Florencia, my mother-in-law, has roots in Kiev; in the era that her parents decided to emigrate to Argentina, the Ukraine experienced loads of political upheaval. Her family was culturally and linguistically Ukrainian, but borders in that era were in constant flux, and post-WWI, Kiev was invaded by and became part of, at one time or other, the territory of Germany, Austria, Poland, and Russia, before being absorbed into the Bolshevik empire of the USSR in the 1940s.
To hear my suegra describe it, her teenage mother would go to school, and from one year to the next, classes would be held in German, Polish, Russian. Her family, like so many others of the same generation, tired of the upheaval and destruction, decided instead to take their chances and strike out on their own, seeing a golden opportunity in South America. There, they could have a relatively peaceful, if hardscrabble life, and work the land.
Bowen, my husband's tiny hometown, is full of families from that region. In Bowen they stuck together to keep a Ukrainian community intact--the Piechotiuk (my mother-in-law), Lewosik (her sister's husband), the Chaika, Kondratuik, Litvinchuk families, and on and on. Guillermo and I were married in a Ukrainian church with a little onion dome on top and a Byzantine-style Virgin Mary beaming down at us. The church says a Ukrainian mass there each Sunday in addition to the Spanish one. As a child, Guillermo studied Ukrainian with other school children; those families are the dairy farmers around Bowen.
In other cities, from Buenos Aires to Salta to Patagonia and all areas in between, more people came--from Russia, Poland, and beyond. Some stayed in their tight-knit communities, others branched out and assimilated to that country of immigrants. And by assimilating, they brought some of their own culture and recipes to the whole--so much so that this dish, which is a classic in Eastern Europe, is also now part of the Argentinean vernacular.
In Poland, these savory little packages are called Golabki (pronounced ga-WUMP-kee), or "little pigeons", in reference to their size and shape. In the Ukraine, they are called Holubtsi, in Russia, Golubtsy, and in Argentina, the name takes on another meaning entirely--Niños Envueltos--or "wrapped up children". Though they do resemble swaddled babes, the flavors of this dish are anything but unsophisticated or childish--this dish's rich history proves that it is good enough to have real staying power. The sweetness of the cabbage against the spiced pork, beef, rice and mushrooms inside, slathered and baked in a rich tomato sauce.
A final note: one of the things I like the most about this dish was that while the filling does include beef and pork, it also includes rice and mushrooms, which makes the filling stretch much further (great and cost-effective if you're serving a crowd) and it's not too heavy (so you can serve it with sides and not feel stuffed, yourself!). This recipe is sure to become a family favorite (read:addictive--we ate them for 3 days straight), gracing your table no matter where you come from or what you decide to call it.
Find me on facebook: Rebecca Caro or Fans of From Argentina With Love, on twitter: @RebeccaCaro, and you can reach me by email at [email protected].
You may also enjoy Niños Envueltos recipes from Asado Argentina (by Katie of Seashells and Sunflowers, a variation I think is so interesting because it is what my Italian-American mom used to make and call Braciole (pronounced brih-johl) ) or by famed Argentinean chef Narda Lepes for Utilisima (with video).
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls in Tomato Sauce
The filling and tomato sauce can be made one day ahead to save time. Tomato sauce recipe precedes the filling recipe. If you have any leftover filling, it can be frozen, in a freezer bag or sealed container, for up to 2 months. Many families traditionally serve Niños Envueltos on Christmas Eve.
head of cabbage
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped fine
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried parsley, or 3 tablespoons fresh
1 carrot, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
pepper, to taste
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground beef
1 cup wild rice (I used a 'royal' blend of white, brown, wild and red)
1 cup mushrooms, chopped (can be white button, wild, or portabello, or a combination)
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon dried parsley
salt and pepper to taste
Begin by making the rice according to the brand's instructions. (Usually 2:1 water to rice, and simmer, covered, until water has absorbed, about 30 minutes.)
Next, the cabbage--with a sharp knife, cut the hard, thick core from the bottom of the cabbage. Bring a large pot of water to boil, remove the large, tough outer leaves of the cabbage and discard, and place the cabbage in the boiling water. Boil until a knife inserted into the cabbage goes in easily, but leaves are not too soft, about 20 minutes or so. Remove from the water and let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, start the tomato sauce. In a non-reactive saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat, and add the 1/2 chopped onion, cooking until translucent but not brown. Add in the crushed tomatoes, parsely and grated carrot. Add salt and pepper, and let simmer for about 25 minutes.
While the sauce simmers, make the filling. In a large frying pan, melt the butter over medium high heat. Add in the onion and garlic, cooking until transluscent but not browned. Add in the pork, beef and mushrooms, cooking and chopping meat apart with a flat spatula, until the meat and mushrooms have cooked through, about 7minutes. Add in the salt and pepper and taste. Add in the rice into the mixture and combine. Add the egg, nutmeg and parsley and mix well.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Separate out the leaves and lay out on a clean, flat surface. For the tougher outer leaves, it might be necessary to cut out the tough core piece from each leaf. Put a large spoonful of filling in the center of each leaf and roll the leaf up. Arrange the rolls in a single layer in a large casserole dish, and cover with the tomato sauce and then a lid or aluminium foil. Bake for 1 hour, or until the leaves are tender.
Serve hot from the oven with extra sauce.