Sweet and sour stuffed cabbage rolls
Sweet and sour, subtle and succulent.
Some good things come down from old times and just stay with us. Like this recipe for stuffed, sweet and sour cabbage. Israelis love stuffed vegetables and depend on kindly grandmothers to provide them. Every kind of vegetable that can be hollowed out and stuffed, every edible leaf, receives a flavorful stuffing at the hands of our good cooks. The flavors usually echo North African kitchen traditions; garlic is called for, lots of herbs, and a little heat from chilies. But we’ve had Eastern European versions too – an entirely different way of handling cabbage. This dish is cabbage stuffed with meat and rice, slow-cooked in a subtle sweet and sour sauce.
These stuffed rolls make a nice little appetizer or form the basis of a solid meal, depending on how many each person is served. If meant as the main dish, mashed potatoes are traditionally served alongside. They make a perfect foil for the cabbage rolls in their rich sauce. And nothing beats mashed potatoes for comfort. I know that when I serve stuffed cabbage rolls and mashed potatoes, everyone leaves the table in a good mood. Maybe that’s what this dish is really all about: old-style comfort, and love.
- 1 large head white cabbage
- 2 pounds ground beef or 1 lb. ground beef and 1 lb. ground chicken
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 2 finely chopped garlic cloves
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup raw rice, preferably long-grain
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 finely chopped garlic cloves
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 1 32-oz. can of tomatoes, blended to a puree with all their juice, or 2 lb. fresh, peeled tomatoes, pureed in a food processor.
- If using fresh tomatoes, add 1/2 cup water and 3 tablespoons tomato paste.
- 4 tablespoons tablespoons apple cider or red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 cups chopped cabbage from rest of cabbage head after separating leaves
- Salt and pepper
For the cabbage:
For the sauce:
Mix the ground meat with the eggs, seasonings and rice. Cover and set aside for the flavors to meld.
Fill a deep pan with enough water to cover the cabbage generously, and have the water boiling.
Core the cabbage by working a sharp knife around the stem, as deeply as you can manage it.
Drop the cabbage into the boiling water. Let it cook 2 or 3 minutes, or until the leaves have changed color and are visibly soft. Stick a long-handled fork into the hollowed-out bottom and transfer it to a deep bowl containing cold water. Let it cool a few minutes.
Turn the cabbage right side up on a chopping block to drain. Carefully separate about 20 leaves of the best-looking and most whole leaves. The top ones may be too cooked to handle; keep peeling leaves off until you get to ones that are flexible but not overcooked. Any very large ones, slice in half the long way, alongside the rib. There’s always some tearing, but don’t worry, you can mend it. Set the leaves aside on a dish.
Coarsely chop enough of the remaining fresh cabbage to fill 2 cups. Set aside in a separate bowl.
Shape the meat mixture into a plump square. Keep it as even as possible. With a long knife, divide the square into thirds, then each third into three pieces. Wet your hands and lightly roll a piece between your palms to make a plump rectangle.
Choose a cabbage leaf and place the meat rectangle at the base, above the stiff bottom. The curly top of the leaf should be face up. Roll the bottom up over the meat. Tuck the sides in once, and roll up. Keep rolling and tucking until the meat is encased in the leaf. Secure the bottom side with a toothpick. Fill all the leaves this way.
Any leftover meat can be rolled into balls and placed around the stuffed leaves later.
Preheat the oven to 350° F (175° C).
Make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet. Keeping the heat medium, cook and stir the onion until soft. Add the chopped cabbage; cook and stir until the cabbage wilts. Stir the garlic in.
Add the blended canned tomatoes (or pureed fresh tomatoes with water and tomato paste).
Stir in the vinegar and sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Cook for 5 minutes, lowering the heat if the sauce looks like it’s drying out. Taste and adjust the sweetness/sourness to your liking, adding more vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper, in small quantities, until you’re satisfied.
Place baking parchment on the bottom of a casserole dish or roasting pan. Ladle in enough of the sauce to cover the bottom of the paper. Place the stuffed rolls on the sauce, seam side down. Tuck any meatballs into corners.
Ladle the rest of the sauce over the rolls. Cover the casserole with tin foil. Bake 2 hours. Try not to peek.
Serve, and enjoy.
Tips and notes:
The baking paper is optional, to save cleanup. If you use it, trim the edges that stick out, so the paper doesn’t touch the interior of the oven and possibly burn.
Cabbage leaves can be curly and hard to separate without tearing. You can lay one leaf, or part of a leaf, over another to create an adequate wrapping. Secured with a toothpick, the roll will stay together.
If you’re neat-handed and can roll the stuffed leaves up tightly, you can dispense with the toothpicks.
I cooked half this recipe, as it was more convenient for me at the time. However, the proportions of the sauce ingredients stayed the same. I simply cooked the rolls an extra half hour to reduce the sauce. The cabbage rolls were delicious.
Related Topics: Meat and Poultry