Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Mennonite in a Little Black Dress" Can Really Cook

In her memoir Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, Rhoda Janzen explores the question of what we take from our ethnic roots and how we adapt them as we become Americanized. She begins her journey as her husband leaves her for a guy named Bob that he met on Shortly after that, she is injured in a serious auto accident. Needing to recuperate both mentally and physically, she returns to her parents’ home in the Mennonite community where she grew up. How she copes there after being out in the greater world for most of her adult life and what she comes to appreciate about the strengths of her community is the main theme of her book. Her story, although upsetting for her, was written in a lighthearted way. She was able to laugh at herself while examining her ability to cope making her book enjoyable to read.

What interested me particularly was how many subcultures there are in America and how we are connected in surprising ways. I didn't know prior to reading Mennonite in a Little Black Dress that a group of Mennonites lived in the Ukraine for 200 years. I didn't know that one of their leaders originated the idea of the shtetl either. (I trust she was being humorous when she talked about that as a good thing. Her book had many humorous passages.) Aside from that, as a Jew with family originating from the Ukraine, we have something in common. When fleeing the Ukraine, our families managed to take their recipes for sweet and sour cabbage with them to America.

Between reading Mennonite in a Little Black Dress and getting into more arguments about who is more pro-Israel than whom in the 9th Illinois Congressional District, I got a taste for sweet and sour cabbage. There are a lot of ways to make it and the recipes I know differ somewhat from Rhoda Janzen’s. There is a recipe for it in Peace de Resistance, also. Of course, I have my family recipe, too, but this time, I’ll give you the one from Peace de Resistance. Sometimes I feel lazy and leave out the cabbage and just make sweet and sour meatballs. This recipe does take a while (prep time about an hour), but the good news is that it freezes really well. Make 3 or 4 times what you’d eat and freeze the rest for nights when you don’t want to cook.

Stuffed Cabbage a la Peace de Resistance (this recipe should serve 4 people)

1 lb ground beef                               Sauce:                           1 tsp cornstarch
2 heaping tbsp cooked rice              1 onion, chopped           2 beef bouillon cubes
1 small onion grated                        2 tbsp. Oil                      2 cups water
1 tbsp water                                     1 small can tomatoes      lemon juice
Salt, pepper                                     1 can tomato sauce         sugar
1 large cabbage                                ½ cup raisins                 1 inch lemon peel

Mix lightly until spongy: chopped meat, rice, 1 small grated onion, 1 tablespoon of water, salt and pepper.
Steam one head of cabbage for 5 minutes in large pot of water, until leaves are soft and pliable.
Make cabbage rolls by placing a spoonful of or more of the meat mixture in center of leaf and fold over.
Place a layer of cabbage rolls in bottom of large pot, sprinkle grated onion over it, and repeat until all cabbage rolls are used up.
Make the sauce by sautéing onion in oil until golden. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, raisins, cornstarch mixed in water, bouillon dissolved in 2 cups of water.
Add the sauce to the cabbage rolls. If sauce does not cover, add enough water to cover.
Cook for an hour in 350-degree oven, covered. Add lemon juice and sugar a little at a time to achieve sweet-and-sour taste Add lemon peel. Cover and cook for one more hour.

Lisa’s shortcut:
If you want to make sweet and sour meatballs instead, forget the cabbage. Instead of adding water to the meat, add ½ cup of breadcrumbs and 1/8 cup catsup. Roll the meat into balls. Make the sauce the same way as above. Put the meatballs into the sauce and cook in a large pot covered. Cook on a medium heat for about an hour. It’s good served over rice or kasha.


nanette said...

Hi Lisa. I like your new blog. The stuffed cabbage sounds delicious. I am copying the recipe. Thank you. Hope you are well and happy.

Lisa Sachs said...

Thank you, Nanette. I hope you're happy and healthy, too. Enjoy the stuffed cabbage.