First, I have to talk about my wife, who is half Ukrainian. She has brought such rich traditions to my world, especially at Christmas (which is on a different calendar than most of us North Americans). As we celebrate Ukrainian Christmas Eve, I bring you my vegan version of a very common and varied dish: holubtsi (or cabbage rolls).
This version contains cooked buckwheat, made the traditional way of toasting in the oven following stovetop prep, and prior to mixing with the vegetables and bacon” for stuffing. I used a number of online and one book resource to configure this recipe, as I am currently seeking so-called skinnier cooking as I continue my quest to lose the last 13 of 140 pounds (from 315 pounds).
Without further ado…
Vegan Slow Cooker Holubtsi
Please feel free to prep this however you see fit. I chose the longer method, as I will describe, and it was, erm, long! I recommend trying the freezing overnight method, as my wife’s mother swore by it.
Chose a medium head of green cabbage. It’s better to keep it simple, and just get one you might already buy for other cooking purposes. It doesn’t have to look perfect. This recipe is very forgiving.
Core the cabbage, and place it in a deep pot. Pour boiling water over the cabbage, first into the cored hollow, and then all over, and around the cabbage. Cover tightly, and place on high heat, allowing the water to continue the boiling process. You should start to see the leaves separating after 5 minutes. Do check it often. We are not after cooked cabbage! We are looking for leaves that you can roll into holubtsi (little pigeons, literally).
Carefully take the head out or the leaves as they separate, and lay flay to dry and cool a bit. When you can handle them, slice them down the middle and set aside for rolling.
You can use whatever grain you like: rice, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, etc…). This recipe lists the grain I mentioned above: buckwheat. It is an authentic filling, and much healthier than some of the others I researched (versus barley for example).
1 cup buckwheat groats, rinsed
2 cups water
1 cup vegetable stock
¼ tsp sea salt
Bring the water and stock to a brisk boil, adding the groats while stirring, cover and cook for 30 minutes on medium heat or until the liquid is absorbed. You don’t want to completely mush up and cook the grain as it will cook in the rolls later.
Place the cooked buckwheat into a baking dish that has been well-oiled. Bake covered at 350 F for 30 minutes. Be careful not to burn the grain.
The vegetables and filling sautee:
¼ cup finely diced vegan bacon or ham
10 crimini mushroom, stems removed, finely chopped in a food processor
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1 egg equivalent of egg replacer, or 1 flax egg
Sautee the above vegetables in a nonstick pan, adding olive oil if you prefer, then sea salt and pepper to taste, for up to 10 minutes on medium heat. You are primarily just rendering the fat from the bacon, and releasing flavor and water from the mushrooms.
Remove from the heat and add the baked buckwheat, stirring to combine. Add the egg substitute.
There are many methods. Cutting the leaves in half allows for uniformity.
Place 1-2 tablespoons of your mixture into the half leaf, pinching the sides together and rolling up tightly. Begin to line the large slow cooker tightly with the rolls, making as many rolls and layers as your cabbage and filling allow.
I just used a no salt added tomato sauce, 1 medium can (roughly 15 ounces), and added water until the top layer of rolls was partially submerged.
I slow cooked these on low for 3.5 hours, then switched to high for 1.5 hours. That simulated a texture that seemed right. You can experiment, or just roast them in a covered dutch oven on medium-high heat for 1.5-2 hours.
I hope you try these, experiment with what you like, and enjoy many versions! I am looking forward to making many more!
Happy Ukrainian Christmas!