Happy New Year! Generally I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. It always seems like a setup for failure. But this year is different. This is the year I’m embracing the possibility of failure, trying new things, overcoming my fear of change. That’s the plan, anyway. Accordingly, 2013 is the year that I’ve resolved to at least try to follow through on my idea/dream to write a cookbook. A cookbook about beans. This blog is meant to help me make that happen in the best way possible, ideally with input from you. Because really I don’t have a clue as to what I’m doing.
I came up with the bean cookbook idea a couple of years ago, when I first started cooking and eating a lot of beans. Why beans? Because they’re the underdog, the champion that can save the world. That is not hyperbole. Well, all right, perhaps a little. But really, beans are an incredible food. I originally focused on cooking beans for health reasons, to address my then-husband’s high cholesterol. But food is important to me. I love to cook for people I love. And I love to eat delicious food. In fact, for many years I would not eat food unless it was delicious. This is probably the reason I learned to cook.
Although I’m fairly confident in the kitchen, a bean-centric diet presented a challenge. I was sure I would have to compromise, that my priorities would have to change. Deliciousness could no longer be paramount. But it turns out that beans are not only healthy, ethical, and affordable. They’re delicious too! And incredibly varied. I felt like I’d discovered a magical secret that I wanted to share with the world. I was super excited, raving about beans to every unlucky soul who crossed my path. I dreamed of beans. What to do with this passion? Why, write a cookbook, of course. I started trying to come up with original recipes. And met a wall. I’ve always enjoyed reading cookbooks, but writing one? I was in over my head. It was too much. Self-doubt overcame ambition. So after trying to come up with a couple of original recipes, I put my notebook aside.
Since then, I’ve lost the notebook. I didn’t realize until this morning, a little while ago. It will probably turn up at some point. My living space, my life, really, has been in flux lately, as I’ve transitioned from married to single. Before I probably would have been overcome by the lost notebook. I would have given up. But now? I’m choosing to view the loss as an opportunity to start fresh, learning from the past to create something new. So. Here goes.
For this first entry, I decided to make cabbage rolls, a hearty winter food. I considered hoppin’ john, because I’m originally from the South and it’s a tradition. But the cabbage rolls won out, not only because I’m not actually all that crazy about black eyed peas, but also because I wanted a one-pot dish that I could eat tonight for dinner, take to work tomorrow for lunch, and freeze for later. Also I’m trying to eat more vegetables, something that has been a little more challenging as a single person living alone. Well, alone except for a cat. A very large, orange and white cat named Ben. But I digress. Back to cabbage rolls.
In coming up with this recipe, I started with three sources: Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian; Dianne Phillips, Slow Cooker: The Best Cookbook Ever; and the 1997 version of Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking. Bittman and Phillips both call for cooked rice, but I’m using uncooked rice because I think it absorbs more flavor by cooking in the sauce. Also, I’m using a crock pot today. But this recipe will also work on the stove.
1 large savoy cabbage
1/2 c. dried lentils, rinsed (I like the small, dark green lentils de puy, but Mark Bittman’s recipe calls for brown lentils)
1/2 c. uncooked basmati rice
2 carrots, grated
1 parsnip, grated
3 T extra-virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 med. onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
32-oz can tomato puree
1 c. sauerkraut, rinsed
1/4 c. honey or brown sugar
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 c. water
1. Carefully separate 8 large, intact leaves from the whole cabbage. Trim out the stems by cutting them out, leaving a upside down “v” at the bottom of each leaf. Steam the leaves above salted water for a few minutes, until they are easy to bend but not completely wilted. Set the wilted leaves aside to cool. Core and chop the rest of the cabbage. Put the chopped cabbage in the insert of either slow cooker or large dutch oven. Add the chopped onion, garlic, tomato sauce, sauerkraut, honey or sugar, vinegar, and water. Stir to combine.
2. Combine the rice, lentils, carrots, parsnips, and oil in a large bowl. Stir to combine, and salt and pepper to taste.
3. Lay one of the cabbage leaves on a cutting board. Put about 1/8 of the filling in the center, and then roll up the bottom of the leaf, over the filling, tucking in the sides as you go. Once you’ve filled all the leaves, nestle the rolls seam side down into the sauce.
4. If you’re using the slow cooker, ideally this will cook on low for 8 hours. I got a late start today, so I’m cooking on high for 6 hours. Fingers crossed. [NOTE: this version resulted in undercooked rice. Next time I’m going to cook for 10 hours on low. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try using cooked rice.] If you’re using the stove, bring the sauce to a boil on the stove. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook for 1-1/2 hours.
For serving, you don’t really need anything. But if you want something else, mashed potatoes are good. Tonight I happen to have some potato-celery root latkes in the freezer, so I’ll have a few of those on the side. If you’re reading this, and you feel like telling me, I’d love to know what sounds good to you. Bon appetit!