Both my grandmothers used to make this traditional Eastern European Jewish dish. In my hazy memory, I think I was really doubtful I would like these, but the sweetness pulled in the otherwise picky young eater I was.
I wish now I could ask them what any of their tips or tricks were, but from talking to my parents extensively about what they remember of the preparation, I feel like my own recipe would do my grandmas proud.
I was so happy to find out that they used lots of sauerkraut and kraut juice in their version, because not everyone does so, and obviously I’m a lover of homemade sauerkraut.
Furthermore, I always have a ton of kraut and am always looking for new ways to use it. I was thrilled to have a perfect use for some now 18-month-old dilly kraut from my organic garden. It’s really sour and wonderful now, and really crispy still too (which gave me pause to cook a bunch of it, but a surplus is a surplus).
One thing I think my recipe does is intensify the flavor I remember experiencing many times before. Eastern European and Russian food can be notoriously bland. No, I’m not calling my grandmothers’ holishkes bland, but as my grandfather once said of me and my brother, “you like to go full flavor!” My preparation is more sour and probably a little less sweet than my grandma’s, and my grandparents weren’t using homemade kraut. It is more flavorful and tart than the pasteurized store stuff.
Although it totally breaks with Slavic food, I’ve also provided an option in the recipe to add some hot peppers. Holishkes n’ habaneros anyone?! I like to think my grandparents would have been proud of my blend of new and old, even if scared to try it themselves.
And with that, let’s do this!
This recipe yields about 18-22 holishkes.
You will need:
- 1 large green cabbage (3.75-4 lbs.)
- 1 lb. ground beef (or substitute)
- 1.5 cups cooked long grain rice
- 1/3 cup finely minced onion
- 1 large egg
- 1.5 cups sauerkraut (divide between 1 and 1/2 cup). I used my dilly kraut; if you only have plain, substitute with 2 TBSP fresh minced dill
- 28 oz. tomato sauce, divided (2 cans)
- 14 oz. crushed or diced tomatoes (1 can)
- 1 cup V8 or tomato juice (or substitute with another 1/2 can tomato sauce)
- Juice of 2 whole lemons (~6 TBSP)
- 2 TBSP sauerkraut juice
- 1/4 cup brown sugar (or more to taste)
- 2 TBSP tomato paste
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp allspice powder
- 1/2 cup chicken or veggie stock
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Optional: 1/4 cup raisins
- Optional: 1 TBSP matzah meal
- Optional: For untraditional SPICY holishkes, several minced hot peppers of choice (e.g. a few Scotch Bonnets)
1.) Remove any large exterior leaves from the cabbage and then rinse it thoroughly. Immerse it in a large pot of boiling water and cook it for around 5 minutes, until the leaves have softened and are pliable, but not mushy. Alternately, you can immerse it for about a minute at a time, just removing leaves as they become softened, then re-immersing.
2.) Drain the cabbage in a colander and allow it to cool enough to work with.
3.) Prepare the filling: mix the ground meat, cooked rice, minced onion, egg, 1/3 cup tomato sauce, 1/2 cup sauerkraut (squeeze to drain), plus optional minced dill and matzah meal. You also mix in half of the optional minced hot peppers. Add in salt & pepper to taste (~1 tsp of each). (You may allow this mix to refrigerate for several hours or overnight for the flavors to meld well.)
4.) Place all the large, intact cabbage leaves on a cutting board. Chop up the core and any small or ripped leaves and reserve.
5.) Pat dry a leaf with paper towel and shave down the tough, thick part of the stem at the base of each leaf using a paring knife. Repeat this process for each of the usable leaves.
6.) Stuff the leaves: Place a leaf on the cutting board, stem end facing you. Make sure the leaves’ curl is facing upwards, providing a bowl like shape, to avoid leaf tears.
7.) Shape about 1/3 cup of the filling (a bit like a sausage), and place it about 1/2″ above the edge facing you.
8.) Roll the leaf up once, wrap the sides around, and continue to roll until all the leaf is rolled in. (Some opt to only tuck in the left side and wait to push the loose, right side in at the end, but I prefer the first method. Do whichever works best for you.)
9.) If you have any leftover filling, you can roll it into meatballs and place on top of the rolls later.
10.) In a small saucepan, combine the tomato sauce with the diced/crushed tomatoes, brown sugar, tomato paste, minced garlic, and ground allspice (and optional ingredients such as 1/4 cup raisins or remaining minced hot peppers)). On medium heat, warm until fragrant and bubbly. Add salt & pepper to taste. Turn off heat and add the lemon juice and kraut juice. Stir.
11.) In the bottom of the large pot, combine the remaining 1 cup of sauerkraut and chopped cabbage core/excess leaves. Spread it evenly and then add 1/2 cup of chicken or veggie broth or stock.
12.) Place half of the stuffed cabbage leaves on top of the sauerkraut/cabbage mix.
13.) Place about 1/3 of the warmed tomato sauce over the first (bottom) layer of stuffed cabbage leaves. Then slowly add a 1/2 cup of the V8 (tomato juice).
14.) Add the next layer of cabbage leaves (the remaining half), followed by the remaining tomato sauce and V8.
15.) Heat the pot over medium-high, bringing the sauce to a low boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer. Let cook for 2.5 hours. Occasionally check the pot to ensure it’s not boiling too rapidly. (If it is, reduce the heat as low as possible if not already, and/or move the partly off the heat.)
16.) When ready, remove the stuffed cabbage leaves with tongs. Top the stuffed cabbage with some sauce and a side of chopped kraut mix when serving. Can sprinkle liberally with black pepper. Will stay good stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The stuffed cabbage also freezes extremely well (might be even better this way!).
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