By Marcia Pilgeram
It turns out COVID is no longer my biggest fear or my worst enemy, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
The coverage of the assault in Ukraine leaves me reeling. Even a quick look at a brief clip lingers in my unsettled mind, a constant and painful reminder that right now, not much is right in our world.
I instinctively thought of my Aunt Rose (who passed two years ago) when the attacks began. Married to my mom’s only brother, she was Ukrainian and damn proud of it. Along with a contingent of her Ukrainian relatives, my mom and I often spent Christmas holidays with them in Billings, Mont. While there, we observed the strict customs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. I don’t remember all the details, but I remember a lot of daily fasting, broken with boiled wheat, and simple, meatless meals.
We broke the big fast at midnight on Christmas, but sometimes I had an early and hasty opportunity for a DIY fast-breaking. With a new driver’s license burning a hole in my hip pocket, I was quick to offer my services as an errand girl, including a brief (albeit guilt-driven) trip through the Frost Top for a cheap burger.
On her bountiful buffet, my favorite food served at midnight on Christmas was holubtsi. The scent of those savory, rice-filled cabbage rolls made the wait for midnight even harder. They were the first thing I put on my holiday plate.
Over the years, I’ve made and tested many variations, but these rolls (hich are also referred to as holopchi) , made of four simple ingredients, have always remained my favorite.
I’m drawn to my kitchen when I feel the need to ease my angst. This past weekend was no exception. I reached for my dusty Longaberger Basket card file, filled with family recipes, and thumbed through it, looking for Aunt Rose’s handwritten instructions for holubtsi. I rubbed the faded, grease-stained instructions between my thumb and forefinger, thinking of Rose and her people still in Ukraine. It’s hard to comprehend Putin’s madness, watching in horror while Aunt Rose’s people are slaughtered. In a last-ditch, run-for-their-lives effort, even the children lay dead.
Making the holubtsi soothed my soul, but I needed to do more and be more for this displaced population. I know I am not alone. My fearless food hero, Chef José Andrés, has already mobilized his World Central Kitchen teams, feeding thousands of people trapped in Ukraine and thousands more who’ve managed to flee to Poland. I am in awe of the WCK volunteers and can’t begin to imagine the logistics that feed thousands of people among the bombs and bullets and bloodshed.
If you want to help, donate. Go to: World Central Kitchen (wck.org). There are many other ways to help but, first and foremost, we must feed the hungry people. Can you imagine facing fear and desperation on top of hunger?
People are getting creative on social media as they find ways to put money into the pockets of Ukrainians. Through Airbnb or VRBO, you can rent a bedroom or two in a house in Ukraine, and the money will go directly to the homeowner (fees have been waived). You can rent an entire house, but use caution to ensure it’s going to a person and not a corporation. You can buy digital art direct from Ukraine — think beautiful sunflowers! Etsy is also waiving its fee.
Baking initiatives are sprouting up everywhere. Home bakers, commercial bakeries, even bars and restaurants are creating specialty items, with proceeds going to our innocent brothers and sisters in Ukraine. So let your kiddos bake some blue-and-yellow frosted sugar cookies. Have a neighborhood bake sale and donate your proceeds.
Skip a meal and donate the money you would have spent on food. There are myriad ways for all of us to help feed Ukraine. Choose one. Or two. Be generous and be grateful for your hot food and your warm house.
I dedicate this simple recipe to the fighting spirit of all Ukrainians. You are not alone in your fight.
Aunt Rose’s holubtsi (a.k.a. holopchi) recipe • Ukrainian cabbage rolls that can be served as a side or main dish for vegetarians. Makes approximately 18 small rolls or 10 large rolls.
• 1 1/2 cups raw rice
• 1/2 cup vegetable oil
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 2 yellow onions, finely diced
Place rice in 3 cups of water, add salt, pepper and oil, stir, bring to a boil and cover. Cook for about 25 minutes until rice is tender. Set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
While rice is cooling, place enough water in a large pot to cover the bottom. De-core the cabbage and place in the pan of water. Cover and steam leaves, and remove the leaves as they loosen. Cool leaves and remove the center rib from each one (don’t cut through). Use whole leaf for larger rolls, half leaves for smaller rolls.
Place about 1/4 cup of cooked rice in your hand and mold into a small log, place on cabbage leaf and roll. Place seam side down in baking dish. Pour 1/4 cup of water in pan, cover and bake for 45 minutes.
Finely dice the onions and sauté in butter until golden brown.
Before serving, sprinkle baked holubtsi with browned onions. Pass extra onions to guests.
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