Sleuthing at the Stove – Winter Blues and Comfort Food

March 9, 2013 at 10:25 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

292183_212336108868978_100002777705705_269924_1884003815_n[1]I spent my childhood eating in the kitchen of a Croatian mother and so did my friends! No one could enter our home without being stuffed full of some home made food, pastries, palacenke, or vegies from the garden. Not one helping but at least two – otherwise mom thought there was something wrong with her cooking. Feeding family and friends was part of the process of having a conversation – people sat around the table for hours – talking, arguing, resolving and eating. There was no large kitchen or granite countertops or stainless steel appliances. None of that was needed. Food preparation did not require the latest and greatest appliances or settings. Good food came from the hands and heart of a cook that wanted to make people happy and full.   What a great foundation to build on!  Winter time meant great stews, soups, and of course, my all time favorite comfort food – SARMA – commonly known in Canada as cabbage rolls!  Wonderful, filling, tasty, endless amounts of cabbage rolls.  My mouth is watering as I write this.  A large pot on the stove full of cabbage rolls slowing cooking away with slabs of smoked back bacon, home-made dry sausages, sauerkraut, rolls stuffed with a combination of pork, beef, lamb and rice…. mmmmm – unbearably delicious!  Complete and total comfort food.

Comfort food became more complicated to prepare once I became a vegetarian (which to this day the majority of my family still thinks that means you can eat chicken !).  Experiments – many.  Catastrophes – many. Success – eventually!   As I write this article my new fridge is still sitting awkwardly to the west of my island – blocking easy access.  Sometimes the process of sleuthing and cooking interfere with other renovations.  This winter was an endless series of rainy days – light rain, harsh rain, stormy rain, angry rain – you name it – we had it.  Did I want comfort food – absolutely.   What I really wanted was SARMA – a pot of “good to eat for many days” SARMA.  So the problem became how to make it without meat??? My Croatian friends, after they stopped laughing at me said – Impossible!   That is the wrong thing to say to a sleuth ! So off I went to find a recipe.

At the same time I was handed a missing person file.  Looking for a person – looking for a recipe – basically the same skills required.  As always my kitchen helpers and vacuums were present – Triggz and Madi. madi kitchen triggz in kitchen

My missing person was a woman last seen in Ottawa about 35 years ago.  Fortunately her family was all located locally and I thought this will be a piece of cake.    In the meantime I had googled and found a bunch of vegan recipes for cabbage rolls.   So off I went to find Mary and make my rolls.

Perhaps it was the mind numbing dullness of the rain or my vanity that deluded me into thinking either of these two tasks would be simple. Never have I dealt with such a negative family as Mary’s.  Seven siblings – all alive and not one would talk to me.  None of them would even acknowledge she existed.  This woman was coming into a substantial inheritance and do you think one of her siblings would even agree to give her a message – no!  A group of miserable, unhelpful, resentful, and angry people – each and every one of them.  I did not have the time nor the interest to figure out what their problem was.  Suffice to say the job became more difficult.  A search across Canada of databases – obits, vehicle ownership, land ownership and so on all came back negative under any and all names she had been known to use.  Her employer at that time had been the Government of Canada – need I say more as to why this went nowhere?  Frustration set in – i really needed those cabbage rolls!

The first problem with the cabbage roll recipes I found was that they used tomato sauce in their soup base and  NO NO NO that is not how it is made from my part of Croatia.  Ahhhhh… So I made my own recipe combining moms meat recipes and my taste buds!

Before you even begin to think of making cabbage rolls you have to locate organic sour cabbage (I have my own supplier – hehehe – Uncle Matt) and then recover from being robbed at the checkout.  Fortunately every piece will and can be used!  I usually just obtain a medium sized head (what is left over I throw in my hot and sour cabbage soup)and find that I can make about fifteen or more rolls!  Just remember the leaves can be delicate so a gentle approach is required.  So grab a good pot – stainless steel if you have one ; if not whatever is in your cupboard and can hold your SARMA.  I line the bottom of the pot with sauerkraut and a few leaves of sour cabbage (usually the top ones that are not so pretty to roll your SARMA ingredients in).  This provides a nice soft and flavourful bedding for your SARMA.imagesCA2C8XGW

One time I purchased vegan smoked apple sausage in an attempt to recreate moms meat based dish but the critic (also known as my daughter) asked me to not put them in as the flavoring bothered her.  So I decided to be a puritan this time and just go with a clear water broth that will adapt the sauerkraut flavoring during the cooking.  The process is actually quite simple.  You pull off each wet leaf gently and fill it with your concoction and roll it.  Rolling is a bit tricky – but just think of those wonderful Greek grape leaves that are rolled around rice (again mouth watering effect) and you will realize that to prevent the filling from coming out you have to tuck in the ends.  So take a leaf in your hand – cradle it in such a way there is a little valley created the size of your palm and put in your fill.  Then, while still holding the filled leaf, tuck the ends in with our other hand. Voila!  Now take the little leaf and gently fold over one side then the other and for a final flurry – roll it carefully.  Place it in your pan and continue until you have one row of pretty little rolls!  Done? Now top them with more sauerkraut and and start all over again.  I usually do three rows and top it all off with large sour cabbage leaves and then place on the stovetop to cook on medium until the dish is boiling.  Then I lower the temperature to the very lowest and leave it for about an hour.

The aroma will waft through your house and it will be hard to not pick at the pot!imagesCARMJM48imagesCAQC12C0

The end result will look like this.  Remember you can keep the rolls in your fridge (if they last that long) or even freeze them in batches for later eating.


So my cabbage rolls were made and what perfect food for Vancouver winter weather!  Did I find Mary – not yet!  But I am chewing on some new ideas!



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  1. i love it! humourus, entertaining and informative!


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