Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

At last some slightly cool weather has come to Los Angeles. Time to make some heartier food, like Stuffed Cabbage Rolls.

I love this tasty recipe because it uses simple ingredients, which you probably have already in your fridge and pantry (you might need to buy a head of cabbage, but that's about it). If you love the cabbage rolls your  Oma or Bubbe or Nonna used to make, by all means, make them! But if, like me, you didn't grow up with this delectable dish, here's a good place to start:

Note: The entire recipe is below; I'm just outlining it, here.

In a large bowl, gently combine many of the ingredients you'll find in a good meat loaf--ground meat, shredded carrots, diced onions, rice, an egg for binding, a little salt and pepper.

Mixed up, the ingredients will look a bit like meat loaf before you bake it:

Set the meat aside and, in a large pot of boiling water, submerge individual leaves of the cabbage for a minute, or until they go a little limp. How limp? Well, you'll be rolling them up soon, so you want them pliable enough for that.

As I "limp up" each leaf, I find it helpful to put them in a large dish until they are all done:

Put about a third to a half cup of meat mixture at the base of each leaf:

Flop one side of the leaf, then the other, over the blob of meat:

Then roll from the base up toward the tender, outer edge of the leaf, giving you a tidy little package, like so:

Tuck the rolls into a Dutch oven or heavy, lidded dish (I was making a double recipe when I took this photo, so there are 10 rolls in here, and I had 6 in a smaller pot:

Some Cabbage Roll recipes call for raisins, which I like. They are a sweet counterpoint to the savory ground meat and the tart, mildly acidic sauce. Of course, if you don't like raisins, leave them out. Or you can steer the middle course and add the raisins over the top, not in the ground meat mixture. That way, a raisin-hater can be served a fruit-free couple of rolls, happy in the knowledge that raisins are not lurking within:

Then you pour over all a simple sauce made of tomato sauce, brown sugar, and something acidic (I like a mixture of lemon juice and apple cider vinegar). The rolls cook, covered, on the stovetop for a while, then finish up in the oven. What comes out is a humble, slightly ugly, and absolutely fantastic-tasting dish, perfect for a cold fall or winter evening:

And what's even more delightful, it tastes better the next day.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
For the rolls:
1 lb. ground meat (I use half beef, half turkey, but any ground meat will do)
1/4 C. white rice, uncooked
1 egg, beaten
1 onion, minced
1 carrot, grated
1/3 tsp. salt
a couple of good, hearty grinds of fresh black pepper
2 Tbsp. water
1 large head of cabbage, cored, and 8 largest leaves carefully pulled off 

For the sauce:
1 C. canned tomato sauce
1/4 C. lemon juice or apple cider vinegar (or a combination of the two)
1/3 C. brown sugar
1/2 C. raisins (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to boil. While it is heating, gently combine in a large mixing bowl the ground meat, rice, egg, onion, carrot, salt and pepper, and water. Set mixture aside.

Blanch cabbage leaves by dunking them, one or two at a time, into the boiling water for a minute or so, until they go limp everywhere but the base of the stalk. The leaves should still be a bright green. Take them out of the water with tongs and pile them onto a platter until all are done.

Divide the meat mixture into four equal portions in the mixing bowl. Scoop up half of one of the four portions to get one-eighth of the meat mixture (about 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup) and place it into the center of a cabbage leaf near the base. Fold in both sides, then roll up securely, and place in the bottom of a heavy, lidded casserole or Dutch oven. Repeat until all 8 leaves are used.

Mix together the sauce ingredients and pour over the the cabbage rolls. Add enough water to just barely come up to the top of the rolls. Cover tightly with a lid and cook on the stove over moderate heat for 30 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes more. (Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit while the rolls are finishing on the stove.)

Remove lid and bake rolls, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until they have begun to brown a bit on top. 

Hot water may be added in small quantities, if necessary, during the baking period. Remove from oven and serve immediately, or refrigerate, uncovered, to reheat and serve later.

Serves 4 (two rolls each).

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