Goodbye Summer break, it’s back to the daily struggle. At least we could comfort ourselves with some Niño Envuelto (Rice and Beef Wrapped in Cabbage).
School is about to start, and children everywhere are going to be asked to speak or write about what they did on their holidays. Why should I be any exception?
The difference is that I’m not going to go on at length about what I did, but what I learned.
I spent the first couple of weeks of July in Italy. Aside from negotiating the minefield of gastronomical etiquette which leaves many a foreigner in a state of befuddled inadequacy (antipasti, primo piatto, sigundo piatto…) I was lucky enough to stay with friends, one of whom turned out to be an Italian chef.
As well as working in his own restaurant, the chef would make the family midday meal at home most days. I observed and took copious mental notes.
Another tip from my sister (who is neither Italian nor a chef) is that ground black pepper added when cooking can go bitter, at least in tomato sauce and other tomato-based dishes like gazpacho. For this reason, it is best to leave it up to each person to add pepper to taste.
Home-made tomato sauce: My method was always to make a ‘sofrito’ type base of onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil, and then to add the skinned tomatoes, herbs and seasoning. The chef’s method was easier, healthier and much tastier. He simply blended skinned tomatoes and garlic, and cooked them for however long it takes, and once it was ready, poured in some olive oil. In this way, you get the benefits of raw olive oil, which loses its nutritional properties if you cook it. Then you add salt and fresh/dried herbs like basil or oregano. It is always good to add some sugar or tomato ketchup to the sauce to offset the acidity of the tomatoes, by the way.
The tomato sauce we used for this dish is my own version.
So what’s Niño Envuelto?
It depends. In a few countries, like Mexico, for example, it’s a sweet roll, the same type Dominicans call Brazo Gitano. In others is just about any type of rolls, including the savory rolled “sandwiches” Dominicans call Rollitos. In the Dominican Rep. Niño Envuelto is a rice and beef mixture, wrapped in cabbage, and cooked in abundant tomato sauce. Loosely translated from Spanish the name means “swaddled baby”.
This is a dish that, like kipes, tipili and arroz con fideos, is a Dominican adaptation of Middle Eastern dishes brought over by immigrants from the area in the 19th century. This is the Dominican version of the Egyptian malfouf mahshi.
- 1 large cabbage (pick one with thin outer layers)
- 1 clove of garlic
- 8 basil leaves
- 1 bell pepper
- 1 small red onion
- 1 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon of pepper
- 1 lb [0.45 kg] of minced beef
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1/4 cup of water
- 1/2 cup of tomato sauce
- 3 cups of cooked white rice
- 6 tablespoons of olive oil
- 4 cups of tomatoes , peeled and seeded
- 2 cloves of garlic , crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon of oregano
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon of pepper (or to taste)
Separate the outermost leaves of the cabbage. Try not to break them. Soak in boiling-hot water cooking over low heat until they are tender but firm. Soak in ice cold water until it cools to room temperature.
Remove from the water, discard water and set aside the leaves.
Pulse garlic, basil, bell pepper, onion, 1 teaspoon of salt, and pepper in the food processor until you obtain a coarse paste.
Scoop this paste onto the ground beef and mix well.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the ground beef and brown. Add water and the tomato sauce. Simmer covered until the meat is cooked through and the juices have evaporated (about 15 mins.).
Mix the rice with the meat and remove from the heat. Cool to room temperature and set aside.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over low heat.
Add the tomatoes and garlic.
Cover and simmer until the tomatoes are cooked through, mash them with a potato masher. Add a teaspoon of oregano, sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 400 ºF [200 ºC]
Put 2 tablespoons of the rice and beef mixture in the center of one of the leaves. Wrap tightly (using more leaves if necessary) securing the bundle with a toothpick if necessary.
Place the pockets in a baking pan and cover with the sauce. Bake for 15 minutes.
Remove the toothpicks, if you used any, and serve immediately.
I have to say that I'm not very fond of making this dish, working with the cabbage leaves is kind of messy, so I don't have any advice on how to do it, just wing it.