Thursday, January 23, 2014

Contemporizing my Roots: Gołąbki Bez Mięsa...aka Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls

A good portion of my heritage is indeed polish. My great grandfather (whom everyone called Dziadziu) was the first member of our polish family to emigrate to the states. Crazily enough, him and his siblings started a brand new and successful life in Chicopee, MA, and he even wound up becoming the mayor after living there for a while! Talk about living the American dream. But, I must admit that I have never really made too much of an effort to explore that many Polish cultural aspects, especially food, but I think with good reason as most of Poland's dishes incorporate some sort of meat, blood, marrow, etc (see: kielbasa, blood soup, pyrogies filled with all kinds of meat, and more).  But one thing that I have been wanting to try for a while now that I knew I could easily vegetarianize is simply cabbage rolls, or "Gołąbki" as they are known in Polish.

Really I'm not sure if my Dziadziu would be so proud of me because I kind of made this recipe "un-Polish", but it still has the basic idea. Instead of the normal meat and rice filling, I used a base of lentils, mushrooms and ricotta, 3 things that work very well together to create a creamy, earthy delicious taste. After rolling the filling into the cabbage leaves, I smothered it in a kind of "every vegetable in the fridge" spicy tomato sauce, though you can certainly make whatever kind of tomato sauce you like.  I'd almost venture to call them the "lazy, health-conscious person's ravioli". All in all, these guys are quite tasty and very healthy, so give 'em a shot!

Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls
1 Medium yellow onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 cup dried green lentils
1 cup ricotta cheese
1.5 cups cremini or baby bella mushrooms
1 2-inch sprig of rosemary
8 med-to large green or red cabbage leaves (I aired on the side of frugality and got the green since it was less than half the price of the red per lb, but either totally works!)
2 Cups crushed tomatoes
1/2 med red pepper
2 cups baby spinach
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
red pepper flakes, to taste (I used about a palm full, and it gave the sauce a tiny little kick)
3 tbs nutritional yeast

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees farenheit.
2. Prepare the lentils according to the package instructions. Make sure to salt the boiling water for them, and add the sprig of rosemary, 1 tsp dried basil and 1/2 tsp dried oregano to the water as well. While this is getting brought up to temperature, chop up the mushrooms into about 1 square cm cubes. Once the water is boiling, add the mushrooms into the mix and let this whole mixture simmer, partially covered, til the lentils are soft.
3. Chop the onion into very thin slices and mince the garlic. Heat some olive oil in a sauce pan and sautee the onions and garlic until it they are soft and transluscent. At this point, take about 1/3 of the garlic and onion and reserve it in a separate bowl, this will later be added to the lentil mixture.
4. Chop up the red pepper and add it to the onion mixture that is still in the sauce pan. Sautee this for a minute or two longer, until the pepper starts to soften. At this point, add the crushed tomatoes, 1 tsp dried basil, 1/2 tsp dried oregano, and red chili flakes.
5. Once the sauce begins to simmer, add the baby spinach and stir it in. It should begin to wilt in a few minutes. Let the sauce simmer on low to med-low until the rest of the dish is ready, stirring occasionally so it does not burn.
6. Once the lentils are cooked through and the water is completely absorbed, add the ricotta cheese, reserved onion/ garlic mixture, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast. Stir this up to evenly encorporate and set aside.
7.  Put a large pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Take your head of cabbage and cut the bottoms of individual leaves so that you can easily pull them off the head, making sure not to rip or tear any of the leaves. You really want them to be as whole as possible.
8. Once the water is boiling, place the leaves in and boil them for 5 minutes. After this, drain the water and run the leaves under cold water so that they stop cooking.
9. To roll, take a leaf and cut a triangle segment out of the bottom middle, right around where the stem is thickest, so that they can roll up more easily. Place 1/4 cup of the lentil mixture into the center of the leaf, roll the end of the leaf that you just cut over the middle of the lentil mixture, roll in the sides, and then roll over the remaining end of the leaf (this is really just like rolling a crepe or a burrito, like this if you need a reference).
10. Take a 9x13 in pan and put a very thin layer of sauce on the bottom. Place all the cabbage rolls in next, once next to the other, and then cover them with the rest of the tomato sauce.
11. Bake in the oven for 1 hr and 15 minutes or so, covered in tinfoil. Enjoy!!

Health Benefits!!
Cabbage- Rich in vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin E, which are good for eyes, skin, and boosting immunity. High in anthocyanins, which have been shown to reduce risk of some cancers, good source of calcium.
Rosemary- Antioxidant, antiseptic and antispasmodic, has been shown to be helpful in preventing Alzheimer's disease due to certain phytochemicals it contains, camphor within rosemary helps circulation, can help prevent abdominal cramps through stimulating the release of bile.
Lentils- high protein, high fiber, help lower cholesterol, good source of complex carbohydrates, rich in iron, high in magnesium
Onion-strong antimicrobial benefits, contains sulfides lowering blood lipids and blood cholesterol, contain flavanoids which are known to help protect against cardiovascular disease, high sulfur content for anti clotting agent.
Garlic- Contains allicin, an incredibly medicinal component, especially in raw garlic. Allicin can help prevent high blood pressure, aid in digestion, aid in inflammation reduction, help prevent and cure cold, and much much more!
Portobello Mushroom- Surprisingly high in protein, one cup of this mushroom contains 5g! They have a ton of micronutrients such as selenium, phosphorus and potassium. They  also contain the vitamins pantothenic acid, folate, choline, vitamin B6 and thiamin. Also very high in phytochemicals and antioxidants.
Nutritional Yeast- one of the few non-animal sources of vitamin B-12, rich in folic acid, amino acids, also rich in iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and many more. It is considered a nutritional power house, especially for vegetarians.
Red Bell Pepper- Low calorie and fat, super high in vitamin C, vitamin A and folate, high in fiber and wonderful antioxidants!
Spinach- High in vitamin A (for eyesight), high in potassium, high in vitamin K (for bone health) and great source of iron
Tomatoes- High in folate, vitamin C and vitamin A, and potassium. They are high in antioxidants and have also been shown to help prevent certain types of cancers when a few servings are eaten per day.


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