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THE COMFORTING CABBAGE ROLL

stuffed cabbage rolls

The good ol’ cabbage roll. They may not look all that sexy on a plate, but the boy are they the ultimate comfort classic. Its origins are somewhat nebulous since it’s a dish prevalent over most of Europe. From Poland to Sweden, Russia and the Balkans, Greece all the way to Egypt. Oh yes, the Egyptians serve divine cabbage rolls, stuffed only with rice, spices and herbs – mostly mint, sometimes nuts and have no meat filling. Put that in your cabbage roll trivia folder!

These hearty rolls were made popular in the Americas by Jewish and Swedish immigrants who introduced this comfort classic consisting of different fillings of meats and rice.

Without a doubt, epic recipes have trickled down the generation food-chain, and no doubt there’s a compelling story accompanying every plate. Banking on the offbeat chance you didn’t have an elderly nana who lovingly put these together during your childhood, this version was graciously shared with me by one of my Jewish friends who invariably makes them during Rosh Shoshana. They are as authentic as they come and taste even better even the next day.

PRE-HEAT OVEN 425F

1 whole large cabbage – core removed and boiled for about 15/20 minutes

½ LB of ground pork

½ LB of ground sirloin

¼ cup of Panko

¼ cup of white wine

1 egg – beaten

1 large onion – finely chopped

2 carrots – finely chopped

1 green pepper – finely chopped

3 garlic cloves – finely chopped

1 Trader Joe bag of frozen rice

½ TSP of garlic powder

Splash of ½ and ½

1 cup of parsley – finely chopped

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

(Tomato sauce follows)

After carefully coring the cabbage, boil it whole in water with salt and some vinegar for about 8 minutes to soften the leaves and remove onto a large strainer to cool before handling.

In some olive oil, sauté the onion, carrot, green pepper and garlic for about 5-8 minutes to sweat the veggies with a pinch of salt. Set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, add the ground meats, the frozen rice and incorporate all the other ingredients and mix well together. Peel a cabbage leaf – use the largest and ones that aren’t torn but save all the others – and place a substantial amount of the mix inside the leaf a fold over like a burrito – tucking in the sides first and then rolling.  In a large oven pan place a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom and add some of the unused leaves that were torn and place the rolls, seam side down. This acts like a barrier and steaming tool so the rolls don’t dry.

Don’t cram them in like sardines, but make sure that they are snug. Add some more tomato sauce over the rolls and finish with some of the remaining cabbage leaves. Doing this, keeps the rolls moist and prevents them from drying out in the oven.  Cover with foil and bake in a 425F oven for about 1 hour.

TOMATO SAUCE

2 TBSP butter – 1 TBSP olive oil

1 medium onion – chopped fine

2 garlic cloves – chopped fine

1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes plus another 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes with their juices

1 bay leaf

1 TSP sugar

¼ cup of white wine

Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper

2-3 whole stalks of fresh basil with their leaves

Sweat the onions with the garlic, with some salt and a bay leaf for about 5 minutes. Deglaze with the white wine and reduce for a minute. Add the tomatoes, sugar, basil and seasonings and simmer on low for about 30 minutes, stirring a few times. If the sauce is too thick, add some chicken stock. This is a thinner sauce than the normal tomato sauces for pasta. Place an immersion blender if desired to make it velvetier.

NOTE

There’s always an ongoing deliberation with any dish that carries a history. In this case we engage in the rice or no rice theory inside the rolls. And as if that wasn’t dramatic enough, the second argument comes into play: “if” you add rice should it be raw, cooked or par-cooked.

I always add rice to my cabbage rolls as it creates additional texture, flavor and makes them incredibly creamy.

As I mention throughout my blog, many of my ingredients are purchased at Trader Joe’s, one in particular is their frozen packaged rice. This pre-cooked frozen rice is rather amazing, 3 minutes in the microwave and it comes out perfect every time. They have a few varieties available – Jasmine, Basmati and Brown – so you can pick your poison.

For this recipe, I use 1 bag and add it frozen to the meat mixture – the rice is already cooked but the heat when cooking the rolls will heat the rice and make them juicy and plump.  If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you – then par-boil some rice, drain it and add that to the meat mixture. You can even use leftover rice from the day before.

I have added “raw” rice to my vegetable fillings and the rice doesn’t cook fully. Eating any stuffed vegetable with AL-DENTE rice isn’t something awe-inspiring. But as I’ve aforementioned, some recipes are passed down from generations and everyone has their foolproof technique and version.

Another pet peeve. Never add raw vegetables to any minced meat mixture – meatloaf, meatballs and or stuffed vegetables.  The vegetables tend not to cook fully and their raw consistency overpowers the overall flavors. The only exception to this rule is if you grate the veggies – such as the onion and garlic so it’s more of a paste and not chopped.

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