The marvel of the life-giving cabbage roll.


It seems the privilege of the old to shamelessly bore endlessly the young with tales of the past. We already know of my parental desperations when claiming not to know ‘where on earth did Gerard come from?’ It is of little consolation now that my little boy search for my real parents by scanning sea’s horizon did not bear much results. No boat with my real parents ever appeared. I just had to reconcile myself with going home with wet shoes and accept the ones who at times seemed to disown me.

Another one of those memories refusing to lay down are those of a more edible kind. The war-time cabbage. I am here now because of the humble cabbage. Towards the end of the war it was the most covetous food item in my birth-city of Rotterdam. Even today, when I try and light the gas stove, the smell of the escaping unlit gas reminds me of war and my mother’s search for food. About the only food that could be had, if one was lucky, were cabbages.

It was during pensively resting in my fauteuil yesterday that one of those fleeting memories came to the befuddled fore. Heaven knows why they appear? I decided to try and make cabbage rolls. Helvi too became quite enthusiastic.  Some month ago there was a rather elaborate Baltic & Polish food sale on at Aldi’s. We discovered a huge jar of pickled cabbage leaves and a culinary inspiration got to us suddenly. We took it home and put the jar to rest amongst the Dutch Herrings and Italian tinned tomatoes. Occasionally I would stare at this jar of cabbage leaves and would proffer to make something of it, but both decided to relegate this delicacy for consumption to a future date. The cabbage leaves all looked so pale and withered all drowned in the vinegar.  I was happy to notice that the vinegar was an honest marinade and just that, and not the dreaded Balsamic version. The best thing it had going for it was the fact it was imported from Macedonia. Macedonia has such an exotic almost melodic ring to it. All those vowels.

Of course, cabbages is what used to make the world go round. From China through Russia and Europe, including Great Britain. What would England be without their beloved cold cabbage, consumed while standing up in a draft? The Koreans make the five-star Kimchee. A soul food if ever there was.

One only has to visit the old Eastern European towns and cities, where through the centuries of cabbage-food cooking, the very stucco, bricks and ancient cellars of the streets are impregnated with this pungent smell of the cabbage. Who has not walked through old Vienna or Budapest not to smell this delectable vegetable permeated into the very soul of these so musical societies. The very waltzes of Johann Strauss were  conceived after generous ingestion of cabbage.

So, yesterday I finally opened this large jar. Helvi remembered she made the humble cabbage roll many years ago. It is made from raw minced beef mixed with whatever one wants to mix together with a handful of boiled rice. She urged me not to overdo it with spices. ‘Just try and be a bit subtle this time, don’t muck it up,’ she urged kindly, but with some authority and deep husband knowledge.

I followed her urgings but when I momentarily and in a latent fit of wild adventurism thought of Kimchee I chucked in a small quantity of chilli flakes. The whole mixture was then kindly wrapped into the jar-released cabbage leaves. It filled the entire baking dish with two neat rows of nine each, totalling a rather large quantity of eighteen rolls.  With its red-coloured tomato marinade it looked very beautiful and enticing. Enough for an entire Austrian regiment.

After baking and allowed ‘to rest’ I made a nice dish of mashed potatoes and spinach. It was a nice dish but the chilli made the rolls too hot and spicy. I should not have added it. Helvi heartily agreed that I had mucked it up a bit.

‘When will you ever learn to contain yourself and not overdo things?‘ She said, adding. ‘Where do you come from?’


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29 Responses to “The marvel of the life-giving cabbage roll.”

  1. Therese Trouserzoff Says:

    Hi Gez.

    Remember my piece questioning the validity of coleslaw ?

    Dangerously close to the wind with this post, mate. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Yvonne Says:

    You just can’t listen to the voice of wisdom (Helvi), can you?!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. leggypeggy Says:

    I’d be interested to know what you deem to be a ‘small quantity of chilli flakes’. Just asking?

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I just ‘shake’ my ingredients into whatever I cook and don’t always measure. It can result in surprises and not always so good. THis time I shook twice, Peggy.
      No Master chef here, try next door! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. berlioz1935 Says:

    Uta used to make very tasty cabbage rolls years ago. But this is a distant memory now.

    When I asked my dad where I came from he answered that a donkey in gallop lost me. I never asked him whether he was that donkey. From his answer, I deduced that they did not want me. But since I was around I too assumed that my real parents must have been living somewhere else. They never showed up to claim me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      This latest batch of cabbage rolls are now resting in the fridge. ” Waste not wont not”. But my mother would have thrown them to the ducks, Berlioz.
      The chilli was a mistake. Helvi reckons I might put chilli in with the chocolate cake mixture next. “You’re a sick man,” she said.
      We have eaten a couple but opening the fridge I know we need all the fortitude we can muster, to eat them.


  5. Julia Lund Says:

    As a student in the late 70s, I survived on cabbage – boiled and flavoured with marmite, or a sprinkling of grated cheese if I was feeling flush. Strangely, it’s a vegetable I rarely choose these days, though I have been known to spice and tart up the more exotic-looking red variety on occasion. Not with chilli flakes, though …

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Cabbage leafs and potato leafs were the ingredients during the war, Julia. It maimed me for life according to Helvi. I now do anything to spice up food.
      My ‘signature’ dish is really the lamb slow cooked in vegetable stock with coconut cream and spinach.
      The older suburbs in Sydney used to have this smell of boiled mutton running through the streets… It wasn’t till the Italian brought in garlic ( 1956) that things improved.
      Still, adding chilli to cabbage is a step too far.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Andrew Says:

    I’ve never liked cabbage units green form. A legacy of school days. But red cabbage. Now that’s a real gourmet dish. I used to buy Spiegelei und Bratkartoffeln in the Altstadt and it always came with Rahmspinat and red cabbage. I was converted. Give it a go Gerard

    Liked by 1 person

  7. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    Chili flakes in cabbage rolls? I wondered about that too. I was picturing all those cabbage rolls nestled cosily in your baking dish and wishing to have just one, but chili? I don’t think so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, it was a disaster and we came close to fisticuffs. Things have calmed somewhat but marital balance needs to be worked on. I am lying low now upstairs for a while till things pass.

      Even Milo won’t touch the cabbage rolls.


  8. shoreacres Says:

    I’m not precisely fond of cabbage, but there are two instances where it does very well. It’s a good cruising veggie, because it will last for a good long time — certainly longer than lettuce. And I have a recipe for a marvelous cabbage salad: finely chopped cabbage, onion, carrot, bell peppers, and celery, with a vinegar dressing that includes turmeric, whole mustard seed, and celery seed. It not only tastes good, it keeps in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks, which makes it handy to have around.

    I do like a good German red cabbage, with rye seeds. Very tasty — and no need to make all those rolls!

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      That cabbage salad sounds nice. I especially like the addition of turmeric.
      Roll making seems harking back to when time was plentiful. Cabbage rolls might be overrated.
      The red cabbage is beautiful in colour and taste.


  9. hiren Says:

    I really enjoy your blogs…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Charlotte Hoather Says:

    I had cabbage, broccoli and carrots in a stir fry with chicken and satay sauce the other night yummy 😋 never had it pickled!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. gerard oosterman Says:

    Yes, Charlotte. Satay sauce is one of my favourites with vegetables and chicken as well. Amazingly simple to make.


  12. vivienne29 Says:

    I’m very concerned you are buying Italian tomatoes when Aussie Ardoma tinned tomatoes are bloody fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. notamigrant Says:

    i totally agree, there should be an ode to cabbage, it’s what go people through the wars and is still one of the most versatile and tasty veg ingredient, despite its smell. shame it is out of fashion. I dare anyone try my sauerkraut and bacon filled savoury strudel and say they don’t like cabbage!

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I am here today because of the cabbage and not the mythological stork.
      One day we might write a book about it all.

      I think the cabbage got into ill repute when the English mangled it into an unrecognisable mash.

      Some historians blame it on the revenge by some Sussex aristocracy forcing impoverished yeomen to eat the cabbage cold to teach them a lesson not to grow vegetables on (own) common land.
      It is a sad story.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. gerard oosterman Says:

    I just discovered my new way of spelling ‘cabbage leafs.’


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