Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cabbage rolls from an "Old German Recipe"

After several delays in recent weeks, Suzanne and I completed our second installment to our weekend culinary forays this Saturday evening with a German dish from Folk Foods of Fitchburg, a 1964 collection of international recipes from the chefs of that Massachusetts town. Since Suzanne paid homage to her Italian roots in our first dinner, it was my turn to step up to the plate with something from my German motherland. My 90-year-old mother is an Augsburg native who grew up in Munich.

My initial plans were to prepare sauerbraten, a staple in the Münchner restaurants I frequented when I studied and worked there in the mid-1970s. I went to the grocery store and bought all the menu items, returned to the kitchen and began my preparation. I was putting the 3 ½-pound round roast into its vinegar-based sauce when Suzanne noticed this little item on the recipe: “Let soak at least overnight.” Oops, didn’t see that!

So we put the roast in the fridge and turned the page to another, less-complicated “Old German Recipe” simply called “meat and cabbage”. In other words: Cabbage rolls. We had all the necessary ingredients, so I popped a CD of decades-old Heinz Rühmann and Hans Albers tunes on the CD player, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work.

Mrs. Marguerite Koski’s recipe involves a pound of hamburger along with rice, tomato soup, cabbage leaves, butter, sugar, lemon, parsley, celery, salt and pepper.

We called my German-born sister Evi Womble in Pensacola, Fla., during the preparation to get her input, and she suggested some good side dishes. Knödel (dumplings) would have been great, she said. However, that was a bit more involved that we wanted at that point so we settled on rice and green beans.

Of course, we had our usual cocktails to inspire us during the cooking—and to be honest, I was more sous-chef than head-chef, leaning heavily as I did on Suzanne’s guidance. Our choice of wine was Rodney Strong Chardonney, 2010, and it went nicely with the meal. A Riesling might have been even better, but, alas, there wasn’t one in our wine cabinet.

Heinz and Hans gave way to Zarah Leander and Marlene Dietrich as we sat and toasted another “mission accomplished”. Germans call the clinking of wine glasses at the beginning of a meal “die schönste Musik”, and indeed it was a very pleasant way to mark the completion of a couple hours of work in the kitchen. Work we enjoyed, of course!

The cabbage rolls were quite good. Hats off to Mrs. Koski. In retrospect, the addition of caraway seed to the meat mixture might have enhanced the taste even more, but at the end I rubbed my belly with satisfaction, looked across the table at my lovely wife, and said with a contented smile, “Your turn next!”