I first met Gabriella one winter about 10 years ago. It had snowed and I was going door to door obtaining signatures on a petition. My boots were caked with show and I had snow on my cap and my gloves and on every surface to which that snow could stick. I was about half finished with the houses in that neighborhood, when I stomped my way to her door. I rang the bell and the door was opened by a blond diminutive whose smile filled her face. “Come in, come in out of the snow,” she said.
I looked at her clean house with white carpet and shook my head while I quickly explained the reason for the petition. “You must come in,” she insisted. “You can get warm and the snow won’t hurt anything. You really must come in.” She gestured and I knew she wouldn’t stop asking. I stood on the mat inside the door and watched the snow slide from my boots. “Take off you scarf. Can I get you a cup of tea or cocoa? How about some cookies? Let me get you some nut roll.”
Her accent and the words “nut roll” brought back memories of a bakery I had visited as a child living in the Cleveland suburbs. “Where are you from?” I asked.
“We’re Hungarian,” she said. It wasn’t ‘til much later in our friendship (because that’s what it became) that I heard the story of her life in Hungary during the aftermath of the 2nd World War, and her need to apply for asylum in the United States. The story of a young woman who would never see her parents again. But that’s a story for another day.
One special night—because all nights at Gabriella’s home are special—she prepared dinner. It began with small shots of liquor, then appetizers, then the main meal. Just at the point when I thought we were ready for dessert, she presented us with a steaming pot of Cabbage Rolls. She explained that these were so special that they were served as a special course just after the main course.
And they were unlike anything I had ever tasted. I need to confess that I am not a meat eater. Yes, I eat meat on occasion, but given the option, I would rather have beans or cheese or a vegetable pasta. This was meat, wrapped in cabbage, layered with more meat, served with sour cream on top. One of the most succulent meals I have ever eaten. But it’s meat with a story. Not only the story of Gabriella, but a story going back, back, back, to the time when hunters would shoot the wild boar and prepare it outdoors in a large kettle over a wood fire. Here is the recipe, in modern parlance, just as she shared it with me when I asked her to write it down. And as for those nut rolls, she gave me the recipe for that, also, but it was too complicated for me to follow. In pity, she provides me with a nut roll every winter.
From Gabriella: "Here is the cabbage roll recipe. Please study. You do know that it needs to be served with sour cream on the top and fresh French bread--nothing else, only crepes if you want to do dessert."
Place in freezer 1 big or 2 small green cabbages. Leave for several days before thawing.
3 lbs. Bob Evans Sausage Rolls
1 lbs. ground beef
1.5 c. rice
Salt, pepper, red paprika to taste
1 chopped onion
2 chopped garlic cloves
Mix well all ingredients in large bowl and add 2-3 c. warm water and mix.
5-6 lbs sauerkraut, drain juice and mix with 1-2 tsp. caraway seeds and 10 bay leaves.
1-2 lbs. smoked ribs or sausage.
- Carefully peel leaves off of cabbage and put in several T. of the meat mixture and wrap into packages. Large pan. Place 1/3 sauerkraut on bottom then 1/2 smoked meat and place cabbage rolls on top. Then 1/3 sauerkraut, then cabbage rolls, the rest of the smoked meat, then the last of the sauerkraut. Add water to cover almost to top. Place in 350 oven and cook 3 hours then lower heat to 250 and cook 3 more hours. Before serving add paprika to top of pan.