Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cabbage rolls, pierogi, m**tballs, mushroom gravy


This meal was part of a personal challenge, which was to veganize a menu for a work lunch that I had to attend at which none of the food being served was vegan but, mutatis mutandis, sounded very appetizing. So I brought my own version, heated it up in the office microwave, and took it into the meeting while everyone else was dishing up from the catered stuff. Nobody noticed the difference, so I didn't get to live out my fantasy of lecturing all my workmates about how, see, vegans eat the same food as you do, only nobody has to get hurt…oh, well…it was a fun experiment, one that I may repeat for my secret enjoyment in future.

The pierogi I had frozen, from here.

The cabbage rolls are from Vegan Dad's recipe, which I followed except that for the tempeh I substituted Yves Original ground round (essentially a mixture of lightly seasoned TVP and seitan, as far as I can determine from the ingredient list and taste, but it worked well here) and added a little sauerkraut to the filling. I also baked the rolls in a single layer until they got nice and crispy at the edges and caramelized--not as pretty, but that's what I like.

Vegan Dad says it's the sauce that makes this dish. The sauce was good, all right, but in my opinion, it's the fennel in the filling that utterly and for all time makes it special. Fennel, which I've had around for a while but which has always somehow bemused me, is, as of yesterday, my signature spice. The aroma of the cooking filling/cabbage rolls is totally intoxicating, kind of a fresh, mildly liquorice-brown sugar smell I can't quite describe. Make it yourself and see. Unlike anise or caraway, for instance, each of which it somewhat resembles, it doesn't totally take over, but just sort of adds a lovely high note to the dish. So yes, I'll be making this again, especially in the fall/winter when the sour cabbage heads arrive!

Constructing the rolls themselves was an adventure. Sometime in the past I must have made cabbage rolls, or assisted in their making—my mom makes great cabbage rolls and gave me some excellent tips on the science of the thing—but the process didn't seem all that familiar. When Vegan Dad writes, "Core cabbage. Place in a large pot of boiling water. Remove cabbage leaves with tongs as they cook," this is a concise way of saying that as the cabbage head bobs and turns in the boiling water, the leaves separate off from it one at a time in a graceful, lazy, sultry, southern kind of way, but oh-so-slowly. The filling and the sauce come together quickly and with little fuss, but it was the waiting for the cabbage to cook that made this a time-consuming process. In the end, I was left with a fist-sized nub of tightly-clenched cabbage leaves that weren't going to separate any time soon, and about a cup and a half of filling, and, since I wasn't cooking all the cabbage rolls together, a bit of sauce, so I chopped the cabbage up and put it all together into an adorable little cabbage roll casserole and froze it for later.

Finally, the m**tballs were inspired by one of Bryanna Clark Grogan's recipes in Authentic Chinese Cuisine. Basically they're seitan (in this case Isa Chandra Moskowitz's spicy pinto sausages made, ill-advisedly, with kidney beans (just don't do it; the red skins spoil the whole effect)) ground up, reconstituted with some added gluten flour, tamari, and spices, steamed and then, in this case, rolled in oil and baked, served with the mushroom gravy from here, which I would highly, highly recommend. It was my mother who first found this recipe, and we have served it at several family functions, where it is beloved by omni and vegan alike.

Whew! If you think it was hard reading through this whole post, imagine making all the dishes. Too bad you couldn't share them with me, too!

1 comment:

  1. That sounds so good.....makes me want to make a few cabbage rolls myself, now that the cooler weather is here. You'll find it much easier and less time consuming when you use sour cabbage.

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