup tonight, but was not able to fit all the remaining cabbage in the large pot of soup, so there's still going to be a third dish from this one cabbage triffid. I was a bit annoyed about how many square feet of garden were occupied by this cabbage for the 9 months it somehow managed to take to head up, but now that it's proving absolutely delicious and making 2½ *big* batches of food it seems thoroughly worth it.

NOJuju August 24, 2010 at 1:09 PM  

I looove kimchi, but I'm not sure I'd have the guts to make it at home. My kitchen smells bad enough from the sink full of dirty dishes, without me adding fermentation to the mix.

Hi the Mister! *waves* Sounds like you really know how to grow 'em.

Anonymous,  January 1, 2012 at 10:58 PM  

Thanks for this post and recipe. I am also from Michigan, now living in Seattle. My mom and gram often made pigs-ina-blanket, meat version though. I'm looking for a vegetarian version, so will try this! My grandmother was Ukranian. And half of the poeple I grew up with had "ski" in their name :)

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