Saturday, 22 June 2013

Prackus (Cabbage Rolls)

Prackus (cabbage rolls in sweet tomato sauce)

If I close my eyes and let my mind drift, I find myself floating back to my mother's kitchen in my childhood home...we are standing together at the table, rolling prackus.

I can see the grape leaves that she was carefully laying out, and recall my horror when I realized that she expected me to eat leaves!  In my young mind there was no difference between the leaves that fell from the maple tree in our front yard, and the "delicacy" she was using to roll up my beloved cabbage rolls!

She tried to explain that the lettuce we ate in our salads was a form of a leaf...but that only exacerbated an already deteriorating situation...I simply decided not to eat salad anymore!

Well, she left me to my "Sara Barnyard" melodramatic moment, and we began rolling prackus for Yom Tov.  I don't think I ate the leaves.  Rather, I think I unwrapped my portion and ate the sweet and sour filling, delighting in yet another marvellous morsel from the Matriarchs.

To this day, when I stroll through the grocery store and come across the jars of marinated grape leaves, I think back to that day and smile at the memory.

Prackus (stuffed cabbage rolls) were always a treat in our house, and Mom and Bubbie Lou often served them on the Jewish Holidays.  It's funny how we pass on information and ideas to our kids without even realizing it. For me, one such notion was that making cabbage rolls was a laborious task to be dreaded.

Consequently, every time I would think to make this dish I quickly talked myself out of the idea, reasoning that I would need hours to make them.

And then, in late April I met up with a group of  foodies that I met in Norene's kitchen for an impromptu lunch, and my Facebook friendships were instantly transformed into real friendships.  As we  shared stories and recipes, I thought of my mother, and how much she would have loved to have been a part of such an afternoon.  SHE was the reason I was here...losing her to Alzheimer's propelled me into a world of food, cooking and discovery...oh, how I wish she could have been with me to enjoy these amazing ladies.

As I sat with Norene, Aviva, Michal, Miriam, Robin, Shayla and Helene, I was inspired to get back to cooking, and wanted to find a traditional Jewish family recipe for my next culinary adventure.  So, after we said our goodbyes, Aviva and I went off to Kosher Longos, where I picked up a cabbage and some kosher ground beef.

The following day (Monday) I cut away the cabbage core, boiled the head of cabbage, drained it and refrigerated it.  Maybe the whole boiling process took an hour, but I really didn't notice, because I was making cannelloni (from scratch!) the whole time.

My boiled, cored head of cabbage 

On Tuesday, after we cleaned up from dinner, I set about making the cabbage rolls, bracing myself for hours of labouring at my kitchen counter.  I (foolishly) veered away from the family recipe (big mistake! I think this is why they weren't a hit with my family - follow the recipe below, I will next time!) sauteed some chopped onions, browned the ground beef and cooked some basmati rice.  At the same time, I cooked a tin of diced tomatoes with some brown sugar.  While everything browned and cooked, I gently peeled the cabbage leaves, cutting away the tougher centre of each leave and reserving these pieces for another of Mom's recipes.  Sounds like a lot of work, no?  No!  This process took no more than half an hour from start to finish!

I browned the ground beef - big mistake!
LEAVE IT RAW!! I will next time...

Boil basmati rice - you can still do this,
I think it would add a little filler to your roll

Mix eggs, basmati rice and RAW ground beef
(along with salt, pepper and garlic salt/powder)

Add bread crumbs or matzo meal

"Mixie Mixie a la Pixie, Diddly Dum and Diddly Dixie"
(click here for the post with the back story for this phrase)

Cabbage head ready to roll! Boiled & cored.

Single cabbage leaf

Then I started to roll the prackus, thinking this must be the challenging and time consuming part.  The first roll  took all of 30 I was perplexed!  Thirty seconds?!  I figured that it must take a long time to roll them all.  But it didn't...the entire process was done and my kitchen cleaned by 7:30!

Place meat mixture at bottom (core) end of leaf

Fold bottom of leaf upward over mixture,
 then start rolling from one side

And roll from the other side...

Place roll seam-down in your Pyrex dish

I used two Pyrexes so I could make both sauces

So the moral of my story - a moral that I keep reminding myself of - is that these recipes do not take so long, and they are worth the time and effort to make.

I made 2 types of cabbage rolls - the sweet and sour version from my youth, and a peppery sauerkraut version similar to a dish  my sister-in-law Renate makes.

Sauerkraut Cabbage Rolls

Our family's traditional tomato cabbage rolls

They were all delicious, if I say so myself.  But, I discovered that they are also an acquired taste, and one that I may have introduced to my family a little too late.  While this dish will not be a regular feature in my weekly menu, I will continue Mom's tradition and prepare them for Jewish Holidays.

From my family to yours, here is an "old country" recipe that I treasure and hope you will too.  Whatever you're having, I wish you a wonderful day filled with family, fun, friends and fantastic food.  B'Tayavon and Buon Appetito!

Bubbie Lou's original recipe card


Cabbage Roll Ingredients:
1 head of cabbage
3 lbs of ground beef
2 eggs
salt, pepper & garlic salt to taste
1 small onion, grated (drain any liquid)
small handful of breadcrumbs or matzo meal (maybe ¼C)

Sweet Tomato Sauce Ingredients:
1 tin of diced tomatoes
3 tbsp brown sugar
dash of lemon juice (to taste, if too sweet)

Sauerkraut Topping Ingredients:
1 jar sauerkraut
salt and black pepper to taste

Cabbage Roll Method:
Place cabbage in pot of boiling water.  Boil gently for about 30 minutes to loosen leaves, making cuts around  core first.  Separate leaves on towel/paper towel.  Combine meat mixture ingredients and roll up in the cabbage leaves. Line cabbage rolls in a Pyrex dish (use 2 dishes if you want to try both sauces).

Sweet Tomato Sauce Method:
Fry onions in canola oil until golden brown in medium sauce pan.  Add diced tomatoes (with juice), brown sugar and lemon juice.  Bring to boil and remove from heat.  

Baking Instructions for either type of cabbage roll:
Preheat oven to  to 350˚.  Cover cabbage rolls (lined in Pyrex) with either sweet tomato mixture OR sauerkraut mixture (topped with a healthy dose of black pepper).  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1½ to 2 hours.  Then serve.