Stuffed Cabbage

St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, which means there will be some pretty good deals on cabbage and potatoes in your local supermarket in the next week or two.

For centuries, potatoes and cabbage have been a popular Irish fare. There are a couple of Irish dishes that immediately come to mind when I think about those vegetables. First, there’s corned beef and cabbage, which is the traditional centerpiece for a St. Patrick’s Day dinner. And then there is colcannon, a classic dish that contains mashed potatoes and cabbage or kale.

But the Irish don’t hold exclusive rights to those veggies, as a recipe courtesy Mario Batali’s “Molto Batali” (ecco, 2011) demonstrates.

Batali, who is the owner of Babbo, Lupa, Otto and other renowned restaurants, offers up a stuffed cabbage recipe with an Italian inflection. It has its roots in the region of Liguria, on the northwest coast near the border of France, where they prepare stuffed cabbage with a vegetarian stuffing, including potatoes.

I can’t wait to try this recipe, since cabbage and potatoes are two my favorite vegetables. And you can be sure it will be before St. Pat’s Day!

Stuffed Cabbage
1 large green cabbage (3 to 4 pounds)
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium red onions, cut into ½-inch dice
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pound new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ¼-inch dice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh ricotta, drained
About 1 cup finely slivered fresh basil leaves
¼ cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 cups basic tomato sauce
½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot. Fill a large bowl with cool water, and place it nearby.
Remove the tough outer leaves of the cabbage, finely chop them, and set them aside. Carefully cut out the cabbage core with a sharp knife.
Add 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling water. Drop the whole cabbage into the water and cook until it is tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Then transfer the cabbage to the bowl of cool water and let it cool.
When the cabbage is cool enough to handle, drain it. Carefully remove the whole leaves from the head, and set aside about a dozen of the best and largest. Chop the remaining cabbage into ¼-inch pieces and set them aside.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat until just smoking. Add the onions, garlic, potatoes, and the raw and cooked chopped cabbage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very soft, 12 to 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and allow to cool.
When the potato mixture is cool, add the ricotta, basil and parsley, and fold together. Place a scant ½ cup of the cabbage/ricotta mixture in the center of each whole cabbage leaf. Fold each leaf around the filling like a burrito, and secure it with a toothpick.
Pour the tomato sauce into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, and arrange the cabbage packets on top. Cover the dish tightly with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the foil, sprinkle the cabbage packets with the grated pecorino, and bake for another 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 12 rolls, which serves 8 to 10 as a side dish or as an antipasto.

Chili Mole

Most people know that chili lovers fall into two categories: those who use beans and those who don’t. There are also those who say that chili should contain chunks of meat, not the ground variety.

When it comes to meat, it doesn’t really matter to me. However, beans are a must. For that matter, I can go for a chili that’s vegetarian as well as one full of meat.

And during Lent, if you’re looking for an alternative to fish, a meatless chili is just the ticket.

Here’s a recipe from Crescent Dragonwagon, who has been writing about bean cuisine for 40 years, dating back to “The Bean Book,” published in 1972, when she was just 18.

In her latest,”Bean by Bean: A Cookbook” (Workman, $15.95 paperback), Dragonwagon writes about how the perception of beans has changed in the ensuing years and how the number of readily available varieties has exploded. Here’s a recipe from that book, a bean-based chili loaded with complex flavors.

Chili Mole
1 pound dried black beans, picked over, rinsed and soaked
10 to 12 cups vegetable stock or broth (see note)
2 bay leaves
1 ancho (dried poblano) chili, stemmed
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, stemmed
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup dark raisins
¼ cup olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and chopped (see note)
1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds (see note)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper or to taste
¼ teaspoon anise seed
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika (see note)
1 tablespoon chili powder, preferably hot
Ground cloves
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 15- to 16-ounce can chopped tomatoes
¼ cup tomato paste
1 to 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, diced
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, preferably natural
1 tablespoon tahini or 2 tablespoons freshly toasted sesame seeds
1 chipotle chili in adobo, stemmed
2 teaspoons adobo sauce
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey (optional)
Cook the beans. Drain soaked beans and rinse well. Place in a large, heavy pot; add enough stock to cover them by 1½ inches. Add bay leaves, ancho chili, whole stemmed jalapeno and a generous grinding of black pepper to taste.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 1 hour. Add the raisins. Continue cooking until the beans are nearly tender and the raisins have more or less disintegrated, 30 to 60 minutes longer.
About 20 minutes or so before the beans are done, spray a large, heavy skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Place it over medium heat, add olive oil and, when it’s hot, onions. Saute onions until they start to soften, 3 to 4 minutes.
Stir in bell pepper, chopped jalapeno and poblano; saute for 2 minutes. Add the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, ground cumin, ground coriander, oregano, cayenne, anise seed, cinnamon, paprika, chili powder and a tiny pinch of cloves. Reduce the heat slightly and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until it just becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat.
Scrape the sauteed ingredients into the simmering beans. Deglaze the saute pot with a little bean stock, stirring to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return this liquid to the beans.
Add the tomatoes and their juice and the tomato paste to the bean pot and stir well. Simmer for another 10 minutes, then maintain at a simmer while you continue with the recipe.
Place chocolate, peanut butter, tahini, chipotle and adobo sauce in a food processor or blender. Add a generous ladleful of the simmering beans (including the whole ancho and jalapeño, if you can find them) and process to make a thick, highly seasoned paste.
Scrape the paste into the bean pot, turn the heat down as low as possible and add a generous portion of salt to taste. Simmer slowly, partially covered, until the seasonings are well blended, about 20 minutes longer.
Just before serving, pick out the bay leaves. If desired, mash a couple of ladlefuls of the beans against the sides of the pot to thicken the chili. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary, adding agave syrup or honey if more sweetness is desired. Serve immediately or let come to room temperature, then refrigerate, covered, overnight and reheat very gently the next day.
Yield: Serves 10.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 340 calories, 12 grams fat (2.5 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 14 grams protein, 48 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams sugar, 13 grams fiber, 915 milligrams sodium, 93 milligrams calcium.
Note: A 12-ounce bottle of beer can be substituted for 1½ cups of the stock. Seed the chopped jalapeno that’s used in the saute for a milder chili. If you don’t have coriander seeds, increase the amount of ground coriander to 3½ teaspoons. Substitute ½ teaspoon smoked paprika for ½ teaspoon of the sweet paprika, if desired.

Tacos by the Sea

Usually when people think about Mexican food, fish isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But did you know that Mexico has plenty of coastline and a lot of streams and rivers that make seafood especially popular?

One Mexican-inspired entree that’s become popular north of the border in recent years is the fish taco. You can find them at fast-food establishments as well as upscale restaurants.

Here’s a recipe for some easy-to-make fish tacos with a fruity-tangy salsa. The recipe is inspired by a recipe from Deborah Schneider’s “Baja” cookbook, which uses fresh fruit. They would be great on the grill, but when the weather doesn’t cooperate, a broiler (or even a skillet on the stove top) will work just as well.

Tacos by the Sea
1 5½-ounce can chunk pineapple, juice reserved
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
½ pound cod or other whitefish fillets
Juice from 1 lime
2 green onions, minced
1 jalapeno or serrano chili, diced, or to taste
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
8 6-inch corn tortillas, warmed
Sour cream, shredded Jack cheese, guacamole, diced onions, optional
Heat grill or broiler. Combine the reserved pineapple juice, 1 tablespoon of the oil, ½ teaspoon of the salt and pepper to taste in a storage bag or container. Add the fish; set aside to marinate while you make the salsa.
Combine the pineapple chunks, lime juice, onions, chili, cilantro, honey, remaining ½ teaspoon salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl; let salsa stand while you cook the fish.
Remove fish from bag, discarding marinade; grill or broil until fish is opaque, about 3 minutes each side. Coarsely chop fish; distribute among the tortillas. Top with salsa; serve with desired toppings.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 212 calories, 19 percent of calories from fat, 5 grams fat (1 grams saturated), 21 milligrams cholesterol, 32 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams protein, 347 milligrams sodium, 4 grams fiber.

Angel Hair with Smoked Salmon in Tomato-Herb Sauce

Discovering new recipes that just happen to be mouth-watering is one of the goals of almost every cook. Nothing is more satisfying than trying a recipe that is tastes as good as it looks.

Recently, I featured some fish recipes from Spice Islands on the Herald food page ( Two of the recipes were illustrated. Both were beautiful-looking dishes.

However, a photo for the third, Angel Hair with Smoked Salmon in Tomato-Herb Sauce, also looked quite tantalizing. It look so appealing that I had to try making it. And the result more than met my expectations, so I’ve decided to share it here.

Angel Hair with Smoked Salmon in Tomato-Herb Sauce
6 ounces smoked salmon, thinly sliced
8 ounces angel hair (capellini) pasta
3  tablespoons olive oil
2¼ scups seeded and chopped tomatoes, divided
½ cup white wine
3 tablespoons capers, drained
1½ teaspoons Spice Islands Basil, Sweet
½ teaspoon Spice Islands Italian Herb Seasoning
¼ teaspoon Spice Islands Garlic Powder
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Cut smoked salmon, with the grain, into ½-inch wide strips; reserve. Cook pasta as package directs; drain.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 cups tomatoes, wine, capers, basil, Italian herbs and garlic powder. Cook until mixture is hot, about 5 minutes.
Toss cooked pasta and tomato mixture. Add smoked salmon and cheese; toss gently. Garnish with remaining tomatoes and parsley, if desired.
Yield: Serves 4.

Succulent Baked Salmon

Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. And that means there are a lot of people who are hitting their cookbooks and the Internet in search of recipes that don’t include meat.

Topping a lot of lists is salmon, I’m sure. It’s one of the most popular foods that Catholics turn to in this season of fasting and abstaining. But salmon isn’t a favorite of just Catholics during Lent.

Here’s a recipe for salmon that looks tantalizing. There are many flavor combinations in this recipe from smoky to sweet to a little hot. The bacon mixture gives the salmon added crunch and flavor, although true salmon-lovers — and Catholics — will prefer their fish plain.

Succulent Baked Salmon
Olive oil
12-ounce salmon fillet, skin and any bones removed, cut into 2 equal pieces
Salt to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons hot and sweet mustard, or any favorite mustard
1 slice of bacon, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, chopped
2 shallots, peeled, chopped
Large pinch of dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Line a baking sheet with foil and brush it with olive oil. Place the salmon fillets on the baking sheet; sprinkle them with salt and spread the mustard over the top. Set the salmon aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet, saute the bacon over medium heat until it’s golden. Add the shallots and garlic, mix well, cover and cook until the shallots and garlic have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oregano and black pepper to taste.
Stir the shallot mixture and divide it between the salmon fillets, spreading it evenly over the top.
Bake the salmon for 15 to 20 minutes or until the fish just begins to flake easily when poked with a knife tip. Remove it from oven and serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 2.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 277 calories, 37 percent of calories from fat, 11 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 7 grams carbohydrate, 35 grams protein, 169 milligrams sodium, 95 milligrams cholesterol, 41 milligrams calcium, 1 gram fiber.

Lobster and Shrimp Pasta

Pasta and seafood is a combination that’s hard to beat. And if you add some tomatoes, mushrooms and sweet red bell pepper, the result is one mouth-watering dish.

One of my favorite entrees fits that mold. It’s called Sunday Shrimp Bake. I’ve mentioned it several times in my writings over the year and have shared it with several co-workers, who always rave about it.

I’ve now come across another recipe, a one-skillet dish, that has the some of the same ingredients, including shrimp, as well as lobster. And I can’t wait to try it.

The lobster and shrimp are lightly sauteed in butter, then covered and steamed in their own juices. The rest of the ingredients are tossed in the same skillet to finish the dish.

Lobster and Shrimp Pasta with Sherry Tomato Cream
4 ounces favorite dried short pasta, such as penne
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 lobster tails (about 5 ounces each) in shells
6 large shrimp in shells
1 shallot, peeled, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
¼ pound sliced mushrooms
½ cup thinly sliced red bell pepper
Good pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup dry sherry
1/3 cup fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
½ cup crushed canned tomatoes
½ cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons shredded Asiago or Parmesan cheese
Chopped chives or parsley or both for garnish
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, drain pasta and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the lobster tails and cook just until spots on their shells start to turn red, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add shrimp and cover, reduce the heat to low and cook about 5 minutes. Remove the lobster and shrimp from the skillet. When cool, remove lobster meat from shell and cut into large chunks. Remove shrimp from shells and leave whole.
Meanwhile, in the same skillet, add the shallot and garlic; saute 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, pepper and pepper flakes. Saute about 5 minutes or until mushrooms release their juices.
Deglaze the skillet with the sherry. Add the chicken broth and tomatoes and heat gently. Stir in the cream and cheese and heat through. If the sauce is too thick, thin with some of the reserved pasta water. Add the lobster, shrimp and cooked pasta and heat through. Transfer to individual serving bowls and garnish with chives or parsley. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 2 (generously).
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 595 calories, 38 percent of calories from fat, 24 grams fat (14 grams saturated), 57 grams carbohydrates, 31 grams protein, 696 milligrams sodium, 143 milligrams cholesterol, 5 grams fiber.

Reuben Burger

A hot dog or Polish sausage with sauerkraut is a natural combination, and with a good mustard, is awfully hard to beat. Some people will say that sauerkraut with anything is to die for.

I’m one of those people. A favorite dish of mine is baby back pork ribs cooked in sauerkraut. And served with potatoes (I prefer mashed, although boiled are pretty good, too), it’s a meal made in heaven.

So, when I saw something called a Reuben burger on the new Whitey’s menu Friday, it didn’t take long to make up my mind about what to order. The burger, which probably was a quarter- to a half-pounder, was topped with shredded pastrami, a slice of Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing and, of course, sauerkraut. A couple of pickle slices were served on the side.

I would rate the burger a strong 8 or 9 on a scale of 10. I so satisfied that a Web quest was begun to find a recipe for a Reuben burger that could be made at home. Here’s what I caught my fancy, and maybe will yours.

Reuben Burger
1 cup deli-sliced pastrami, finely chopped
1 teaspoon canola or vegetable oil
1 pound  extra-lean ground beef
1 cup sauerkraut, drained, rinsed, squeezed dry and finely chopped
1/3 cup Thousand Island dressing, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
4 hamburger buns
¼ cup sauerkraut, divided
4 slices Swiss cheese
Heat oil in medium skillet over high heat. Add pastrami and cook, stirring, until slightly crispy, about 4 minutes. Remove from skillet and cool. Meanwhile, combine ground beef and 1 cup sauerkraut. Add cooled pastrami, salt and pepper and mix well. Divide into 4 patties. Preheat barbeque grill to high.
Lightly brush one side of each patty with oil. Place oiled side down on hot grill and then oil top side. Cook, 3 to 5 minutes per side, or until an internal temperature of 160 degrees is reached. Meanwhile, toast buns on grill.
Spread tops and bottoms with Thousand Island Dressing. Place cooked patties on bottom buns, top with additional sauerkraut and Swiss cheese. Return to barbeque and cook on low heat, until cheese melts, about 2 minutes.
Top with toppings, bun tops.
Yield: Serves 4.

Jambalaya Maque Choux

What’s your philosophy when it comes to food and dining? Do you just pick out recipes and restaurants willy-nilly? Not me. I’m a firm believer in relying on the experts when it comes to most things edible, and that includes the menu, whether it’s at home or out on the town.

So when it comes to New Orleans-style food, I look to Louisiana natives, and who better than Zatarain’s.

Since 1889, Zatarain’s has been the authority on the fun and flavor of New Orleans, so whenever I see a recipe from those folks, my mouth beings to water.

With Fat Tuesday just around the corner, here’s a New Orleans-style jambalaya with a fun Cajun twist from Zatarain’s. It’s called Jambalaya Maque Choux.

Corn maque choux is a traditional south Louisiana dish with corn and peppers, usually served as a side or over rice. In this version from Zatarain’s, some andouille sausage is added to kick up the flavor up a notch.

Jambalaya Maque Choux
1 tablespoon oil
½ pound andouille sausage, cut into ¼-inch slices
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped green bell pepper
½ cup chopped red onion
2½ cups water
1 14½-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 package Zatarain’s Jambalaya Mix
1 cup frozen corn
Heat oil in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add sausage; cook and stir 2 minutes.
Add celery, bell pepper and onion; cook and stir 3 minutes or until sausage is browned
and vegetables begin to softened.
Stir in water, tomatoes and Rice Mix. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover and
simmer 20 minutes. Stir in corn; cover and cook 5 minutes longer or until rice is tender,
stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Let stand 5 minutes. Fluff with fork before
Yield: Serves 6.

Chicken Gumbo

Nothing says Mardi Gras better than a bowl of steaming seafood gumbo served over rice. Traditionally made with smoked ham, jumbo shrimp, okra and a hint of Cajun seasoning for a spicy kick, no Mardi Gras party would be complete without it.

There are about as many different recipes for gumbo as there are cooks in New Orleans, and it’s not surprising for me to come across a bevy of recipes for it every year at this time.

The most recent one to come to my attention is one from Linda Gassenheimer of the Miami Herald in her Quick Fix column. It’s a quick version of her husband’s Aunt Helen Rose’s Chicken Gumbo recipe.

This dish improves with age, Gassenheimer says, so if you have time, make extra and freeze for another quick dinner.

Chicken Gumbo
Vegetable oil spray
¾ pound skinless chicken breast with bones, cut into several pieces (can substitute pheasant)
¼ pound okra, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 cup frozen chopped/diced onion
1 cup frozen/diced green bell pepper
1 celery stalk, sliced (½ cup)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoons flour
2½ cups water
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup canned diced tomatoes, drained
½ cup frozen lima beans
4 large cooked shelled shrimp (¼ pound)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Worcestershire sauce
Hot pepper sauce
Heat a large nonstick sauce pan over medium-high heat and spray with vegetable spray. Brown chicken on all sides, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside. Add okra, onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the pan. Saute 3 minutes. Remove vegetables and set aside. Add oil, then flour. Blend well and cook slowly until flour is a rich brown color. Add water, little by little, stirring to remove any lumps. Bring to a simmer. Add cayenne and tomatoes and return vegetables to the pan. Mix well and add lima beans and chicken. Cover and simmer 8 to 10 minutes. A meat thermometer should read 165 degrees. Add shrimp, cover and remove from heat to warm shrimp. Serve over brown rice with Worcestershire and hot pepper sauce on the side.
Yield: Serves 2.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 454 calories, 26 percent of calories from fat, 13.2 grams fat (1.8 grams saturated, 6.5 grams monounsaturated), 167 milligrams cholesterol, 46.2 grams protein, 39.4 grams carbohydrates, 8.6 grams fiber, 479 milligrams sodium.

Semi-Spicy Italian Meatballs

Sharing a recipe is one of the most satisfying things a cook can do. And it’s even more so rewarding if a compliment comes back from the recipient.

That’ why I admire the Recipe Finder column of Julie Rothman that appears in the Baltimore Sun. Julie’s column is familiar with me because it is contained on the weekly food budget of the McClatchy Tribune News Service.

Recently, I was able share a family recipe for baked oysters with Julie’s readers. One of them, Martha Meyers, from Manchester, Md., was looking for a “good old-time” recipe for oyster dressing, and I saw her request in the Recipe Finder column. And ever since, I’ve been a dedicated reader.

Just this week, Julie shared a recipe for a good semi-spicy Italian meatball for spaghetti. Julie did not receive any recipe from readers, so she decided to do a little experimenting on her own to come up with a good one, and what she came up with looked pretty interesting to me.

Semi-Spicy Italian Meatballs
½ pound lean pork sausages (spicy is best), removed from casing
1 pound lean ground beef
¼ cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
1 large egg, slightly beaten
½ cup milk or water
½ cup plain breadcrumbs
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ tablespoon Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
In a large bowl, combine all the above ingredients. Gently mix them together with a wooden spoon, or use your hands, taking care not to over mix.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Using a 1 tablespoon cookie scoop (for less messy results), shape the mixture into medium-sized balls, and place on a lightly greased, foil-lined baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, turning the balls once or twice to promote even browning. Once they are browned, it is best to allow them to finish cooking in the sauce so the flavors are released into your liquid.
Yield: 24 medium-sized meatballs.
Cook’s note: These meatballs freeze beautifully. Just cut the cooking time by a few minutes so they are only partially done, let them cool, place in a freezer tight bag and freeze. Next time you need a tasty meal but don’t have much time to make it, just remove the meatballs from the freezer and drop them into a quality store-bought red sauce to finish the cooking. You will have yummy homemade dinner in no time flat.