Roll Playing

It’s been all about the transitional meals around here lately: dishes that look like colder weather fare, but are actually perfect for the truly lovely weather we have had for the last few weeks. It’s been positively Californian, really; sunny and warm, but cool in the shade and a bit nippy at night. Only without all the Californians everywhere, obviously, which is nice.

This stuffed cabbage took advantage of several different leftovers, and the result was a lovely multicultural mashup of greens and umami. The making was absurdly simple, which only made them more enjoyable to eat. They looked like Eastern European comfort food gut bombs, but were delightfully light and springy.

It’s good to remember that there’s a reason why so many cultures have traditional recipes for stuffed cabbage: cabbage leaves make really good rolling papers for whatever filling you have on hand. You may want to recreate your Grandma’s version, but this ain’t that. This is just a reminder that you can transform leftover things of all sorts, from chick pea tagines to mashed potatoes, simply by rolling them up in blanched leaves. The fine tuning is just a matter of making the other ingredients (stock, garnish) play well with the main flavors.

First, I removed the largest leaves from a head of cabbage and steamed them until tender and rollable but not flaccid. I wanted the to offer a little resistance to a knife. The filling was some fresh cheese I made recently—raw milk curdled with rennet, curds ladled into a muslin bag to drain—mashed in a big bowl with ramp pesto and dandelion pesto (from two different meals) and the leftover whey-braised cabbage from the pork in the previous post plus the rest of said pork chopped into small pieces. That whey resulted from the making of this selfsame cheese, so there’s some poetic closure for you. I threw a little salt and pepper in there for good measure because the cheese was unseasoned.

I rolled them all up and tucked them in a baking dish, then poured some dashi over them for moisture and savory flavor. The dashi was niban-dashi (second dashi) made from kombu and bonito that had already made one batch of stock the day before. This lesser stock, still very flavorful, is traditionally used for stews and such where the clarity of the ichiban-dashi is not required. Properly made, dashi is essence of umami. It doesn’t draw attention to itself, but amplifies the flavors of everything it touches. I baked them for about half an hour, basting them once or twice with the stock.

If you want to reproduce this, make a filling of some soft cheese (cottage, feta, etc.) blended with the pesto of your choice (or just a bunch of fresh herbs or greens) and a little charcuterie or leftover meat if you have some on hand. Add an egg if you want them a little sturdier. The stock could be anything, though if you’re using feta (which would kill) then lamb stock would be a home run. Try using spiced mustard greens in the filling, with some paneer (another super-easy fresh cheese) and then use a curried coconut milk or chicken stock for the liquid. That idea sounds so good that I want to make it tonight.

8 comments to Roll Playing

  • A new record for you – you have insulted Eastern Europeans, Californians, and Grandma all in a single post. You’re on a roll, literally and figuratively.

  • Elizabeth

    Ouch says the native Californian. I’d say more but your cooking and writing intimidates me.

  • Peter

    The sarcastically challenged community was, in a nutshell, why I left the Bay Area to go to grad school.

  • Susan

    Whoa! You can use the kombu and bonito more than once?! That, I did not know. Are they used up after the second batch of dashi?

    If you don’t mind my asking, do you have a go-to Japanese cookbook? It’s mostly terra incognito for me, and clearly I need to fix this gap.

    • Peter

      Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji is an excellent place to start.

      You can keep using them, but after a good second simmer they will have given much. Try it- it will just get more diluted, but it shouldn’t taste bad in any way. Waste not, want not.

  • Sarcasm doesn’t come across well in writing, it just sounds mean-spirited. But, maybe that was your aim.

  • Susan

    Take a breath Zoomie! Sometimes it’s nice to NOT to be surrounded by people (Californian or otherwise), we all like Grandma’s food but THIS is a riff on her theme, and Eastern European food traditiionally WAS meant to stick to your ribs, fill you up, hold you until the next often uncertain meal-something someone reading this post on an ipad probably need not worry about. Relax, allow for a little humor.

Yours Truly



I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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