This unfamiliar friend is thinly sliced eggplant. Be patient. It gets better.
Well, friends, it’s been a long time. I’d blame it on a slow, summer haze, but in fact I’ve been moving at a fast clip since about June. I’ve been busy losing my camera and then finding it again, busy traveling to see family in both Texas and Virginia (a week apart!), and generally busy soaking up the summer in the meantime. You know, attempting to relax.
I started working at a farmer’s market, with Tomato Mountain. That proved to be awesome, and I continue to really enjoy it, in addition to doing my regular old things. At my last market, I picked up some awesome, organic buckwheat flour, and since then I’ve been shoving crepes down anyone’s throats who will stand it. I’m working on veganizing the recipe, and when it happens, I’ll let you know first.
What else? I stopped writing but kept on living. Veggie burgers, slaws of every ilk, and grilled vegetables (and fruits) like you wouldn’t believe have come out of this kitchen. I suppose you don’t have to believe it, since I’ve shown you no proof.
But the wait is over now! I present you with stuffed cabbage rolls—an unlikely choice for the heat of summer, but nice in the sense that I cooked a meal with several parts—something I haven’t done in a while. It was the sort of cooking event that brought me back to a hobby I love, and made me remember why I love cooking—within limitations especially, there’s the opportunity and the creativity to make something great and potentially unexpected.
Okay. No more chatter, Fecher. On with dinner.
So, what you see here is the finished product, before sauce. This is tender young cabbage leaves wrapped around spiced rice and tofu. The cabbage rolls are then wrapped in something I call “eggplant bacon.” Then they’re doused in sauce and eaten with glee.
So, obviously you’ll need a small head of cabbage. The one I had was very small—the size of a league softball. You’ll boil that for two or three minutes and then plunge it into ice water, so that you can easily separate the leaves.
Before boiling the cabbage, cook up some rice, or use up some leftover rice if you have it—maybe two cups? I’m operating on the rough estimation that this “recipe” serves two hungry people. To the rice I added half a torpedo onion, chopped, half a white onion, chopped, significant amounts of garlic, salt and pepper, and dried parsley. We’ve been getting enormous amounts of parsley in the CSA, so drying and saving it seems the only way to go. I’m estimating that I used at least two tablespoons.
To the rice mixture, add some crumbled tofu—not that much, honestly, maybe 6 or 8 ounces, so like, a sizeable handful. I suppose in standard cabbage rolls you’d use mostly ground beef, and so in the veg version you’d use mostly tofu, but they were plenty filling with the seasoned rice and a slight amount of tofu, which is just fine by me. You could also use seitan or tempeh, I imagine, to the same smashing results. Just season the protein sort of heavily, since you’re dealing with other bland friends like white rice and cabbage.
So, then boil the cabbage. I had a really small head of cabbage, so I just de-stemmed it and boiled the whole head. But if you have a large head, you’ll want to carefully remove some larger leaves and boil those individually.
(To core a cabbage (or a head of lettuce for that matter), run a paring knife around the core (the round, white center on the bottom of the head), and then whomp the head of cabbage on the countertop, core side down. (Similar to the way you whack a clove of garlic to peel it.) Then you’ll be able to loose the core from the cabbage, leaving only the leaves. This is an excellent method if you’re into making slaw, as that stupid core gets in the way of an otherwise speedy chopping task.)
If you can time this right (a helper is helpful), make the eggplant bacon while you’re preparing the rice. To do this, cut a Japanese eggplant into thin strips (see lead photograph), fly it up good (2 to 3 minutes on each side—a shorter amount of time as your pan gets hot—basically, until the bacon is brown and pliable), and then salt it once it’s cooled. You could probably add cumin to the mix here, to get a meatier taste, if that’s what you’re after. But I’m here to tell you that the crispy eggplant does alright on its own.
So, then briefly warm your tomato sauce, which could range from homemade to canned to just some chopped tomatoes. What you see in the photos is just roasted tomato puree from that there farm I mentioned before.
I am trying hard not to be a TMF blog, and just a regular outlet for writing, so I am going to not mention how very many ingredients from the CSA were involved. Okay, maybe I am going to mention it, but then we’re going to stop this weird cross-marketing thing: tomato puree, cabbage, both kinds of onions, eggplant, parsley. Not the garlic, though I could have, since I have like, five heads of it from Monday’s CSA delivery. (It’s possible that a perceived brand loyalty has slowed my regular food writing. I’ll try to fix that and just talk about the food.)
Enjoy with a side of spiced tofu and an ice cold beer. My compatriots and I don’t have air conditioning, so we have to resort to beverages, fans, and a medium amount of whining to keep us cool. You understand.
Thanks for taking me back after this long break. I also have a no-bake cake to write about. It’s deeeeeelish, and I hope my brother and his Al pal like it as much as I know I’m going to.