Sunday, March 3, 2013

Dinner Tonight - Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Blanched cabbage leaves drying on paper towels.
Cabbage rolls.  What does that make you think of?  For a couple of my kids (and my husband), it simply receives an Ew.  I think it's all in the word "cabbage" which, I admit, does sound kind of Ew.  I'm actually not a huge fan of the vegetable and will generally turn down coleslaw, yet I like sauerkraut.  I guess it's similar to peanuts and peanut butter: a fan of one, but not of the other.  But cabbage rolls in general make me think of my grandmother, the Polish one.  We didn't eat them all the time at her house during my summers there as a kid, but I know we had them.  Usually they are stuffed with meat and maybe rice.  My version yesterday was vegetarian, much to my family's chagrin.  Not only was it cabbage, it didn't even have any meat in it.  The horror.

Making cabbage rolls is easy.  But first, why make them at all?  For one thing, they are hearty.  I think it's all about the fiber in the leaves that fill even the hungriest stomach.  That's probably why the Polish folk ate them.  Inexpensive, warm, and filling, they use up all the leftover bits and pieces in the fridge, wrapped in a cheap yet satiating exterior. 

So before you do anything else, turn your big old cabbage head upside down.  With a sharp knife, cut out the stem/core.  In fact, cut about an inch outside the edge of the core, all the way around.  When you do that, the really stiff parts of the leaf stems are removed from the leaves, which allows the fragile leaves to be gently worked off the head, one by one.  If you don't cut off that tough base, it doesn't want to flex, and I lost a lot of nice big cabbage leaves to giant tears.  Carefully remove 12 leaves.  Boil a pot of water with a little salt, and dunk each leaf in the boiling water for about 30 seconds each.  Now I did say blanch the leaves, but you don't have the do the cold water bath after if you don't want to.  You can just move the slightly boiled but much softer leaves to a paper towel and let them cool.

While they cool, prepare your filling.  Like I mentioned above, the filling can be whatever you want it to be.  Mine goes a little something like this:

2 Tbsp olive oil
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 cups cooked wild rice
1 Tbsp turmeric
1/2 Tbsp curry powder
1/2 Tbsp ginger powder
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1 can rinsed black beans

Simmer everything together.  Obviously if you have leftover bell pepper, ground beef, chopped onion, sausage, tomatoes, corn nibblets, spinach, anything at all, it can go in the pot.  It's what I lovingly call Dump Food.  Have it?  Dump it in.  Lasagna is another good dump food.  As is chili.

Turn your oven on low.  It doesn't really matter the temperature as everything that's going in already cooked, but you'll want it to warm through and if you add cheese, it's nice to have it melty at the end.  200-250F is fine.  Ok, I'm not really sure, actually.  Our oven is in centigrade, which is fine, but it seems to have 2, maybe 3, settings.  Off, low, and high.  That's what the burners have, literally (I should take a picture if you don't believe me), which means I cannot simmer anything on my stove, and some burners don't get hot enough to boil either.  The whole thing is kind of useless and I understand now why the folks who used to live in this house survived on take-out and delivery.  So... the oven has 6 degree marks, but I honestly can't tell if one is different than the other when actually in use.  I would ask for a new stove, but this one is built in, so it would be a landlord issue, and there's little I like less when dealing with this house than dealing with the landlord.  OK, I don't actually have to deal with the landlord, but the landlord doesn't ever want to fix or change anything which makes the folks at the Embassy grumpy and leaves me with some interesting mold bubbles on one wall and an entryway that still rains whenever a storm comes through, even though that one they came and "fixed."  The Embassy folks said it should take 3-4 hours to repair, the landlord folks were done in 30 minutes.

But guess what.  I'm living rent-free, so I will take my moldy wall and my drippy entry and my oven+stovetop that don't actually cook properly, and I will be thankful.  Every house has its quirks.

I digress.

Now is the fun part.  Pull out your casserole dish and pour some olive oil in the bottom.  Can never have too much olive oil, am I right?  Take your carefully peeled leaves that are now soft and cool, cup the base in your hand, and pile on the filling.  Cabbage leaves are perfectly designed for this.  Roll it once, turn in the sides, finish rolling to the end and place leaf side down in your dish.
Ta da!
No big deal right?  But it looks a little bland.  Cabbage is bland.  Well, green cabbage at least.  I have a little head of red cabbage (hey, I could have shredded some and dumped it in too!  Maybe that's a little too much cabbage for this dish though) and it is definitely not bland.  It needs something.  A topping.  Some color and additional flavor.

Now, if you were paying attention you noticed that my filling is similar to an Indian flavor mix.  I didn't have any Indian sauce mix ready to go, no palak, no korma, but I did have salsa.  So, what are we if not adventurous.  You might call us food heretics but I call it "using what you have in the pantry."

This dish is remarkably not Polish now, aside from the method of food conveyance, those funny cabbage leaves.

Lay all the stuffed leaves in a row, use another dish if you have to, sprinkle on top any leftover filling that didn't make it inside, spread some salsa on each roll, and just for fun, add some shredded cheese on top as well.

Let it heat through in the oven for 20-25 minutes.  A little cheese melting is good, a little filling warming is good, a little sauce bubbling is good.  Put it all together and you get a really yummy dinner, no matter what kids or husband say (they didn't like my pumpkin/sweet potato soup either).  In fact it was so filling that while I took 2 rolls I could only manage to eat one, and I didn't have any bread to go with it or anything.   We did bring out the plain yogurt, a dollop on top makes it that much better.

Bon Appetit.  


  1. Confession: One time I was having my brother and his wife over to dinner. My sister-in-law is a picky eater, and she had been very vocal about how disgusting my food was in the past. (Not the classiest lady in the world... though to be fair, she has grown up a lot since then.) Anyway, I decided that I would make something she would be sure to hate, so I made cabbage rolls. I like the sweetness of cabbage and its crunchy-soft texture, but I was sure she would turn up her nose at "ew, cabbage."
    Unfortunately, she came in, saw the cabbage rolls, and said, "Oh, I love cabbage! These look delicious!" And they were.