Forget the chocolate – that’s my kind of Easter Basket!
We’ve been busy on and off the farm. Wife Steph had Vitrectomy surgery from which she is recovering nicely but going crazy from boredom because she can’t do anything other than sit and heal. Also, our son Nick is moving back from New Hampshire, commandeering the empty farm cottage. I guess I’m going to have to get to know him all over again because the guy who left some years ago bears little resemblance to the guy who’s been here for the past couple of weeks busting his rear end fixing up the place. He’s been working night and day getting the place up to snuff for his wife and our two grand bebes. He looks like Nick and talks like Nick, but someone has taken over his body and whoever he is, he’s pretty cool.
So, needless to say, Easter Holy Week has been relatively disrupted. We’re still trying to keep some of our normal traditions though. One of the essentials that I am expected to create for any major holiday are halupkies. We pronounce it “haloopkees”, but they are known by many, many names (as the link makes clear) and come in any number of recipes. Halupkies are a tradition in my family that comes through my Ukrainian roots, how far back I know not. My earliest memories (all of my memories, really) of my “Tomcova” grandparents always include a plethora of Ukrainian food, and Halupkies are probably the most important and remembered staple of our family feasts. Not only are they cherished on the table, they also create a sweet nostalgia for simpler times, and a connection with our family roots. When the aroma fills the house, I am back at grandma’s house with all of the memories that go with being there. It’s a reminder to me why carrying on family traditions through every generation is important, and why we need to try to pass them to and through our children, and theirs.
Since you’re going to ask anyway, here is my Halupkie recipe. It’s extremely similar to Grandma’s, but with just a couple of small tweaks. This is also a batch size for the Tomcova family, plus in laws, etc. – so proportionalize. This will make about 40. Also, I don’t measure anything, so sizes are approximated. I use (roughly):
1 -1/2 to 2 lbs raw ground beef
1 – 1/2 lbs short (or medium) grain rice
1 lb bacon
1 medium onion finely chopped
6 cloves garlic finely chopped
3 to 4 large heads of green cabbage
6 to 8 jars of pasta sauce
2 – 16oz bags sauerkraut
Salt & pepper
Kielbasa (whatever amount you wish) Kielbasa is optional, but I recommend that you don’t skip it.
– The night before you plan to cook, put all of the rice in a bowl and put enough cool water in the bowl so that the rice is covered. Let it soak overnight. This will give the rice a head start and will make sure that it cooks sufficiently.
The next day:
– Put the cabbage in a large pot and fill with water to boil. If you can only do two cabbage at a time that’s ok. You’ll have plenty of time to do the others. Cook the cabbage so that the leaves are soft enough handle but not so soft that they fall apart. I usually boil them for 20 minutes. While the cabbage is cooking:
– Take the bacon out of the package in one piece and cut the whole slab into small strips then turn and cut into small squares. The smaller the better. Then put the bacon in a pan and cook it about “half-way”. It should be soft (not crispy) but alot of the grease should be cooked out. Remove the bacon with a straining spoon and put aside on a paper towel to let it fully drain and cool.
– Put the rice and raw hamburg in a large bowl. Put the rice on one side of the bowl and the hamburg on the other. It’s done this way so that you can approximate roughly equal amounts of rice and hamburg in the bowl side by side.
– Add the chopped garlic and onion to the hamburg and rice.
– Once the bacon is fairly cool, add it to the hamburg and rice. By this time the bacon will be significantly less than one pound because of the fat that was cooked off and because you ate a bunch of it. That’s ok. Add it just as it is anyway.
– Add some salt and pepper.
– Now for the first fun part… Mix all these things thoroughly. Gush and squeeze the hamburg through your fingers making sure the rice and all the other ingredients are mixed. It is absolutely essential that the hamburg gushes, not for any good reason, just because. If you are squeamish but you have young boys, this is their job. They love squishy raw stuff. Unfortunately I didn’t get pictures of this part.
– When the cabbage is sufficiently cooked, take the cabbage out and put them in a strainer over a bowl or something. Don’t just drain the water off because you want to keep the cabbage water for later. Let them sufficiently cool so that you can handle them. If you have more cabbages to cook, use the same water and cook them the same as the first.
– Line the bottom of a large pot with the sauerkraut. There should be about a one inch or so layer. The purpose of the sauerkraut is two-fold: To add a bit of flavor throughout the batch, and to protect the halupkies on the bottom from burning. Open a jar of pasta sauce and cover the sauerkraut completely with a light layer of sauce.
– Now for the second fun part that everyone always wants to do. Carefully peel off a leaf from the cooked cabbage. Lay it down flat and put a small amount of the hamburg/rice mixture in the middle.
Roll and fold it to a small, cylindrical shape.
Then do it again, and again, and so on. Place the halupkies in a single layer, side by side, leaving space between each. Space is left so that water and sauce can penetrate all the way through the batch and cook evenly.
Once the first layer is completed, open another jar of sauce and completely cover the layer. Repeat for every layer, staggering the halupkies. I usually use one full jar of sauce per layer. When all halupkies are made, cover the top layer completely as well.
– Some of the cabbage water, which was saved, is now poured into the pot until all of the halupkies are covered. You shouldn’t need much, probably about a jar’s worth, because of all the sauce that has already been added. I will usually first pour some cabbage water into the pasta sauce jars to rinse and get all of the sauce into the batch. I will also fill up a couple of sauce jars with cabbage water to save in case I need to pour more water in the batch as it’s cooking.
– Put the pot on the cooktop on the lowest heat possible and cover. Let it cook all day, and possibly all night as well. After eight hours or so I will take a large holupkie off the top to test it. If the rice is done all the way through then it is done. I will usually let it cook for a couple more hours just to make sure that the whole batch is thoroughly cooked.
– Once you’re sure it’s done, shut off the heat, take the kielbasa out of the package and place it on the top of the batch and cover it again. Let the heat of the halupkies steam their flavor through the kielbasa for a couple hours. You can skip this step but I don’t recommend it. The flavor of the kielbasa is so awesome that it’s almost worth making halupkies just for the kielbasa.
And that’s it. It’s really not that hard to do, nor very time consuming. The most important thing is to make sure you let them cook thoroughly. It takes alot to burn a batch, but it’s pretty easy to have rice that isn’t quite done. Cooking a little longer is better than not quite enough. About the sauce: use whatever you like using. Even my Grandma would use Ragu on occasion. They always came out awesome.
Happy Easter to everyone.