Gone Vegan

Lindsay Hutton discovers the politics and pragmatics behind a meat and dairy-free diet.

I have little to show for my Ukrainian heritage, save for the big bones, high cheekbones and a few grease-stained recipes passed down through the hands and into the recipe boxes of the women in my family. 

Cabbage rolls, or golubsti, are to Ukrainians as lasagna is to Italians. Few special occasions, from fancy weddings to backyard potlucks are without a steaming casserole filled with them. Heck, I even attended a “Manitoba BBQ” (a region of our fair country teeming with Ukrainians) at a music festival this past weekend in Toronto and the golubsti were there, front and centre, at the buffet table. My goodhearted attempts at a perogie fight, however, were quickly quashed by the management. Killjoys. 

Traditionally, cabbage rolls are based in rice, cabbage, beef and pork.  Obviously, I leave out the meat and jazz it up with heady doses of veggie stock and TVP, and I trade the white rice for brown for extra fibre and protein. I remember the beleaguered expression of a kindly Ukrainian woman on a city bus in Winnipeg, when I mentioned I make my golubsti sans viande. She looked as though I had committed a venal sin; I could sense an almost unyielding urge to slap me.

A well-kept secret to make your cabbage rolls perfectly uke-credible: First, the cabbage heads must be cored, then frozen for at least two days before cooking, then defrosted for another day. Attempting to remove the leaves while fresh is a frustrating undertaking. They will rip and tear and you will be lucky to salvage a full leaf or two large enough to make a creditable roll. Also. Do not, under any circumstances, drop a frozen head of cabbage on any appendage or limb you plan to make use of for the next week. I, like many things, learned this the hard way.

Second, like all good casseroles, cabbage rolls are best enjoyed the day after preparation, and freeze wonderfully. With all the prep work involved in this culinary undertaking, I recommend making enough in which to regale hungry friends at a later date.

Strap on your babushkas, folks, and try to ignore the sound of your Ukrainian foremothers rolling over in their graves for altering a time honoured cultural mainstay. 

The sauce:

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tbsp olive oil

2 18-oz cans crushed tomatoes

1-cup vegetable stock

2 1/2 tbsp white vinegar

1 tbsp brown sugar

The rolls:

1-cup olive oil

1 large onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small can tomato paste

2 tbsp red wine

2 tbsp chopped parsley

2 cups prepared brown rice

1 cup prepared TVP (use vegetable stock to hydrate it)

2 large heads, cabbage cored, frozen, then defrosted

1. To make the sauce, sauté the garlic with the oil over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stock, and let cook for 10 minutes. 

2. Add the vinegar and brown sugar and simmer for about five minutes. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, then remove from heat. 

3. To make the filling, sauté the onion and garlic for about five minutes, until soft over medium heat. 

4. Add the tomato paste, ½ cup of the tomato sauce, parsley, wine, brown rice, and some salt and pepper and mix over medium heat for five minutes, then set aside. 

5. To cook the cabbage leaves; bring a large soup pot filled with salted water to a boil. Gently pull away the leaves, trying to keep the whole, and gently place them in the water. Blanche them for about five minutes, until slightly pliable. 

6. Run the leaves under cold water, then carefully cut away the thick vein in the centre of each leaf. 

7. Spray a 9 x 13” pan with cooking spray, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. 

8. Take about a ½ cup of the filling and place it near the centre of the leaf. Turn in the sides gently, and roll. Place the rolls side by side, with the seam side down in the pan. 

9. Ladle the remaining sauce over the cabbage rolls, and bake for 1 hour. 

Serve with your favourite ale or dry red wine, download some polka tunes and yista

*This recipe is dedicated to Lasha Laskowsky and her family.