November’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge had us on a roll! Olga from http://www.effortnesslessly.blogspot.com/ challenged us to make stuffed cabbage rolls using her Ukrainian heritage to inspire us. Filled with meat, fish or vegetables, flexibility and creativity were the name of the game to get us rolling!
I haven't made these very often (can count the number of times on one hand) and really don't remember having them at home, growing up. However, much of my childhood being in a repressed state of hardly any memory, that's not really a clue. Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are quite delicious though, and should make a more regular appearance on our table.
Since I have collards growing in my garden, a first attempt with the challenge was made with a few leaves from those fairly puny, smallish plants. They're not getting enough sun right now. Using a filling mixture of ground beef and bulger wheat, instead of rice. Mainly just because I had a smidgen left to be used up. I especially liked the very simple sauce I made, from Claudia Roden's, The Book of Jewish Food, which was easily made by blending up a can of tomatoes with sugar, lemon, salt and pepper.
Since it was just the two of us, I split a red bell pepper half for the extra stuffing. They baked for 2 hours, and I served them over egg noodles, with a small salad.
It's good to have another recipe for using collards, which when they're going strong produce lots of greens. For my next trial I used regular cabbage, and a stuffing of half ground pork and half ground beef, with the partially cooked rice, recommended in our given recipe.
We were given very clear and easy to follow directions for each step, which I will include here:
Meat Filled Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Servings: 8-10 (I cut the recipe in half and there was plenty for us two)
1 green cabbage
2 lb (900 gm) pork (or 4 cups of ground pork)
2 lb (900 gm) beef (or 4 cups of ground beef)
1½ cups (360 ml) (10½ oz) (300 gm) dry rice
2 yellow onions, medium size
2 carrots, medium size
6 tablespoons (90 ml) olive oil (or other vegetable oil), divided
5 garlic cloves
4 cups (1 litre) tomato puree (or 4 tablespoons (60 ml) of tomato paste) (I pureed 1 can tomatoes)
1½ teaspoons (9 gm) salt (or to taste)
3 tablespoons (45 ml) (1½ oz) (45 gm) sugar (or to taste)
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (8 gm) black pepper
3 bay leaves
Pre-cook rice: (I did this after the cabbage was finished, using the same water.)
In a large pot, bring about 3 quarts (3 litres) of water to a boil. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 minutes. Drain rice using a colander, set aside.
Pre-cook cabbage and prepare cabbage leaves:
Using a large chef’s knife, remove core of the cabbage. Please be careful doing this, there is no need to cut out too much.
To determine how much water exactly you will need to cook the whole cabbage: in a large pot, place your cabbage and pour enough cold water to cover the whole cabbage entirely. Remove cabbage from the water now place the pot with the water in it on the stove top. Bring water to a boil. Stick grill fork firmly into the cored center part of the cabbage and carefully place your cabbage into the boiling water, cored-side up. Be cautious, do not make a splash of hot water.
Let cabbage cook for about 5 minutes. During the entire process of cooking the cabbage and separating leaves keep heat on its lowest setting so as to have the water barely boiling or near the boiling point. Take the whole cabbage out of water. Leaving the fork in, separate the leaves off the cabbage. When you reach the inner tough layer of leaves, return the cabbage back to the simmering water. After 5 minutes or so take it out and continue to separate leaves.
When you reach the layers where leaves are too small and too bumpy, (or you have enough) stop the process of separating leaves and save the remaining cabbage to use elsewhere (soups, stews or salads).
When leaves are cool enough to handle, cut off the tough ribs on each leaf. Now, the leaves are ready for filling.
Cut pork, beef and onion into 1-inch (2½ cm) pieces. With a meat grinder, grind pork, beef and onion into a large bowl. If you use store-bought ground pork and beef, transfer it into a large bowl add 1 onion, process with a couple of tablespoons of water into a fine paste. (Not having a grinder, I skipped this step and it was fine). Into the same bowl, add your half-cooked rice prepared in the first step.
Finely chop another onion. Using a coarse grater, grate the carrots. With 3 tablespoons of olive oil, in a skillet, cook the chopped onion and grated carrots for about 5 minutes, just until soft.
Add the cooked onion and carrots into a bowl with the ground meat and raw onion. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of black pepper. I also added a tablespoon of fresh sage, minced.
Place about one heaping tablespoon of stuffing on a cabbage leave, closer to the tough edge. Roll leaf, envelop-style, tucking sides inside (I used 2 heaping tablespoons in each).
Place rolls, seam side down, into a oven proof dish (if cooking them in an oven) or into a large pot (if cooking them on a stove top). Sometimes I place a couple of torn leaves on the bottom of pot to prevent rolls sticking, especially if I cook my cabbage rolls on the stove top.
Continue stuffing until you run out of leaves or stuffing. Most often, miraculously, I have the exact amount of stuffing needed for all my leaves. If I have stuffing left, I make little meatballs and scatter them around on top of the cabbage rolls to cook. If you have leaves left, just spread them on top of the rolls – they will be delicious too! ( I plan to make a meatloaf with all the extra filling, and serve with the extra cabbage leaves, slow cooked, Italian style - Verze Sofegae.)
Making sauce and finishing cooking cabbage rolls in the oven or on the stove top:
Finely mince garlic. Take a large pan and using the remaining olive oil, cook garlic for one minute, stirring. Add tomato puree or paste. Cook, stirring for another minute and then add enough water to have about 2 quarts (2 litres) (8 cups) of sauce. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes.
Season sauce with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper, bay leaves and about 3 tablespoons of sugar (adjust sugar depending on acidity of your tomato puree). Taste and adjust seasoning. Sauce shouldn’t be bland – remember that the cabbage leaves are not salted.
Pour sauce on top of the cabbage rolls. It should almost completely cover the rolls. If there is not enough sauce, add water right into the pot with the cabbage rolls. (I added a bit of nice red wine.)
If cooking in an oven, tightly cover baking dish with foil and cook in a pre-heated moderately hot, 375°F/190°C/gas mark 5, oven for 1½ hours. If you cook the rolls on the stove top, cover pot with
a lid and simmer for 1½ hours on its lowest heat setting.
What a great meal this makes. Thanks Olga, a good inspiring challenge. I served them with a salad, some freshly baked sourdough bread and egg noodles. Accompanied by a glass of that wine I used for the sauce!