2018-03-07 / Taste

Cabbages and cooks

This month, the humble leaf takes on a bigger ‘roll’

JENNY McQUEENJENNY McQUEENCabbage farmers must be so grateful for St. Patrick’s Day. Thanks to the Irish, for a few weeks every March this typically mundane vegetable becomes a centerpiece of pub menus and homecooked dinners across America.

Though it’s an easily sourced, nutritious and inexpensive ingredient, cabbage doesn’t exactly whip the everyday food enthusiast into a frenzy. When raw, it lends a great crunch to salads and slaws, but it can easily lose its appeal when cooked. Boiling this cruciferous vegetable can yield a bland flavor, and too much oil can result in a slimy texture. I have found that the trick to great cabbage is salt and your oven.

Stuffed cabbage rolls are comforting, flavorful and easy to make, yet they look impressive, making them fun to serve this time of year. Softened cabbage leaves get rolled tightly around a spiced meat filling and topped with homemade tomato sauce. This generations-old dish incorporates another underappreciated ingredient: raisins. I have tried this recipe without them, as raisins are not an all-time favorite of mine, but I’ve found they offer a needed respite against the heartiness of the cabbage and meat.

Traditional stuffed cabbage rolls

Yields 6-8 servings, about 14 rolls
1 head green cabbage
3 Tablespoons salt

For the sauce

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup raisins
2 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 large (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

For the filling

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ pounds lean ground beef
3 eggs
1 Tablespoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 cup uncooked rice

This recipe has four components: making the sauce, making the filling, preparing the cabbage leaves, and baking the rolls. Don’t worry, each step is simple and the end result is worth a little extra time.

For the sauce, in a medium saucepan combine olive oil, butter, onions and garlic over medium-high heat. Saute until golden brown, about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add all remaining sauce ingredients to the pan and cook uncovered until the mixture has thickened and darkened in color – about 35 minutes. The sauce can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored in the fridge.

For the filling, place a small saute pan on the stove over medium-high heat and combine olive oil, onions and garlic. Saute until golden brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. In a large bowl, combine the cooled onion mixture with the rest of the filling ingredients and mix well. The filling can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored in the fridge.

To prepare the cabbage leaves for rolling, you will need to soften them. Set a large pot of water with 3 Tablespoons salt on the stove and bring to a boil. Using a paring knife, cut out the center stalk of the cabbage. Once boiling, place the cabbage in the water using tongs. Allow to boil for 2 minutes and then remove using tongs. Peel off the soft outer leaves and set aside. Place the cabbage back in the boiling water. Repeat the process until you have 14-16 cabbage leaves. This step should be performed the day you want to make the rolls, as they will not store well.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

JENNY McQUEENJENNY McQUEENSelect a large baking dish with a lid and spread a couple ladles full of sauce on the bottom of the pan. Add a ladle full of sauce to the meat mixture and mix well. Lay a cabbage leaf on a clean surface and place 1/3 cup of filling on the leaf, near the edge closest to you. Roll the leaf away from you, folding the edges in as you wrap it tightly around the filling, until it resembles a burrito. Place roll seam-side down in the baking dish. Repeat until all of the filling is gone. Ladle more sauce over the rolls before baking.

Cover and place in preheated oven. Bake for 1 hour, until the meat is completely cooked and the rice is soft. You will have a bit of sauce left; place it in a small saucepan over low heat and use it for serving. Enjoy! ¦

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