There’s nothing like Passover to remind us where we come from. In many Jewish homes, Passover traditions are carried down from father to son, establishing the family’s customs and setting the standards for their Passover pantry.
Growing up, my family’s standards were quite stringent. We did not eat any processed ingredients, and we only used produce that could be peeled. My mother prepared simple syrup in place of sugar, and we seasoned our dishes minimally with kosher salt, no spices allowed. Thankfully, I married into a family whose customs were slightly more lenient. My in-laws allow a variety of fruits and vegetables, including cabbage, as well as some minimally processed foods, like tomato sauce.
When I spent Passover with my in-laws last year, I decided to pay homage to my roots by adapting my grandmother’s stuffed cabbage recipe for the holiday. While my grandmother would never have made this recipe for Passover, to me, it signifies the union of my husband’s familial customs with my Eastern European heritage. And that is precisely how we celebrate Passover.
1 head of green cabbage
1 lb ground beef
1 heaping cup leftover mashed potatoes
1 small onion, grated
salt and pepper, to taste
For the sauce:
2 15 oz cans tomato sauce
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated
1 large tomato, finely chopped
1/3 cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper, to taste
Place the cabbage in the freezer overnight (about 12 hours). Remove and place in a colander in the sink to defrost. This makes the cabbage pliable for rolling and stuffing.
Remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and discard. Peel the remaining large leaves, taking care not to tear the cabbage as you go. Set the whole leaves aside and chop up the remaining cabbage for later.
In a bowl, combine the ground beef, potatoes, onion, egg, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Set up a stuffing station with your whole cabbage leaves and ground beef mixture. With a paring knife, trim the thick part of the stem off the base of the leaves, taking care not to cut through the rest of the leaf. Place the leaves upright so that they are curling upward like a bowl.
Place a small handful of filling towards the base of each leaf and fold over the leaf from the left side. Roll the cabbage leaf up and using your finger, stuff the loose end of the leaf inward, pushing it into the center. Rolling the cabbage this way ensures that they hold together nicely during cooking.
Continue with remaining leaves. If you have any leftover filling, simply roll them into meatballs to place in the pot alongside the cabbage rolls.
Place the stuffed cabbage rolls in a large pot and cover with sauce ingredients. If you had any leftover cabbage or meatballs, add them to the pot as well.
Bring the sauce to a gentle boil over medium heat and reduce to a simmer. Cover the pot, leaving it slightly open so that the steam does not force the cabbage rolls to open. Cook for approximately 2 - 2 1/2 hours, until cabbage is tender and sauce has thickened.
VARIATION: for unstuffed cabbage soup, shred the cabbage and roll the meat into balls. Place everything into a pot and continue as above.
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Though Passover can be an intimidating time to cook, (two Seders, no chametz, trying unsuccessfully to eat real food instead of just chocolate covered matzah) I love it. I thrive at updating traditions and the challenge of creating recipes so tasty, you’d actually want to eat them post-Passover.Not surprisingly, I try to go where no cook has gone before (though maybe that’s for good reason). Manischewitz Ice Cream and Deep Fried Matzo Balls are some of the twists I’ve experimented with. When it comes to mains, I like to play around too. Sephardic seasoned salmon, tangy short ribs or brisket in a hearty mushroom sauce. I’m salivating just writing this. But the most requested type of main dish that I get? Chicken. Plain, boring chicken. Sigh. I like to give the people what they want, but after tasting this version I’ll admit I was wrong! Chicken can be a wonderful dish when cooked well. This one-pot Passover meal has chicken thighs braised so tender in a white wine sauce you don’t even need a knife. Served with tomatoes, leeks and potatoes so it’s filling and healthy at the same time. That way, you can have more room for macaroons and chocolate-covered matzah.
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 ½ pounds), washed, dried and trimmed
2 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1 tsp black pepper, plus more to taste
½ tsp smoked paprika
1/4 cup vegetable oil, divided
4 shallots, small diced
4 small carrots, cut into ¼ inch rounds
2 large leeks or 3 medium links, cut into ¼ inch rounds
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
1 cup chicken broth
5 sprigs fresh thyme, tied with cheesecloth keep together
2 cups red potatoes, cut into quarters
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, rough chopped
Season chicken liberally with salt, pepper and smoked paprika on both sides.
In a large Dutch oven or pot with a lid, head two tablespoons of oil over medium high heat. Add chicken in one layer and sauté until browned and not sticking to the pan. Flip and brown the other side, about 6-8 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.
Add 2 tablespoons oil to the pot, heat, and add shallots,carrots and leeks. Cook until browned, stirring regularly, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 more minute.
Add wine, broth and thyme to the pot. Bring to a simmer while stirring and releasing the browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Then add in chicken, potatoes and tomatoes. Bring back to a simmer, lower heat to medium low, and cover.
Braise until chicken is cooked and tender and potatoes are fork tender, about 40 minutes.
Remove chicken, potatoes and vegetables with a slotted spoon onto a platter. Cover with foil to keep hot. Remove thyme.
Bring sauce to a simmer and reduce for 7-10 minutes until the sauce coats the back of the spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste if needed.
Pour sauce over chicken or serve on the side and garnish with parsley.