I spent a semester of law school learning and teaching in Ukraine which was a phenomenal experience. Aside from an enriching educational experience, it was full cultural immersion - I had my own apartment, shopped at the same markets as everyone else in town, and had no access to anything American except what I brought with me. I did most of my food shopping at the larger supermarket in town, but on weekends I headed to the farmers market for homemade sour cream, sunflower seed oil, freshly caught sturgeon, and seasonal vegetables. Beef was seemingly never available - I only bought it once. The rest of the time it was chicken, potatoes, sausage, cabbage, beets, sturgeon roe, garlic, onions, and dill, dill, dill.
That being said, Ukrainian cuisine is richly diverse and beautiful. Not only did my friends make sure to introduce me to as many Ukrainian dishes as possible, but my often grumpy but occasionally gregarious next door neighbor twice invited me over for a cooking lesson. My absolute favorite was her stuffed cabbage, which were plump packages of goodness tucked in a bright red Ukrainian tomato sauce. It was one of those perfect one pot meals that hit the spot.
I've taken her basic stuffed cabbage recipe and substituted collards, but haven't changed much else other than using brown rice and honey. This is a family favorite and very easy to pull together.
2 tablespoons good, organic safflower or canola oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon wild organic honey
1 fresh bay leaf
3 cups peeled and chopped roma tomatoes, or 1 28 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
12 leaves collard greens, washed and dried, bottom part of the stem cut off
1 1/4 pound ground turkey
3/4 cup brown long grain rice, parboiled for 5 minutes, then drained
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped fine
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped fine
1/4 cup green onions, chopped fine
1/3 cup dried currants, if desired
1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. For the sauce: Heat the oil in a wide, heavy bottom pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and grated carrot and cook until soft, about 5-10 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes, honey, bay leaf, and water. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a slow boil, then lower to a gentle simmer. Pour half of the sauce into a casserole dish and set the other half aside.
2. For the collards: Bring a large pot of salted water with 1/2 cup of raw cider vinegar to a boil. Add the collards, pushing down in the pot to make sure they are covered with water. Cover and lower to a simmer for 10 minutes. Drain the cooked collards and rinse with cold water. Lay flat to dry on paper towels.
3. Mix the meat, parboiled rice, dill, parsley, green onion, currants, and a pinch of kosher salt together in a large bowl with your hands or a large spoon. Divide the filling into 12 portions. Place one portion of the filling on each collard green leaf and fold into packages.
4. Place the parcels on top of the sauce in the casserole, folded side down, tucking them next to each other snugly so that they don't unravel. Top the parcels with the reserved sauce. Cover the casserole dish with tin foil and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and cook uncovered for another 10 minutes, basting if necessary to keep from drying out..
5. Serve topped with a good amount of sauce and with a hunk of good sprouted seed bread.