Sunday, March 7, 2010

Not my grandmother's cabbage rolls

Cabbage rolls are a great way to use winter vegetables.  I like to use my home canned tomatoes with this dish - although storebought crushed tomatoes or a good quality sauce are fine too.  If you freeze tomatoes, just thaw and crush to use in this recipe.

My version is heavy on the vegetables.  I do this a lot - take a traditional recipe and vary the vegetable to meat ratio.  This saves money and assures a healthier calorie and nutrition profile.  This recipe yields sixteen nice sized rolls and could easily serve 6-8 people with only one pound of ground beef.  If you have hungry eaters, you could add some bread or potatoes along with one or two side vegetables or a salad.  When I made this last night I served the rolls with pickled beets and corn bread. 

I won't lie to you - making cabbage rolls is  a little bit fussy and takes more time than sloppy joes or frozen pizza.  On the other hand, it will taste so much better and the people you cook for will appreciate you for your efforts.  Maybe not right away.  But for sure later.  My 85 year old Dad still talks about his Mom's cabbage rolls.   I bet when he was ten he didn't say "Way to go Mom.  GREAT cabbage rolls".  I know she is looking down from heaven and smiling on my 21st century version of one of her specialities.

Here is a link to a you tube video about cabbage rolls.  The recipe is different from mine, but you might find the part about removing the cabbage leaves helpful.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Step one-- Separating the leaves
You will need to remove about 20 leaves from a large head of cabbage without tearing them all up.  This requires a little patience and dexterity.  It is not hard once you get the hang of it. 

Bring a large pot half full of salted water to a boil (cover it and it will heat faster).   Cut out the core of a whole head of cabbage -- don't hold back - you want a cone shaped hole about three inches wide at the stem end.  This will help you loosen the leaves later.  Carefully lower the cabbage into simmering water and cover.    After about 10 minutes, uncover the pot and lift out the outside leaf with tongs.  It should separate easily.  Remove one leaf at a time until you have about 20 leaves.  If the leaves won't separate, just simmer a bit longer until they are soft.  If you have to, lift out the whole head and remove the leaves after it cools a bit. 

Step two - the filling
Finely chop a combination of onion, carrot, parsnip or cabbage (from the remaining center of the head).  You will need a total of about two cups.  I suggest a combination with about one half onions.

Add to the chopped vegetables:
1 pound ground beef, pork, turkey or a combination
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
2-4 cloves chopped garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 1/4 cups uncooked quinoa (you could also use barley or rice or bulgar)
Optional - add one egg.   For extra seasoning you could also add a tablespoon of paprika and even 1/4 t. of cloves or 1/2 t. of thyme.
Mix meat, vegetables, quinoa and seasonings well.  Divide into 16 portions.

Step three - stuff and roll
For each roll, lay a leaf flat.  Cut a small V in the thickest part of the core to make it easier to roll.  Place a portion of filling on the leaf.  Fold over the bottom part of the leaf, tuck in the sides and finish rolling.  Don't roll too tightly - you want room for the grain to expand a bit.

Step four - Assemble and bake
Line a heavy baking dish with the extra cabbage leaves.  If desired, place one sliced raw onion or extra chopped cabbage on top of the leaves.  Mix 1/4 cup of vinegar or lemon juice and 1/4 cup of sugar with about one quart of crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce.  Pour about 1/3 into the pan.  Place cabbage rolls in the pan and pour over remaining sauce.   Cover tightly and bake at 350 degrees about two hours.  Halfway through baking check for dryness.  If too dry,  add some water, tomato juice, stock, beer or wine as desired.  This is even better cooked one day ahead so the flavors can blend.  If you are feeling celebratory, serve with some yogurt, creme fraiche or sour cream on the side.

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