Stuffed to perfection

Small lit candles inserted in red apples perched on top of hand-held blue-and-white Israeli flags are fond memories of Simchat Torah. I, along with the entire Junior Congregation danced joyously in synagogue, waving those flags to commemorate the gift of the Torah to the Jews.

In researching this holiday’s foods, I learned stuffed cabbage (holishkes) was traditionally served in Eastern European homes while dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) were on Sephardic tables. In addition to celebrating agricultural bounty, I discovered yet a more whimsical, captivating reason for enjoying these dishes. Their cylindrical shape is said to symbolize the scrolls of the Torah.

Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves) | Makes about 18

2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onions (about 2 medium)
8 oz. coarsely chopped mushrooms
1/3 cup raisins
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 cup long-grain white rice
2 cups water
18 (about) grape leaves from jar, rinsed, drained, tough stems trimmed
plain yogurt
lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil 11-by-7-inch glass baking dish. Heat 2 Tbs. oil in large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and mushrooms and sauté, about 8 minutes. Mix in raisins, oregano, pepper and cumin. Add rice and 1 cup water; stir to blend. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until rice is partially cooked and no liquid remains, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Cool to lukewarm.

Place 1 grape leaf, vein side up, on work surface. Spoon 2 Tbs. rice mixture in center of leaf at widest part. Fold bottom of leaf over. Fold sides in. Roll up. Place seam side down in prepared dish. Repeat with remaining leaves and rice mixture, arranging in single layer in dish. Pour 1 cup water over rolled grape leaves. Cover with foil; bake until rice is tender, about 40 minutes. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool slightly. Cover; refrigerate.) Serve warm or cold with yogurt and lemon wedges.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls | Makes about 16

For sauce:
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced crosswise
3 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 can (28-32 oz.) whole tomatoes including juice
3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
3 Tbs. packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup dried pitted cherries (optional)
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

For stuffed cabbage:
2 lbs. cabbage
1 lb. ground beef
3 Tbs. long-grain rice
3 Tbs. water
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Make sauce: Cook onion in oil in a 12-inch deep heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice, lemon juice, brown sugar, cherries, salt, and pepper and simmer, uncovered, breaking up tomatoes into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon and stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.

While sauce simmers, prepare cabbage for stuffing. Immerse whole head of cabbage in a large pot of boiling salted water and cook until leaves are tender but still hold their shape, about 5 minutes. Transfer cabbage with a large slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking, then drain in a colander. Separate leaves, then cut off and reserve tough stem ends. Discard core. Pat leaves dry with paper towels.

Stir together beef, rice, water, onion, salt and pepper. Spread out 1 large cabbage leaf on a work surface and put 2 Tbs. filling in center. Fold both sides of leaf toward center (over filling), then fold stem over filling and roll tightly into a cylinder. Stuff remaining cabbage leaves in same manner, using less filling for smaller leaves. Chop any unused leaves and reserved stem ends and stir into simmering sauce.

Arrange stuffed cabbage rolls, seam sides down, in 1 layer over sauce and simmer, covered, 1 1/2 hours. Stuffed cabbage rolls can be cooked 2 days ahead and cooled, uncovered, then chilled, covered. Reheat before serving.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].