I love cabbage rolls. What’s even better is that Thogg loves cabbage rolls. It is a great way to get a picky eater to eat a rather large amount of a cruciferous veggie (cabbage). For all you health nuts, this means getting much needed vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. For the rest of you, all you need to know is that this dish is mighty tasty. Cooking the cabbage slowly imbues it with a soft and silky texture. It also looses all the inherent bitterness that give leafy green’s such a bad rep.
This is definitely a weekend meal. Hands on time to make them is around an hour or more. Cooking time is several hours. I have heard of people doing this in a crock-pot to make this a week-day meal. I haven’t had the chance to try it out yet.
- 1 very large head of cabbage – the size of a cantaloupe or larger
- 1 lb of lean ground pork or half ground pork and half ground turkey/chicken
- 1 small white onion – roughly minced
- 1 Asian shallot (the small ones) – roughly minced
- 1 egg – lightly beaten
- 1.5 c of cooked long or medium grain white rice
- 1/2 c milk or chicken broth
- salt and pepper
- 1x 15oz can of tomato sauce
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 Tbs brown sugar
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- For the Cabbage: Grab a large soup pot, one that is big enough to fit your cabbage inside. If it sticks out the top, that’s OK, it just needs to be able to slip down to the bottom. Fill it part way with water and several pinches of salt and bring it to a boil. Make sure that the amount of water used will not overflow when you add the cabbage. Use a thin bladed knife to slice out the bottom stem through the core, leaving the rest of the head intact. This will make it easier to peel the leaves off. Remove any damaged or dried out looking outer leaves. Only discard them if they’re really bad, otherwise wash them and put them aside.
- Gently lower the cabbage into the boiling water, core side down. Cover, if possible, and let simmer for a few minutes until the leaves soften. Peel leaves off as they soften, you may need to flip the cabbage so that the top of the head gets submerged and softened. Remove the leaves from the water when they are easily pliable. Set them aside in a colander and continue removing outer leaves as they become ready. Do not discard the cabbage water.
- For the filling: Mix together the pork, cooked rice, onion, shallot, egg, and milk along with several grinds of black pepper and 1.5 tsp salt. Mix together thoroughly, hands work best here. You can check your seasoning by pinching off a small piece and microwaving it on high for 30 to 40 seconds. The texture is horrible this way but it will be cooked and you can check to see if you need more salt and pepper. You want the mixture to be fairly salty to offset the bland cabbage. If you know you will be using a lot of filling per roll, stick with 1.5 tsp of salt. If you use the whole cabbage, like I did, go ahead and make the filling fairly salty since you won’t be using much inside each roll.
- Assembly: Once the softened and drained leaves are cool enough to handle grab one or two oven-safe dishes. Line the bottoms with any ugly or ripped leaves. To the remaining leaves – take a small knife and gently shave down the thick center vein. You con’t want to cut a hole through the leaf, just thin it down so it is as thick as the surrounding areas. This step takes out a little bulk and makes rolling them easier later. I usually chop up these cabbage bits and mix them into the stuffing.
- Take your first trimmed leaf and place it so that the stem edge is closest to you and the fan part is further from you on your work surface. If you plan on using the whole cabbage, take a few small spoon-fulls (around 2-3 level Tbs for the large leaves and less for the smaller ones) and place it near the stem edge. Go ahead and smooth it out so that covers a rectangular area about 1.5 inches high and 3+ inches wide. If you want to heavily stuff your rolls, your rectangle will be larger.
- Take the bottom edge and roll it up to cover the filling once. Tuck in both sides and then finish rolling it closed. The technique is similar to rolling a burrito.
- Continue making your rolls and nestle them in very snugly next to each other inside your oven safe dish. Depending on your dish, you can make one or two layers. One layer cooks faster. I usually sprinkle each layer with a little ground pepper and several pinches of kosher salt.
- For the Sauce: In a mixing bowl combine the tomato sauce, sugar, dried thyme, several grinds of black pepper and a few big pinches of salt. Add enough of the cabbage water that you will have enough sauce to cover each layer, at least half way. If you have a few cabbage leaves left you can use them to cover the top layer. This helps to keep the rolls from scorching on top.
- Cover with foil or an oven-safe lid. Place on a rack set to about the middle of the oven. Underneath, place a tray to catch any dripping sauce since this dish has a tendency to boil over a bit. Cook for 2 1/2 to 5 hours or until all the cabbage has softened completely and the sauce has thickened and partially evaporated. For small, single layer pans 2 1/2 to 3 hours at 325 degrees might be enough time. If you do double layers or have a lot in one large pan: lower the cooking temperature to 300 after the first 45 minutes. Continue cooking until done. Mine took about 4 1/2 hours to 5 hours but I used glass cookware, which takes longer to heat up and stuffed my rolls in very densely.
- If you want to serve this on a week day a hint is that they usually taste even better the next day. Take advantage of this by cooking them the evening before and then heat them through in the oven (325 for about an hour to an hour and a half) the day you want to serve them.