Menu Suggestion: Reusable Rice

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“Do you want to learn?”

I was 22 when my husband decided to teach me how to ski. He bought me the perfect ski bunny suit in my favorite color – purple – and made sure I had lessons before attempting any hill of substance. Unfortunately, the lessons I learned didn’t transfer well once I took to the bunny slope and started going faster than I was able to control.

Within a few minutes I was careening past children and their parents, unable to recall any of the lessons about how to slow myself down. I tried to turn my skis, which caused me to tumbled head over heels and landed in a heap off to the side. Fortunately, no bones were broken in my fall, and all might not have been lost if it weren’t for that one young man….

As I laid there on the snow, wondering whether I would even be able to get myself up without any help, a young gentleman, I think about my age, came to a stop next to me, pushed up his ski goggles and laughed. Truly. He laughed at my plight, and then he sped off down the hill.

By the time my husband caught up to me, I had worked myself into a rather fine tizzy, and I’m sorry to say that I refused to go back on the slope and try again. My pride had been bruised, and at the young age of 22, I hadn’t learned yet that I might regret making decisions in haste for the wrong reasons.

When I received an email today from a woman who was tired of making mistakes in her cooking, I thought about my skiing experience. I was quick to give up, and as a result I lost out on the opportunity to join my husband in an activity he really enjoyed. More than that, my husband eventually lost out on something he really liked doing, too, because as the years went on, he would want to do something with me as opposed to without, which resulted in him skiing less and less.

This particular woman wanted to give up cooking because she felt she was wasting food every time it came out wrong. In this case, she’d made mushy and overcooked rice which her children refused to eat as it was. As I thought about how to respond, it occurred to me that she needed more than me simply giving her instructions on how to cook the rice correctly. She needed ideas which could “redeem” the “failure”. So I told her that she hadn’t failed but that she now had perfect rice for dishes she could make later in the week for the family to eat.

For example:

1. Rice Parmigiana: If you have rice which is overcooked or even simply leftover from another meal, it’s perfect for making a parmigiana. Simply whisk a couple of eggs or egg whites with a little bit of milk and herbs like oregano and basil and mix in your leftover rice with real or vegan parmesan cheese. In a greased deep dish layer the rice alternately with thinly slice tomatoes and real or vegan mozzarella, ending with the tomatoes and mozzarella. Put the dish into a larger dish and pour hot water halfway up the casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees for half an hour or so until the cheese is melted and browned and the casserole is hot and bubbly.

2. Rice Pudding: If you’re looking for something warm and creamy on a cold night, chocolate rice pudding is just the dish. If you’ve overcooked your rice, so much the better. For six cups of cooked rice, I mix in a shallow pan 2 cups of “milk” (cow, soy, flax, rice, etc… all work) with 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp vanilla, and 2 tbsp cornstarch. Cook the mixture over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Usually only about five minutes. Stir in 1 cup mini chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life allergen free ones.) Stir in the rice and mix until the milk mixture is fully soaked into the rice.

3. Rice cakes: If you want a side dish which is slightly different, take your overcooked rice, mix it with green onions or leeks, garlic powder, black pepper, and ground ginger. Finely chop veggies like peppers, zucchini, carrots, squash, etc… and add them to the rice. Whisk together a couple of eggs or egg whites and add them to the rice mixture, and make little rice patties. Cook them in a shallow pan in some olive oil until they’re browned on both sides.

If you want to make the cakes with protein, mix in canned crabmeat or tuna or salmon or chopped up pieces of ham, chicken or beef.

4. Chicken Rice Soup: When making soup with rice, the problem you normally run into is that your rice is too hard because it didn’t cook long enough in the soup or it becomes more and more overcooked as the soup is reheated. If you have overcooked rice, freeze it in batches of 1/2 to 1 cup, and then when you make your famous chicken soup, before you’re about to serve it, drop in the frozen rice and let it warm up in the soup. The rice will be just right.

5. Rice crusts: Overcooked rice is perfect for making a rice crust. I often make a rice crust for quiche. Simply mix your rice with a beaten egg or egg whites and herbs and, if you like, real or vegan cheese. Pat the rice mixture into the grease bottom of your pan and pour your quiche mixture over the top and bake as you normally would.

Rice crusts are also good for meat dishes. I will make a rice crust and fill it with the filling I normally use for chicken pot pie or shepherd’s pie and bake it in the oven until bubbly.

In addition, rice crusts are great for tomato tarts. Mix real or vegan ricotta with eggs or egg whites and herbs to the consistency you like. Spread the cheese mixture over your rice crust, top with fresh tomatoes and fresh basil and bake for about 30 minutes in a 350 or 375 degree oven.

6. Stuffing: Overcooked rice is wonderful as a stuffing for your favorite veggies. Mix the rice with chopped up veggies and/or meat and/or cheese with herbs of your choice and stuff into zucchini or squash or peppers or pumpkin or eggplant or artichokes or tomatoes or cabbage or mushrooms or kale or etc….

 

 

 

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Cooking Techniques: Stuffed Cabbage

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How do you feel about cabbage?

I was a Freshman at Amherst College, speaking on the phone with the mother of a host family who had invited me to dinner. Since I had never met her, I wasn’t sure if she was asking me if I liked to eat cabbage or whether she was waiting to deliver the punchline for a joke.

“Um…,” I said.

Apparently she was skilled at interpreting monosyllabic responses, because she replied, “Oh, sorry. You’re probably wondering if this is a joke, but we like cabbage, and I was thinking you might because you’re Korean, but I didn’t want to presume.”

I was able to assure her, that yes, I did indeed eat and like cabbage, and I went on to have a very lovely dinner at their home later in the week which included a wonderful cabbage soup as the part of the meal.

I was reminded of this experience early this week when I received an email on my pajama living gmail account: “How do you feel about cabbage for company?”

Cabbage is one of those foods which people seem to either love or hate, like brussel sprouts. There’s something about the smell and color (regardless of which variety – green, purple, white) which tends to put some people off. Cabbage, however, is a wonderful vegetable to incorporate into one’s diet, rich in vitamins, folates, and fiber, but also extremely versatile.

I’ve noticed that here in the United States people think of cabbage only in relation to cole slaw, Chinese egg rolls or corned beef and cabbage, but there are many, many ways to eat and prepare cabbage, including soups, entrees, salads, and sautes.

So, I responded to the email in the affirmative: “Cabbage is lovely to serve to company.” I did, however, indicate caution: “Just make sure whomever you’re serving either likes to eat or is willing to try cabbage.” I then sent a recipe for stuffed cabbage which my family likes to eat, which I’m going to talk about below.

If you’ve never had stuffed cabbage, you really ought to try it. Not only is it delicious, but you can change it up to fit whatever you actually have in your fridge.

Some tips:

1. Choosing cabbage: Don’t limit yourself to just the standard green head of cabbage. Try red, Napa, Savoy, Bok choy, etc…. Napa and Savoy have milder, sweeter flavors and are a more tender leaf cabbage. Bok choy and red cabbage have slightly thicker stems and a heartier flavor. All are wonderful for stuffing.

2. Preparing the cabbage: There are a variety of ways to prepare your cabbage for stuffing. It really comes down to preference, I think.

Some chefs recommend wrapping your cabbage in plastic and microwaving it in a bowl until the outer leaves are soft and pliable. I’m not so fond of the idea of cooking anything in plastic, though, and it means you have to keep removing the outer leaves and repeating the process several times to get all the leaves you want.

Others recommend removing the leaves you want to cook and cooking them in boiling water until they’re soft and pliable. This method is actually fine, but I find that the leaves get a little water-logged and I have to then dry them which takes time and uses up my paper towels or adds more kitchen towels to my laundry for the week.

So, the method I prefer is: I bring a pot of water to boiling. Then I core a cabbage but keep it whole and put the entire cabbage into the pot of boiling water. I boil it for six to eight minutes with the lid on and then remove the entire cabbage to a strainer to drain and cool for a few minutes. Then I’m able to simply peel off the leaves one at a time as I need them, and whatever is leftover is still intact for me to use for another recipe.

One final method that people sometimes use: Wrap the cabbage tightly and freeze for a day. Defrost it. The leaves will be soft and pliable.

3. Preparing a filling: Fillings are fun. You can do whatever you want. Do you like ground meat? Only vegetables? Rice? Bread crumbs? Chicken? Ham? Sausage? Anything and everything can be a filling for stuffed cabbage. You can suit the stuffing to your taste, or like me, it simply depends on what is in the house on hand for me to use.

The key thing to remember is that whatever you use should be cooked first, though. Don’t put raw ground beef or raw vegetables into the filling. Brown or cook your meats, and saute your vegetables. If you want rice, use cooked leftover rice from another meal. I’ve seen recipes which tell you to use converted rice or raw vegetables, and they really don’t cook up well in my experience. Some recipes even use raw meat, which does cook but then the juices from the raw meat run out of the cabbage into the sauce, leaving something to be desired for the texture and the taste.

The second thing to keep in mind is the seasoning. How you season it will depend on what flavor you have in mind. Do you want an Italian style stuffed cabbage with ground meat? Then you’ll want to use garlic and onions and herbs like oregano and basil. Do you want an Asian style stuffed cabbage with rice? You might then prefer to use coriander and ginger. Do simply want the taste of your filling to come through? Just use some salt and pepper.

4. Preparing a sauce: Stuffed cabbage can be prepared with a variety of sauces – a tomato sauce, a sweet and sour sauce, a lemon-egg sauce, a soy sauce. The list is endless. It depends on the taste you’re going for – Asian, Greek, Italian, etc….

What you should keep in mind is that no matter what type of sauce you use, it’s always best to coat the bottom of your pan with some as well as pouring the sauce over the top.  That way the flavor seeps from both sides into the cabbage rolls. I also usually use some of the sauce in the filling mixture as my moist binder.

5. Cooking the cabbage rolls: You’ll find a variety of ways to cook the cabbage rolls. You can cook them on the stove top in a single layer, but you need to make sure to watch them carefully so they don’t burn and stick to the bottom of the pan. You’ll need to keep the pot covered for even cooking.

You can cook them in a slow cooker over the entire day, which is something I like to do. Just be sure to layer the rolls alternately in your layers so there are good gaps for the heat to generate around all the rolls and so the sauce can seep down between the layers.

You can bake them in the oven, which I also like to do. Just be sure to cook them first covered with foil for about 45 minutes so the cabbage leaves will soften. Then remove the foil for the last little bit of cooking so your sauce will thicken a bit.

Sweet and Sour Stuffed Cabbage

Ingredients:

Head of cabbage, 18 leaves

Two 14.5 oz cans of no salt, no sugar diced tomatoes

One 6 oz can of tomato paste

3 tbsp apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup coconut sugar

2 tsp olive oil

3 cups finely diced or 2 cups pureed vegetables (zucchini, squash, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, your choice)

1/4 cup chopped onions

2 tsp minced garlic

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp roasted or regular ground coriander

1 tsp cinnamon

2 packed cups of finely diced ham (1/4 inch) (16 oz)

3 loosely filled or 2 packed cups of cooked brown and wild rice (16 oz)

Cooking Instructions:

1. Bring a pot filled with enough water to cover the cabbage head to boil.

2. Core the cabbage and put the whole head into the boiling water. Cover and boil for six to eight minutes.

3. Remove the head of cabbage to a strainer and allow it to drain and cool.

4. In a food processor, puree the diced tomatoes with the tomato paste, cider vinegar and coconut sugar.  Remove one cup to use in the filling. Set the rest aside.

5. Heat the olive oil in a  pan over medium-low heat. Saute the vegetables with the onions, garlic, pepper, ginger, coriander, and cinnamon until they are soft and most of the water has evaporated off, about three to five minutes.

6. Put the vegetables into a bowl and mix well with the chopped ham, rice, and one cup of sweet and sour sauce.

7. Remove 18 leaves from the cabbage, and trim the thick part of the center ribs so the cabbage leaves are flatter all around.

8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Put about one cup of your sweet and sour sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan.

9. Scoop 1/3 cup of the filling into each leaf. Pull the edge of the cabbage leaf that was closest to the core over the filling and wrap the sides in over the edge. Then pull the opposite edge of the leaf over the sides. Essentially you’re making an envelope for the filling.

10. Place the cabbage roll seam side down into the prepared pan. You can make three rows of six in a 9 x 13 pan.

11. When all 18 cabbage rolls are completed, cover the rolls with the remaining sauce and cover the pan tightly with foil.

12. Bake the rolls in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, and finish cooking for another 15 minutes.