Saturday, March 14, 2020

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Classic American-style stuffed cabbage leaves.
Classic American-style stuffed cabbage leaves.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

I don't really know when it was that I fell in love with cabbage, but I do love it. I can't recall one single instance where my Mama ever even fixed it, but I've certainly made it plenty myself!

My favorite way to eat it is what we in the south call fried cabbage, though it's not really "fried," at least not in the sense of the word that folks automatically think of as fried in the south. It's more of a sauté and braise, or even smothered really. I love it!

Cabbage rolls though?
Just inserting a quick reminder here.... that this is a blog, not just a "recipe site," and yes, there is a difference! I want to first thank all of you who have supported my work over the years, but if you aren't interested in the chit chat, info, photos, tips and such in a post, as always, you'll find the complete recipe text with measurements and instructions, as well as a printable document, a little bit further down the page. Just swipe or scroll down to the bottom of the post!
Common to the cuisines of Central, Northern, Eastern and Southeastern Europe, much of Western Asia, and Northern China, some form of cabbage rolls are made all around the world.

Here in the United States, most folks automatically associate them with the Polish versions, known by either gołąbki, or halupki for Czechs and Slovaks, also referred to as "pigs in a blanket," although nothing like the appetizer we in the U.S. are most familiar with! A lot of folks also lean toward the more sweet and sour versions of Jewish cabbage rolls. Apparently stuffed cabbage has a rich history!

Mine are more simply American-style, or if you will even, Cajun-style which usually include or are exclusively pork centered.

Well, let's just say since my Mama never made them, I didn't really have a pattern to start with, so it took multiple attempts, and I was never fully pleased with the outcome. As I do, I tended to overthink them also, and came to discover that simplicity was the key.

I've lost track of how many iterations I've been through.

Cooked meats versus raw meats. Only ground beef. Only ground pork. A combination of them. Incorporating sauerkraut. Cooked rice versus raw rice. With vegetables. Without. With sauteed veggies. With raw. A sauce made with condensed tomato soup, tomato juice, V-8 and with basic tomato sauce. A variety of seasonings. As you can see, there are endless combinations within all of that!

I finally settled on this version as the one that I liked the most, and the one I would publish to share. When New Year's Day was rolling around, a childhood friend Rick, who I grew up with and reconnected with a few years back thanks to Facebook (one of the very few positive aspects of social media in my opinion) shared pictures of a family ritual, that they have been doing for years for the New Year. They gather up together and make pans and pans of cabbage rolls to split up among all the family. In one of the pictures, I noticed that they included some of the chopped cabbage in the meat filling. Of course! That would help to make the filling remain moist and add some flavor, so I added that to my next run.

Because stuffed cabbage can be a bit time intensive, to save a little time, I did the prep of the cabbage and the filling the night before and shoved it all in the refrigerator. Sometimes cabbage rolls are a turn off because they do take a lot of time and prepping at least some of it ahead really does help. You could even go ahead and roll them too if you like. Just remember to either let the meat mixture come to room temperature so that you won't need added time in the oven if you do that.

Even The Cajun, who is not a big fan of cabbage, ate these and told me they were "delicious!" That's a win-win for me. Cabbage rolls are good served with mashed potatoes, a side vegetable, like asparagus, green beans, corn, carrots, mixed vegetables, or seasonal sautéed or roasted vegetables, sweet tea and a nice yeast roll.

Here's how to make my stuffed cabbage rolls, and, as always, you'll find the full recipe text, including ingredients and measurements, with instructions and a printable documents further down the page. Just swipe or scroll past the step by step instructions and photos below!

First step is to prep the cabbage and there are a number of ways that folks do that. I've heard of microwaving a whole head and even freezing a whole raw cabbage head which apparently separates the leaves like magic. I haven't tried those methods, so I can't attest to results on either.

I have, however, prepped a whole cabbage head in the Instant Pot {affil link} though and I was pleased with the outcome. With that method, you don't want to remove the outer leaves until it's cooked though, because they protect the cabbage from overcooking, though you should cut out the core to make it easier to remove the cooked leaves afterward. Boiling is the most classic preparation, and the way I've done it before, so that's what I've included in the recipe here. First, use a sharp paring knife to carefully cut around and remove the core.

Place cabbage core side down into a large soup pot, and cover with water. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Check periodically and as leaves begin to release, use tongs to carefully remove them, taking care not to tear them. Transfer to a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process and then to a colander over a plate to drain. Select 12 of the nicest larger leaves and set aside. Chop and set aside the remaining inner leaves. I'm using some of that in the cabbage rolls and some in the pan to cook the rolls on.

Raw rice is a little unpredictable in my experience with cabbage rolls.

If there's not enough moisture, it can fail to cook through and end up crunchy, and that ratio can be a little difficult to work out. I settled on just using leftover cooked rice, since we almost always have some in the fridge anyway. We eat a lot of rice here in the Deep South, what can I say!

When you're ready to bake, butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Heat bacon drippings or butter in a skillet and sauté onion and garlic about 5 minutes, until softened; set aside to cool. In a separate bowl, mix together the beef, pork, rice and seasonings. We like a little kick in our food, so I included a full teaspoon of Cajun seasoning in my mix. If you prefer a mild version, simply omit that and slightly increase your salt.

Set aside 1 cup of the chopped cabbage, adding the remainder to the prepared baking dish. Finely mince the cup of cabbage, adding it along with the onion and garlic mixture and 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce to the meat mixture. Set aside the remaining tomato sauce.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  For each cabbage leaf, cut out the thick part from the bottom of the leaf, scoop about 1/4 cup of the meat mixture into your palm and shape into a cylinder. Place at the bottom of the leaf, fold up the bottom, sides and roll up like an egg roll. Secure with a toothpick if desired and place seam side down into prepared baking dish.

Mix the reserved tomato sauce with the brown sugar and lemon juice and pour over top of cabbage rolls. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour, or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the rolls registers 160 degrees F.

Transfer rolls to serving platter and loosely tent to keep warm. Transfer all of the pan juices with the chopped cabbage to a saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil. Mix 1 tablespoon each of cornstarch and water and slowly stir into boiling sauce. Let boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour over cabbage rolls and serve.

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For more of my favorite cabbage recipes, check out the collection on my Pinterest page!

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Posted by on January 1, 2020

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