It’s been a long time since I made cabbage rolls. So long, in fact, I had to search my recipe files to jog my memory. My great, great paternal grandmother was born in Bohemia (western part of the Czech Republic) and emigrated to Canada in 1892. Out of all the old-world Bohemian dishes she made, cabbage rolls were one of my favourites. These rolls are scrumptious but some cooks out there have never made them because there are a few steps in the cooking process. One that I dislike intensely is removing the leaves from the cabbage. It involves boiling the whole cabbage in water. This helps to loosen the leaves making them more pliable when it comes to filling.
The day I made these the weather forecast was calling for freezing rain…a perfect excuse to remain indoors. Before the storm was to arrive, I quickly went food shopping. My mind raced as to how I could make these rolls with the least amount of work and without jeopardizing the integrity of my grandmother’s dish. I picked up a large head of cabbage and placed it in the cart. However, as I walked past the savoy cabbage, there was my answer. Its textured, crinkled leaves would help ease the prep work. The leaves of savoy cabbage are more loosely layered and less tightly packed.
Traditionally, cabbage rolls are filled with a combination of ground beef and pork but use whatever meat floats your boat. The other thing I could never understand was the addition of sugar and vinegar to the tomato sauce. Then it dawned on me; most recipes call for canned tomato sauce and canned tomato soup. Or even ketchup! Most North American canned tomatoes are bland (IMHO) and can have a tart taste. Perhaps the sugar and sweetness from ketchup tame this? But fret not, a can of tomatoes from Italy has the right amount of balance in terms of sweetness and acidity. Once you have tried, you’ll never go back!
serves 4 to 6
796 ml (28 oz.) can Italian tomatoes (if whole, use an immersion blender – can be smooth or chunky)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
cabbage roll stuffing
1 lb. (454g) ground beef (I used 1/2 ground pork, 1/2 ground turkey)
1 cup cooked rice (I used konjac rice…no cooking required)
1/2 cup onion finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon paprika
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 large savoy cabbage (you can use green cabbage but will be more work)
Preheat oven to 350f (180c).
Place all stuffing ingredients except cabbage in a bowl. Mix to combine. Shape 1/3 of a cup of the meat mixture into a log and place it in the center of a cabbage leaf. Fold and roll the cabbage leaf around the meat mixture. Repeat with remaining meat and cabbage leaves. In a saucepan over medium heat, add a splash of olive oil then pour in tomatoes. Heat through until it starts to bubble then stir in balsamic vinegar.
Coat a 9″x13″ (23cm x 33cm) pan with olive oil or cooking spray. Place 1/2 of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Place the cabbage rolls, seam side down, in the dish. Top with remaining sauce. Cover with foil. Bake one hour or until cabbage is tender.
*To remove leaves, cut out the core of the cabbage. Then slowly peel back each leaf. Make a pile and when you have peeled back 10 or so leaves, place in the microwave and cook one to two minutes or until soft enough to roll.
the culinary chase’s note:
Don’t throw out the thick membrane cut from the cabbage. Chop it up and use it in a stir-fry. Enjoy!