In many Eastern European households, the routine menu presence of stuffed cabbage marks a happy, healthy home life. Ever the gut-stuffing comfort food of the Continent’s chilly north, the basic idea varies little by region: The round plant’s green leaves serve as the shell for a ground filling. Loaded with beef, pork, a bit of rice, or sometimes kasha, the dreamy dish typically comes with tomato sauce or mushroom gravy.
At Veselka, the meatless stuffed cabbage will likely make Old World grandmothers’ ghosts (this writer’s included) haunt their living relatives for abandoning tradition — not just because the East Village offering is vegetarian, but because the recipe easily beats the best long-held family-kitchen secrets.
The plentiful cabbage has been boiled the right amount of time, so the texture isn’t too stringy or chewy. The faint, but fresh, vegetable taste provides a light counter to the hearty interior.
Mushrooms and pieces of cooked onion enhance the rich rice, which abounds in black pepper without excess spiciness. The mild tomato sauce comes piping, and features a smooth, blended texture that aptly balances the red food’s savory and nuanced sides. The thick, chunky mushroom gravy also tempts. Both the pick’s interior and tomato sauce could use a little salt, however.
At $12.95, the meal — which comes with two sides — indeed proves excellent for an animal-loving lumberjack at any time of day. But for normal folk, such soporific, heavy fare might best be left for times other than lunch — especially in a siesta-less city such as New York.
144 Second Avenue
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 8, 2010