Thursday, December 13, 2007

On a Roll

I had my first taste of cabbage rolls in Sardis, West Virginia, about 40 years ago, and the Allen clan is still talking about that memorable first. When Nathan's mom, Kathleen, served cabbage rolls, I went back not once, not twice, but at least five times for more from a huge pot simmering on the stove. I couldn't get enough.

I was excited but nervous when Nathan announced that Frances would be making the cabbage rolls from his mom's recipe for my visit to the Circle A Farm. Would they live up to Kathleen's legendary cabbage rolls of the sixties? Would my more "sophisticated" palate dismiss them as hillbilly comfort food? Could reality compare with nostalgia?

As it turns out, my nervousness was needless. Frances's cabbage rolls did in fact live up to the legend and the legacy of Kathleen. As the band Foreigner would croon, "It felt like the first time."

It was finally time for me to ask for Kathleen's acclaimed recipe. The recipe started out looking pretty standard (ground beef, sausage, rice), but the last two items surprised me: turmeric and cumin, two standard ingredients in Indian food.

This was a revelation. I searched through at least 100 of the more than 800 cabbage roll recipes on to see if this was a common addition. Not a single one of the recipes I surveyed included these exotic spices.

Now I'm thinking that this skinny 12-year-old girl must have had an early appreciation for nuanced flavors. And I'm wondering if this early Asian exposure has anything to do with my nearly fanatical love of Indian food. I introduced my brother Robert and my niece Emily to Indian food during a visit to LA a decade ago, and they too were instantly smitten. Now when Emily visits, the first restaurant she wants to hit is an Indian one.

And for this, and the recipe for the best cabbage rolls ever, we thank Kathleen, Nathan and Frances.

Kathleen's Famous Cabbage Rolls

2 lbs Ground Beef
1/2 lb Sausage (Reg. Mild)
Salt & Pepper to Taste
2 Slice of Bread (Crumbs)
1 Cup Of Instant Rice
1 Egg
1/2 Teaspoon Cumin
1/2 Teaspoon Turmeric

Mix together ingredients and shape in to fist size (or
whatever size your prefer) meatballs. Roll up in cabbage
leaves that have been parboiled until tender.

Put in a large pot and cover with tomato juice, about one
quart can or more will cover the rolls. Simmer until done,
about 1 1/2 hours.


PS Hint, hint: When I get out of the hospital after my stem cell transplant and you're thinking
about dropping off food for the family . . .