February 6, 2011

Peasant Cuisine 1 : Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

Let me start by : “ what is Peasant Cuisine?

 World cuisine is divided into three major types:
1-      Bourgeois: meaning middle class/urban food.
2-      Haute : highly skillful cuisine , elaborate. First introduced by the French.
3-      Peasant: Right just what you thought of ,  the  food of the farmer, hunter, fisherman, any person that is close to his food source. Unlike us the "city" people, who go to a restaurant and eat a meal , or go the supermarket and grab a ready to eat microwaveable meal...And definitely not like  ordering a 50 dollar meal for a piece of salmon , or  5 grams of caviar.

And thus a peasant food perhaps gives a connotation that it is cheap, unsavory and not exquisite. Yet, it is absolutely the most nutritious, organic and healthy food ever.

Hellman Wonders states that Peasant Foods don’t belong to a village or a country. And so Anthropologists couldnt determine the origins of some peasant foods. This is because ethnic groups migrate and frontiers change (1).
Moreover, written records are rare on this subject since peasant cooks seldom, if ever, jotted down recipes, and the ancient scribes in the city almost never chronicled for posterity the dishes that peasants ate.

Farmer's Market-Ithaca
So if we wanted to talk about  stuffed cabbage leaves. I cant say which country it originated from. First, I thought that stuffed cabbage was Lebanese, since my mom used to cook it all the time. And perhaps all Lebanese families do. Then I saw my middternean friends also acknowledging this meal.
But after I did my research, it turned out that this peasant food is actually cosmopolitan .
 The dish has emerged in different regions.Surely, there are different versions of this dish that differ in taste according to the region.(2). So, some of these varieties include include 'golubtsy' in Russia, 'chou farci' in France, 'sarmale' in Romania, 'holubky' in Czech Republic, 'kåldolmar' in Sweden, 'gołąbki' in Poland, 'lahana dolması' in Turkey,”malfouf Mehshi” in Lebanon and other arab countries, and a peurto Rican version  “Repollo Relleno Con Carne”!!!

 Surely, one would say.Cabbage???? This smelly vegetable.??? This dull taste?Why should I eat it  when I can enjoy other appetizing foods???

Let me tell you why :
1.      STORAGE  :They store well and grow in many different areas of the world, which makes them readily available throughout the year.
2.      CANCER FIGHTER : Cabbage is full of phytonutrients, which signal the body to produce enzymes involved in the detoxification of the body. These enzymes help to fight free radicals that can cause a number of different types of cancer, including lung and prostate cancer.
3.      VITAMIN C which is an antioxidant that protects against the cell-damaging effects of oxidation from free radicals.
4.      ALZHEIMER'S DISEASE Not all cabbage is green. In fact, a special kind called red cabbage has special antioxidants called polyphenols. These help protect brain cells from being damaged in a way that relates specifically to Alzheimer's disease.
5.      CHOLESTEROL Cabbage has a certain phytonutrient known as indole-3-carbinol. This helps to lower cholesterol in the body by preventing the liver from secreting an enzyme that helps to carry cholesterol throughout the body.
6.      ULCERS : Cabbage juice has a good concentration of glutamine, a type of amino acid. This protects and strengthens cells in the stomach, which helps prevent ulcers from forming.

Here is one great recipe  that i would like to share you from : Group Recipes Website


  • ·         1 or more large cabbages
  • ·         1 cup short grain rice
  • ·         1/2 lb. minced or ground beef or lamb
  • ·         1/4 cup lemon juice (as desired)
  • ·         4 TBSP butter
  • ·         1 1/2 tsp salt
  • ·         1 cup water
  • ·         1 head garlic, cloves separated with loose paper or skin removed (more to taste)
  • ·         a dash of ground paprika
  • ·         a dash of ground cinnamon
  • ·         a dash of ground cumin
  • ·         OR
  • ·         1/4 - 1/2 tsp allspice or bhar hellou
  • ·         1 tbs dry mint

How to make it

  • ·        Large pot to blanch cabbage leaves, covered casserole, saucepan or stewpot to cook stuffed leaves.
  • ·         CHOOSING the cabbage is important, as you have to be able to get enough leaf area to actually hold the stuffing, rolled. Large, loose-leaf cabbages are best; you might need more than one cabbage if the leaves are tightly wrapped, as you will only be able to use the outermost leaves.
  • ·         GENTLY peel the leaves from the cabbage. Lay them flat, and cut the largest area you can without large veins.
  • ·         WHEN your pot is boiling blanch some leaves for few minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and put in cold water then put in a colander. Repeat same procedure with remaining leaves.
  • ·         LINE bottom of cooking pot with bones (if you have bought lamb shoulder and cut the meat from the bone) or with a thick layer of cabbage leaves.
  • ·         MIX rice with minced meat, spices and salt. Place cabbage leaf, shiny side down, on a work surface.
  • ·         PLACE crosswise about 1 TBS of stuffing (depending on the size of leaf), and fold ends, roll tightly. Place seam down in cooking pot, packing tightly together. Place several cloves of garlic between each layer.
  • ·         REPEAT procedure with remaining leaves. You will want about five  'mahshi' per person.(5 pieces per person)
  • ·         PLACE 4 TBSP butter in saucepan. Invert a heavy plate on top to keep rolls in shape during cooking.
  • ·         COVER leaves with water, bring to a boil then reduce to low simmer and cover. Simmer very gently for two hours or until tender.
·         Add one table spoon dry mint boil it for five minutes .
·         Serve hot.

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