Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Taking Liberties with Stuffed Cabbage Paired with 2010 Crios Mendoza Argentina Rosé of Malbec

One of the great pleasures of cooking is transforming the familiar to something new and (hopefully) excitingly delicious.  I am presently in the midst of a little bender in this regard.  A couple of weeks ago I had a long conversation with my mother that focused on some of the favorite foods of my childhood.  She followed up the conversation by sending me a dozen recipe cards for some of my favorites.  To set the stage a bit, I came from a small farm town in Michigan that was defined by lower middle class, equally divided between those working the fields, and the factory lines in nearby Grand Rapids.

My culinary exposure growing up under these circumstances was limited at best.  Compounding these circumstantial limitations is what I would classify as a challenged culinary tradition.  Before I get all the hate mail from Michigan, please know that my comments are a result of MY experience...I hope yours was better.  Around the U.S., you can go to many regions and expect to be treated with unique and enjoyable local cuisine.  I never had that sense of local tradition in Michigan.  Most dishes of interest resulted from less than remarkable poor immigrant food from the many Dutch, Germans, and Polish.  Unfortunately, my experience told me that many of these traditional foods were either lost or diluted over time.

One of the remarkable gastronomic pleasures in Michigan comes from the abundance of freshwater fish and game.  Trout, salmon, pheasant, wild turkey, venison, etc.. Each of these went under appreciated in my youth.  A shame I try to rectify whenever possible.  One particularly weighty memory from my youth was the smelt run.  In the spring, as the streams and rivers feeding the great lakes warm, the smelt begin their voyage.  At this point in their maturity, they are just several inches long and are caught with nets - otherwise known as "smelt dipping."  This process of netting smelt resulted in drums of fish being brought home and divided among the extended family.  A full day would be devoted to cleaning smelt with the reward of fresh smelt pan fried in butter waiting at the end of our labors.  A fond memory.

Back to stuffed cabbage.  Stuffed cabbage was a common guest at our table that continued when I was eventually married...completely different execution, but the same premise.  Just days ago, Chef Sue and I were out running errands and began to talk about dinner plans.  Stuffed cabbage had been on my mind since the conversation with my mother and I offered it as an option.  We quickly settled on stuffed cabbage but were in agreement with the idea of reinterpreting.

Stuffed cabbage rolls, otherwise known as galumpkis or Gołąbki (Polish), are traditionally served casserole style with a stuffing of ground beef (and/or pork) with a tomato sauce.  Our first modification was to substitute diced NY strip steak (because it was a leftover from a recent grilling extravaganza).  Next we decided to put the tomato sauce inside the cabbage rolls in the form of diced tomato.  The next modification was born from our experience of roti in Trinidad; we used curry for the seasoning of the stuffing along with some diced jalapeño pepper.  Finally the greatest herresy - we dipped the cabbage rolls in flour, applied an egg wash, then bathed them in a mixture of panko and corn meal which was finished off in a jacuzzi of heated oil.  The result was a spectacular melding that one might expect from a Polish-Trini - something I'm not sure that actually exists.  Regardless it was tasty.

While conceiving of this, my mind went directly to "what wine will work?"  As is the difficult case of pairing any spicy concoction, I quickly thought of wines with strong acidity and mild sweetness.  Our chosen day for this preparation was also a hot one, further reinforcing my thoughts of citris acidity and slightly off dry.  I have recently been intrigued by a class of wine for which I have little experience - Rosé.  Over the years, I have not had much interest for Rosé because it reminded my of the wine drinkers gateway drug - mass produced boxed White Zinfandel.  This was only reinforced when I was talking to a winemaker who shared his secrets of Rosé in a moment of weakness.  "Rosé is money!  It is a byproduct of producing my other wines - I used to pour it down the drain.  Now I bottle it, and it is pure profit."  In fact, this is one of the three methods of producing Rosé and is called Saignée.  The other two methods involve reduced skin contact (just a few days) to impart color when Rosé is the primary product, or the less common blending of red and white wine.

In my attempt to eliminate, or at least diminish, my bias against Rosé I decided to forge ahead with a pink pairing.  Wandering the rows of wine I found a bottle that caught my eye.  The 2010 Crios Mendoza Argentina Rosé of Malbec.  I was attracted to this wine for a couple of reasons.  First, just days before I had sampled the 2010 Crios Argentina Torrontes which was fantastic.  Second I was interested in a Rosé made from Malbec.

I was not disappointed with the 2010 Crios Argentina Rosé of Malbec.  This wine has more structure than I am accustomed to with Rosés (which I like), bright fruit flavors with strawberry most prominent, great acidity, and a nicely restrained touch of sweetness.  And best of all, it paired perfectly with the stuffed cabbage.  The acidity and fruit balanced the piquance and curry in the stuffing and mango chutney.  In combination, the experience greater than the sum of its parts.


Spicy Mango Chutney


  • Juice from two oranges
  • 2 mangos diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper seeded and finely diced
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • water
  1. Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat adding enough water to cover the diced mango.
  2. Stir occasionally and reduce until thickened.
Stuffed Cabbage

  • Approximately 1 pound leftover grilled steak - or substitute any meat you care to - diced.
  • 1 head of cabbage
  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tomato diced
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 cups panko
  • 1 1/2 cups corn meal
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Prepare rice as you normally would.  Add the curry powder to the rice while boiling.
  2. Sautée the onions and garlic until onions are translucent.
  3. Combine rice, meat, sautéed onions, and tomato.  Mix well.
  4. Microwave cabbage (whole) for five minutes.  Peal away leaves that have cooked and encase t tablespoons of the stuffing mixture.  Repeat microwaving procedure until the stuffing is exhausted.
  5. Combine the cream and eggs in a bowl and mix to form an egg wash.
  6. Combine the panko and cornmeal in a shallow bowl or plate.
  7. Preheat vegetable oil in a fryer, large sauce pan, or as in our case - a fondue pot to 375 degrees F.
  8. Roll the stuffed cabbage in the flour, then dip in the egg wash, and finally roll in the panko-cornmeal mixture.
  9. Fry the stuffed cabbage until golden brown.
  10. Serve with the spicy mango chutney on the side.
In vino veritas, buen provecho.


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