Signed, Stuffed, Delivered: Food and the Divine Decree

By Clarissa Hyman

Published October 21, 2005, issue of October 21, 2005.
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Hoshanah Rabah, the seventh day of Sukkot (which falls this year on Monday, October 24), is regarded as the day on which the divine decree decided on Yom Kippur is sealed. For many, the day’s significance is translated into culinary terms.

For example, it is customary in some quarters to eat stuffed foods such as kreplach, symbolizing the day’s hidden verdict. The triangular kreplach has been said to symbolize everything from the three Patriarchs to the three parts of the Tanakh. On Hoshanah Rabah, a mystical connection compares the kreplach’s wrapping and filling to the day’s judgment covered with mercy. The red of the filling (linked to din — judgment) should be encased completely by the white dough (linked to chesed — mercy) so that the outcome of the day is likewise.

Sukkot offers a wide array of stuffed foods, both sweet and savory, from stuffed peppers to apple strudel. Such dishes classically make a little go a long way. They’re good tempered, easily portable (from kitchen to sukkah) and, as Gloria Kaufer Greene has said, can transform an ordinarily mundane ingredient such as cabbage into a rich-tasting delicacy.

Penitence and prayer, celebration and plenty, respect for the earth and the soul, the temporary nature of our pilgrimage and dwellings in this world — these are themes reflected in the foods we now eat. Today there are sukkot with retractable roofs and fine furnishings, those that are plastered with fruit and flowers, permanent booths that double as garden sheds, even — heavens above — pop-up sukkot. But nothing can beat the long-gone taste of mother’s stuffed cabbage, cooked with love and moistened with rainwater.

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This recipe comes from Cynthia Michael, a great Mancunian cook (that means she’s from Manchester, England, not the mythical Ashkenazic kingdom of Mancunia).

As Matthew Goodman once wrote, just as the Eskimos are said to have numerous words for snow, so do the Jews of Eastern Europe for stuffed cabbage: holoptshes, holishkes and geluptzes, for example. But in the Ukraine the dish was generally known as prakkes, a name derived from the Turkish word yaprak, or “leaf.”

1 1/2 lbs. minced steak or lamb

7/8 cup long-grain rice

2 onions, finely chopped

Salt and pepper

2 Savoy, green or Dutch white cabbages

Oil, for frying

Stock or water, for cooking

2-4 lemons

5/8 cup brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Mix the meat, rice, half the onion, salt and pepper and set aside.

To remove the cabbage leaves, use a sharp knife to cut a deep cone into the core at the stem end of each cabbage. Plunge the whole cabbages into a large pan of boiling, salted water for two to three minutes (this will help loosen the leaves). You may have to do this in batches. Detach the leaves from the cabbage, and drain them well. Cut out the thick rib from the center of each leaf.

Lay each leaf on a board or plate. Place a spoonful of the meat mixture in the center and roll up, tucking in both sides to enclose like a parcel.

Brown the rest of the onion in a little oil in a flameproof casserole, and add the cabbage holishkes. Cover with any remaining cabbage leaves.

Add enough stock or water to cover the cabbage, and add some extra seasoning. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, and bake for at least three hours.

Now add the juice of two lemons and half a cup of brown sugar. Return the casserole to the oven for another hour and then taste to adjust the seasoning, adding more lemon juice and sugar if needed. As Cynthia says: “The longer the holishkes cook, the better they taste.”

Serves eight.

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Clarissa Hyman, a food writer based in Manchester, England, is the author of “The Jewish Kitchen: Recipes and Stories From Around the World,” recently published in paperback by Interlink Publishing Group.

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