I’ve come to appreciate cabbage only lately. It’s another vegetable with a bad reputation. Probably because it has so often been served boiled and tasteless–an annual ritual with corned beef on St. Patrick’s–a remnant of an immigrant past. But as my experience with cabbage has expanded, I have discovered its appeal. Cabbage is prominent in the common people’s cuisine of myriad cultures. It is everywhere in Chinese, Italian, and Eastern European food. It is healthy, cheap, and easy to grow, even in colder climates.
It can be prepared in any number of ways–salted, just to wilt it a bit, but keeping its crunch, sauteed with chili for a little heat, steamed, boiled, or perhaps my favorite, grilled, where it is able to take on so much color and flavor. It is good pickled, fermented–kimchi, sauerkraut–or dressed with mayo or sour cream, for cole slaw to top BBQ or Baja tacos. Its flavor affinities are many–it’s great with citrus, or with bacon, and paired with ingredients sweet or sour.
It can also be used as a neat little package. And neat little packages are great fun–who doesn’t enjoy a ravioli or agnolotti, a wonton or potsticker, a samosa or spring roll.
I had heard of cabbage rolls. I thought they were Polish, but with a little research discovered that there is a version for nearly every cuisine, starting in Scandinavia, sweeping down through Eastern Europe, all the way to Turkey. Each region has their own name–sarma, galubki, etc.–and seasonings. There is all-spice up north, then paprika, and sometimes mint farther south. Some recipes include sauerkraut, in others the cabbage leaves are pickled whole. The meats used run the gamut, always ground, sometimes smoked.
For my recipe I cherry-picked from many others, knowing for sure I wanted mine to be both sweet and sour, with a little heat. Any traditionalist would scoff, most likely, because I chose my ingredients from a few different regions.
- large pot
- large bowl
- rubber spatula
- 1 savoy cabbage, cored, but kept whole
- canola oil
- 1 medium onion diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 lb ground beef
- 1/2 lb ground pork
- 1 cup cooked rice
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 2 tbs chopped parsley
- 1 28 oz can tomato puree
- 3 tbs apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbs brown sugar
- chili flake
1) Blanch the cabbage. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place the cabbage in the boiling water for 3-4 minutes before removing the with tongs and allowing to cool. Carefully peel 10 cabbage leaves from the head, making sure they do not tear. With a paring knife shave the raised, thick stem from the back of each leaf. Pat them dry.
2) Prepare the filling. In a large bowl mix the meat, rice, egg, spices, and parsley with a rubber spatula until it is well combined. Season well with salt.
3) Stuff the cabbage. For each cabbage leaf, remove about 1/2 cup of filling from the bowl, forming it into oblong meatball. Place a cabbage leaf in front of you, with its stem end facing you, and the inside of the leaf facing up, like a bowl. Place the meat in the natural pouch at the stem end of the leaf, and fold the cabbage over the meat once. Fold each end in towards the center, and roll the rest of the leaf around the filling. Like you would fold a burrito. Repeat until you’ve run out of filling.
4) Braise the cabbage rolls. Line the bottom of a large pot with a few extra cabbage leaves. Nestle the cabbage rolls in the pan, in a few layers if necessary, and pour the tomato puree over them. Add the vinegar, and sprinkle in the brown sugar. Cover and braise the rolls for 2 hours.
5) Finish the sauce. When the cabbage rolls have completed their braise, remove them from the pot with tongs and transfer them to a serving dish. Discard the cabbage used to line the pan. Season the sauce left in the pot with salt and chili flake, thinning it out with a bit of water if necessary. Ladle the sauce over the cabbage rolls, finish with additional chopped parsley and serve.Follow @icinthedark