When private chef Kathi Alice Saks was about 11 years old, her mother was hurt and confined to bed for a few weeks. She gave her daughter step-by-step instructions to make a family favorite — stuffed cabbage rolls.
Saks says she’s been making the dish now for more than 50 years.
Her father had enjoyed the dish as a child at automats in New York such as Horn & Hardart Co.
His own mother didn’t cook, Saks said, “so when my father married my mother he asked her to promise that they would never eat at restaurants. So my mother cooked dinner every night.”
She’s modified her mother Ruth’s recipe, as chefs tend to do. It is a great version. The combination beef-and-pork stuffing, surrounded by tender cabbage and simmered in tangy sauce, is memorable. Her sauce is made sweet by carrots, raisins, honey and tomato paste; and sour from vinegar and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
A portion of proceeds goes to Les Dames d’Escoffier’s local chapter
>> Open to: Cooks of any age or gender; you don’t have to be a grandmother
>> Submit a recipe: Email email@example.com
>> On the menu: “Tutu” dishes are featured Tuesdays and Thursdays at Highway Inn in Kakaako
>> Quarterly dinners: The first three contributors will be featured with their dishes at 5:30 p.m. Sunday; cost is $35; tickets: myhighwayinn.com/tutus-kitchen
The large diced carrots and celery with pops of raisins make this sauce chunkier than most versions you may have tried. You can taste each ingredient.
Her filling is also unique, combining regular and lean ground beef with ground pork and grated carrots for a tender and tasty stuffing.
“It’s an Eastern European dish and there are many versions — some made using veal, with rice,” she said. “I’m guessing that it was popular because cabbage was inexpensive and you could stretch the meat with rice or vegetables. I like the sweet and sour of the recipe and it’s hearty, so great for cold weather.”
Saks’ stuffed cabbage rolls will be on the menu at Highway Inn in Kakaako on Tuesdays and Thursdays in March, as part of the restaurant’s new Tutu’s Kitchen promotion.
This month’s Tutu’s Kitchen special is from Highway Inn hostess Ku’uipo Lorenzo, who is sharing a recipe from her grandmother, Popo’s Slumgullion, a hamburger and vegetable stew.
In April, Lori Wong, a culinary consultant and instructor, offers Tempura Deep-Fried Twinkies, a popular dish from her family’s restaurants — they owned Orson’s, Chowder House and Byron’s Drive-In, among others.
A portion of sales of the dishes goes to a charity; this year’s recipient is the Hawaii chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an international organization supporting women in the food, wine and hospitality professions. Saks and Wong are active Les Dames members.
Highway Inn plans quarterly dinners featuring three tutu contributors at a time. The first is Sunday, with Lorenzo, Saks and Wong — by the way, of those three only Lorenzo is a tutu, or grandmother.
Highway Inn is inviting anyone with a favorite family recipe to apply to be featured in Tutu’s Kitchen — men and women of any age, with or without children.
“I saw this concept at an Italian New York restaurant, where home cooks and their recipes were featured,” said Monica Toguchi Ryan, Highway Inn owner and granddaughter of founders Seiichi and Nancy Toguchi. “And I thought that idea needs to be copied in Hawaii to keep food traditions alive.”
RUTH SAKS’ STUFFED CABBAGE
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large yellow onions, sliced thinly
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- Kosher salt, as needed
- 2 large carrots, diced in 3/4-inch cubes
- 4 celery stalks, diced in 3/4-inch cubes
- Ground black pepper, as needed
- 1/2 pound ground beef (80 percent lean)
- 1/4 pound lean ground beef (91 to 93 percent lean)
- 1/4 pound ground pork
- 2 medium carrots, shredded
- 2 teaspoons ground Hungarian paprika
- 2 (32-ounce) cans peeled and diced stewed tomatoes
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 head cabbage
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
- Wide egg noodles, cooked, for serving
- Sour cream, for garnish (optional)
Heat olive oil in large pot over medium. Reduce heat to low. Add onions, garlic and pinch salt; cook, covered, about 20 minutes, until onions sweat — become soft and translucent. Keep heat low so onions don’t brown.
Add diced carrots and celery. Sweat another 15 minutes; add pinch pepper and salt.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine beef, pork, shredded carrots, paprika and about 2 teaspoons each salt and pepper. Refrigerate.
Add tomatoes to pot and turn heat up to medium to get a good simmer going. Add thyme and raisins. Cover and simmer on low 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a separate large pot of water to boil. Carefully remove core of cabbage, keeping it otherwise intact. Place in boiling water. Every 3 to 4 minutes, remove cabbage and pull or cut away the outer, softened leaves. Keep leaves separated on a large platter or cutting board so they cool and drain.
To pot containing sauce, add vinegar, honey and lemon juice. Taste; add salt and pepper as needed.
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
>> To form cabbage rolls: Place 3 to 4 tablespoons of meat mixture onto a cabbage leaf (you may need to use 2 of the smaller leaves). Roll leaf around meat, folding in the ends as you would an egg roll or burrito. Continue to use up filling (you may have extra cabbage). Patch torn leaves with other leaves.
Ladle half the sauce into an ovenproof pan. Spread evenly over bottom. Carefully set stuffed cabbages seam side down in sauce, making a complete layer, packing rolls tightly into rows. Ladle remaining sauce on top, covering rolls. Cover pan with foil and bake until meat is done and cabbage can be cut with a spoon, about 45 to 60 minutes.
Sauce may be thin; if so, remove cabbage rolls and adjust seasoning and thickness of sauce with tomato paste, salt and pepper. Makes 8 stuffed cabbages.
To serve: Place 2 cabbage rolls on cooked wide egg noodles. Top with sauce. Add dollop of sour cream, if desired. Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional information, per cabbage serving (not including noodles or sour cream): 820 calories, 33 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 1,200 mg sodium, 110 g carbohydrate, 18 g fiber, 72 g sugar, 31 g protein.
Lynette Lo Tom, author of “The Chinese Kitchen,” is fascinated by old-fashioned foods. Contact her at 275-3004 or via instagram at brightlightcookery. Nutritional analysis by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S.