A continuing series on weekly meals that use sustainable, organic, local and ethical food during the challenging winter months. For more information, go here to the DDC section of Not Dabbling in Normal’s website: Dark Days Challenge.
Three community farmers’ markets in as many days, and more coming within weeks. Wow, an unprecedented bright sign for local fare during dark days. I stocked up again on mushrooms of several varieties, organic red-skinned and blue-fleshed potatoes, as well as leeks and cabbage, our seasonal pale green vegetables of choice. I also learned that our community is now designated as a “fair trade” town according to international standards for sustainable agriculture and responsible consumerism. What can I say, other than there’s a lot of foodies and farmers around here.
For the dark days, I generally like cooking foods that come from regions that have cold winters, like Eastern Europe. I recall a similar, vaguely Hungarian stuffed cabbage with pork filling and a tomato sauce made for last years Dark Days Challenge. Maybe it’s the mild weather, or just what I had on hand, but this year I leaned toward Asia. I combined ground pork with my newly purchased shitake mushrooms, and local organic garlic, ginger and scallions, the latter two found at the back of the vegetable bin, sorry looking but intact. Time to purge the fridge. This was a simple, flavorful and satisfying one-pot dish, visually perked up by the addition of colorful braised carrot sticks.
Many recipes for meat fillings (as with meat loaf) call for breadcrumbs or rice or other grains and starchy ingredients to lighten up the mixture. I like to use vegetables to do that. In this dish, I used slivers of the tougher outer leaves of the cabbage. Other times, I might use grated root vegetables according to the rest of the mix: kohlrabi, turnips, carrots, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, etc.
Cabbage Rolls with Pork, Shitakes, Ginger and Scallions
2 outer “wrapper” leaves from a head of Savoy cabbage (see below)
6 leaves from a head of Savoy cabbage (see below)
½ pint shitake mushrooms
Neutral vegetable oil (I used local sunflower oil)
1 large or two small cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-inch knob of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
6 scallions, white and light green parts, finely chopped
1 dry chili pepper, crumbled (or ½ tsp red pepper flakes)
1 lb pork
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt to taste
½ c water or chicken stock
Remove the tough outer “wrapper” leaves from a head of Savoy cabbage and choose two to trim and cut into slivers. Set aside.
Slit the stem end of the cabbage to release additional leaves, carefully removing them without tearing. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and drop in the leaves, two at a time, for a minute, until slightly wilted. Remove carefully to a colander to drain and dry them on a paper towel. Cut out the coarse stem from the leaves (v-shape) chop the stem finely and reserve.
Wipe the shitake mushrooms clean of any loose dirt and cut off the stems, reserving them for another use (think vegetable broth). Slice the mushrooms into small pieces.
Heat a tiny bit of oil in a wide, shallow pan and add the mushrooms, cooking until brown, stirring occasionally. Remove to a bowl to cool.
Add a few more drops of oil to the pan and sauté the garlic, ginger and scallions, adding them to the mushrooms. Crumble in a dry chili pepper.
Add the sliced cabbage from the wrapper leaves and the chopped stems, and cook until wilted and slightly brown. Add to the vegetables.
When the vegetables are cool, add the ground pork and the egg, lightly mixing the ingredients and not packing them down. Divide the mixture into six sausage-shaped pieces.
Thoroughly dry the cabbage leaves and lay them flat. Place the pork mixture toward the bottom of each leaf, overlapping the greens to leave no gaps and roll up into tight bundles.
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Pour a little water or stock around the cabbage rolls. Cover the dish and bake for about 25 minutes. Let stand for a few minutes and serve with colorful braised carrot matchsticks or another vegetable.