Shtetl Roots

Back in the day well before my time or my parents’ time, my people inhabited various lands in Eastern Europe. Although I know very little of the family history before my grandparents, I can say that it is tremendously likely they came from the shtetl. For those that don’t know, shtetlim (shtetls, in English) were small villages in Eastern Europe primarily, if not solely, occupied by Jews. Think, Fiddler on the Roof, which is based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Tevye the Dairyman and Other Stories, a brilliant and classic collection of stories. A lot of the traditional Jewish foods are shtetl classics: bialys, kugels, pickled herring, lox, brisket, etc.

I associate foods like cabbage and other winter-y vegetables with the shtetl because they hark back to a time when people literally lived off the land. It’s kind of nice having the winter share with Nash’s because, in many ways, I feel a little connection to the past. My past? I honestly don’t know. But a past I’ve imagined, for sure.

In any case, there has been a recent-ish discovery in my home of a seriously delicious bond between cabbage or brussels sprouts and mustard. Last year, I discovered this recipe utilizing the rye berries and cabbage we got from Nash’s. I called it “shtetl gone wild.” It was my first real foray into cabbage, and I was in love. Like, I made it three times in one winter. That’s a lot. Then again, we got at least one cabbage each week for 2 straight months. There was a lot of cabbage.

Now, I’m kind of liking the cabbage. I don’t know what happened. It might be that we aren’t inundated by cabbage this year. Maybe it’s that I’m coming off a bagel-heavy visit to the NY-NJ homeland. In any case, I was ready to tackle this cabbage of ours.

I looked on Food Blog Search for cabbage and mustard, because, well, as we’ve already discussed: creamy match made in heaven! This recipe for browned cabbage was one of the first hits on a website I’d perused before but never tested. Sounded good, so I thought I’d give it a try. It truly tastes like something out of the shtetl. I don’t really think there was much in the way of dijon on the shtetl, but who knows? Maybe someone went down to France and returned with this incredible condiment! I suppose I could research that for you, but I’m not that interested in bursting my “connection to my ancestors” bubble. Sorry.

Dinner, thus, was a pile of this cabbage amazingness and some lentils with tomatoes and garlic. This was a lovely compliment to my awesome breakfast of roasted root vegetables with two pieces of Norwegian whole wheat toast with dijon (yup!) and 1/2-slice of prosciutto. This dish was easy, quick, and delicious.

roasted root vegetables & toast with mustard and prosciutto


Browned Cabbage with Mustard and Horseradish (adapted from A Veggie Venture)
– 1 Tbsp butter
– 1 lb cabbage (about half large-average head)
– 1 medium onion (i used red) sliced thin
– 1 tsp kosher salt (see? shtetl!)
– 1 tsp horseradish
– 1.5 Tbsp dijon mustard
– 1 tsp flour
– 1/2 cup water
– salt & pepper to taste

In a large skillet (I used my cast iron), melt the butter on medium-high heat. Add the onion, cabbage and salt; stir until covered with fat. If using cast iron, lower heat to medium/medium-low to avoid the cabbage crisping up. Let the cabbage sit for 15 minutes, stirring only a few times; the onion and cabbage should caramelize (brown) but should not get crunchy or black. While the veggies cook, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Stir into cabbage and let cook until cabbage thickens slightly, about 1-2 minutes. Season to taste and serve.

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One Response to Shtetl Roots

  1. beastmomma says:

    Every time I read one of your posts, I have to get a napkin to wipe the drool from my mouth.

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