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~ Slovak-Style Stuffed-Cabbage Soup with Meatballs ~

IMG_0910Known as holubki to me and golabki to many of you, stuffed cabbage rolls are beloved in every Eastern European household.  Everyone makes them a bit differently, with the constants being: ground meat (beef, pork and/or lamb), cooked rice, steamed green cabbage leaves and a tomato-based sauce.  Because they are labor-intensive, too often they're reserved for holidays or special occasions.  That said, those of us in Eastern European inner-circles know there's another form of this knife-and-fork meal that brings this savory comfort food to the weekday table in half the time. Get out the bowls and spoons and meet my grandmother's sublime stuffed cabbage soup.

Soup w/meatballs swimming it is common in many cultures:

IMG_0916Soup with meatballs swimming it?  It's common in almost all cultures, and, there is a common reason for it too.  In the history of food, and throughout all the documented ages, meat was for the wealthy.  In spite of that, savvy cooks minced or ground unwanted scraps or lesser cuts of meat and combined them with inexpensive binders like breadcrumbs or rice, a liquid or egg, plus some common-to-the cuisine seasonings.  They are to be commended for developing great-tasting meatball recipes which allowed the poorer classes to partake in a diet richer in protein.

When it comes to making cabbage rolls or meatballs (most cuisines have a traditional recipe for both), folks make use of on-hand ingredients.  For instance:  if they live in an area suited for raising sheep, you'll find lamb in their cabbage rolls, or, if they live in a climate where vegetables grow year round, you'll find things like bell peppers and chunky tomatoes in theirs.  I will, however, go out on a limb and state:  when I say "cabbage roll" or "cabbage roll soup", you should say "Eastern European", because that is the cuisine they're hands-down most associated with.

For my nicely-seasoned easy-to-make cabbage-soup base:

IMG_0813For the cabbage soup base:

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

1  quart tomato or V-8 juice (Note:  My preference is V-8.  The choice is yours.)

1  quart beef stock

1 quart water

2  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (Note:  My grandmother used this beloved soup in place of tomato sauce or tomato paste -- and trust me it is wonderful.)

4  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, undrained

2  15 1/2-ounce cans diced-tomatoes, undrained

IMG_0801IMG_0801IMG_08011  3-pound head green cabbage, cored and cut into 6 wedges, wedges cut into 1/2"-wide egg-noodle-type strips

IMG_0814 IMG_0814 IMG_0814 ~Step 1.  Making the soup base.  In a wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the vegetable oil, salt and black pepper.  Add the diced onions.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the onions in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0822IMG_0822IMG_0822IMG_0822 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834~Step 2.  Add the tomato or V-8 juice, beef stock, water, tomato soup, undrained mushrooms and diced tomatoes.  Bring to a steady simmer, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat.  Stir in the cabbage (pot will be quite full), partially cover the pot and cook until cabbage is tender and lost about half its volume, about 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep, while preparing the meatballs as directed below, or, overnight in the refrigerator.  If you have the time, overnight is best, not to mention convenient.

For my spice-is-right ground beef & rice meatballs:

IMG_0852For the meatballs:

3  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

2  teaspoons dehydrated minced garlic

2  teaspoons dehydrated minced onion

2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1  cup uncooked long-grain white rice, not "Minute rice" 

2  seasoning packets from 1  box of G.Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix (1/2 teaspoon salt may be substituted)  (Note:  This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a well-known family secret of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand in my pantry so I can duplicate her recipes without fail.  It's readily available to me at my local grocery store and on-line as well.)

2  large eggs

IMG_0855 IMG_0855 IMG_0855 IMG_0855 IMG_0855~Step 1.  Mixing the meatballs.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl along with the dehydrated minced garlic and onion, salt and pepper, and, contents of the G. Washington's seasoning packets.  Using your hands, mix to combine.  Add the rice and mix again.  Add the eggs, and, you guessed it, give the whole thing one last very, very thorough mix.

IMG_0872 IMG_0872~ Step 2. Forming the meatballs. Using a 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, form balls and roll between the palms of hands into 1" meatballs, placing them on a parchment-lined baking pan as you work.  If you have the time, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-3 hours, to give rice time to soften.  There will be 10+ dozen meatballs.

IMG_0890 IMG_0890 IMG_0890~Step 3.  Cooking the meatballs. Return soup base to a simmer over medium-high heat.  One or two at a time, drop meatballs into simmering soup (do it this way to keep soup simmering).  When meatballs have been added, adjust heat to a gentler simmer, partially-cover pot and cook 20-25 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow soup to steep, about 30-60 minutes, prior to serving.  

IMG_0922Note:  If you have the time, refrigerate the entire pot of soup overnight, then, reheat gently on the stovetop, because, like many things, this soup tastes even better the next day.  There's more.  It freezes great. The entire batch will fill four, two-quart sized freezer containers with tight-fitting lids.  In either case, the rice is going to continue to absorb some more of the moisture, so, be prepared to add a bit more beef stock during the reheat process.

Cabbage rolls served soup-style -- it's what's for dinner:

IMG_0907Simply sublime, simply divine -- to the very last slurp:

IMG_0918Slovak-Style Stuffed-Cabbage Soup with Meatballs: Recipe yields 5 quarts cabbage soup base/8 quarts total soup/10-11 dozen small 1"-round meatballs and 12-16 hearty main-dish servings.  

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale (optional); wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop; 2, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans or 1, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper

IMG_0734Cook's Note:  Keeping in mind that Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner, here's another recipe along the same lines as today's, with a completely different flavor profile.  If you've ever traveled South of the American-Southwest border, you have encountered albóndigas (which means meatballs in Spanish).  This meatball soup, with a rich history, made its way to Mexico via the Spanish conquistadors.  Try my luscious ~ Sopa de Albóndigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)


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