Serving stuffed cabbage is a common dish for Simchat Torah. The recipe I share with you is from a dear friend–like a family member–who lives in Tel Aviv. I have had countless Shabbat and holiday meals at her home. Whether in the kitchen or dining room, the tables are always inevitably overflowing with dishes that she painstakingly prepared over a few days after spending hours picking out and discussing with the shopkeeper about the most beautiful produce at her local tiny fruit and vegetable market. Mindful of my plant-based diet, she not only would worry that I have enough to eat, but also creatively updated some of her meat dishes to be vegan. I have had this incredible stuffed cabbage dish at her home many times and every time she excitedly and proudly presents it on a platter to guests. I humbly present my best attempt to try to recreate her delicious recipe.
While researching why stuffed cabbage is served on Simchat Torah, I found a lot of interesting explanations. Beyond the obvious that the stuffed cabbages look like Torah scrolls and the holiday celebrates the giving of the Torah, there’s interesting wordplays and seasonal foods and cultural adaptions.
At the most basic and practical level, cabbage is widely available during the fall holidays. Stuffed cabbage was standard fare, stretching from Eastern European shetls to Persia, and adaption for kosher meals was easy. Jewish communities called it a dove because it resembled a bird’s nest (teibel in Yiddish).
For wordplay: keruv means cabbage in Hebrew and includes the same letters as “blessed.” It is also the same word for cherub in Hebrew and the cabbage dish alludes to the cherubs that stood over the Ark of the Covenant.
The last day of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabba where the hoshanot [prayer’s] climax is the words kol mevasser, mevasser v’omer is said (“the voice of the herald heralds and says”). “In German, cabbages are called kohl and water is vasser, there arose a custom to eat cabbages cooked in water (kohl mit vasser) on Hoshana Rabbah to celebrate the kol mevasser.”
Indeed, no matter how you prepare your stuffed cabbage dish, the scents and textures might be reminiscent of a recipe from previous generations. For me, it will always be my dear friend’s stuffed cabbage dish that will remind me of all the incredible meals with her. Her glimmering blue eyes as she delicately places each dish on the table, explaining to me what is in it and how it was prepared, before finally sitting down after days of meticulous preparation. Said Gil Marks, “It’s not just about food. Eating something as traditional as this is a cultural experience, one that is spiritual and nostalgic. It manages to transcend time, its food for the soul.”
Simchat Torah Stuffed Cabbage
1 green cabbage head
2 cups rice or farro (I used farro because I like the texture and nutty flavor)
2 tbsp pine nuts
1 chopped white onion
1 medium apple, peeled and chopped
1-2 cups cherry tomatoes
1-1.5 c saukerkraut
optional: dried prunes
salt and pepper to taste
- Boil the whole cabbage until soft. Once finished, remove from heat and let cool completely (this might be several hours or even overnight)
- Cook two cups of rice or farro until slightly under-done. While cooking the rice, place the pine nuts in a toaster oven at 250 degrees Fahrenheit and toast until lightly browned. When the rice is finished, fold in the pine nuts.
- In a large skillet on medium, add one tbsp olive oil. Add onions and cook until brown. Add the chopped apple and cherry tomatoes. Mix well. The tomatoes will eventually start to fall apart. Just before the sauce is done, add the sauerkraut and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Optional: If you prefer the sauce to be sweeter, add chopped dried prunes at the same time as the apples.
- Once the cabbage is completely cooled, gently peel off leaves. Add tablespoons of the rice mixture to a single cabbage leaf and carefully roll. Add the stuffed cabbage leaves to the sauce mixture in the pan and cook together (this is why the rice should be slightly undercooked), for several minutes until warm and rice is soft.
- Serve warm.