I remember eating and loving the flavor of stuffed cabbage as a child. As I faintly recall, the rolls were thick, the nearly translucent cooked cabbage was smothered in a red sauce that dripped off the sides; it tasted slightly sweet, but not too much. I know I loved the combination of moist beef and rice. I don’t recall the details of how often we ate it, but our live-in maid, who we called nanny, prepared the dish. I’m guessing, since she was Hungarian, she chose it because she consumed it as a child. Or, perhaps my mother requested it because she ate it growing up in her household. It was delicious and quite an economical dish too. Before my mother married my Dad, (whose family had money) her family couldn’t afford extravagant meals since her dad’s income was inconsistent. He worked as a tailor in New Jersey.
However it happened, the taste of stuffed cabbage has remained with me for decades. I haven’t cooked it in a long time until recently. I wanted to create something different with ground meat, but familiar. I checked out dozens of different recipes on line and browsed my huge stash of cookbooks and then created my own recipe, which for dinner to night was absolutely yummy! Follow my recipe, but too, make changes to the ingredients that fit with your cooking style. Creativity in the kitchen brings joy!
At first I thought making the cabbage rolls would be hard work and so time consuming. But, this was not the case, I loved making them, creating each stuffed roll, one by one, as I placed them in the casserole. Truly it was fun, especially when I switched up some of the ingredients, plus added seasonings I thought would make the dish tastier.
1 head green cabbage, medium size, about 2 lbs. – cut in half, core removed, cooked for 10-20 minutes in a large pot of salted, boiling water until nearly tender. Cool. Carefully peel off about 14 leaves, but don’t worry if they fall apart a little. Set them aside.
1 lb. ground beef – 85% lean
1/4 lb. ground pork – Italian or spicy (optional)
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, chopped or 6 scallions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 – 2 cup long grain rice, cooked
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp. celery flakes
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce, combined with the homemade barbecue sauce below
3/4 cup store-bought, or homemade barbecue sauce
1/4 – 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, homemade or Panko, or use 1/2 cup seasoned croutons, crushed
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 In a large frying pan, warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil on medium heat. Add the onion or scallions and cook 3-5 minutes until the onions turn limp and slightly brown, add the garlic and cook one more minute. Add the butter. Set this aside.
2 In a large bowl, add the meat, (and pork if using) rice, salt, pepper, celery flakes, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, bread crumbs, egg and 2-3 tablespoons of the barbecue sauce, plus stir in the onion and garlic mixture. The mixture will be slightly moist, which is fine. Add a bit more breadcrumbs if you wish a dryer mixture. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
3 In a 9 x 13 pan, spread out the one remaining tablespoon of olive oil. First, spread several tablespoons of sauce on the bottom of the casserole dish. In a large open area, carefully spread out the cabbage leaves one at a time, and if some are torn, don’t worry. When you roll them with the filling inside, no one will notice any rips! Using about one third cup of filling, place the mixture in the center of the cabbage leaf, then roll them in a log shape toward you. Gradually fold the sides in slowly and place the rolls flat in the casserole dish on the side with the seam.
4 Bake for one hour, covered with aluminum foil. During the last ten minutes, remove the dish from the oven and sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese and do not put the aluminum foil on again. Place the dish back in the oven for 5-10 minutes while the cheese melts.
5 Taste for additional seasonings. Cool for ten minutes before serving.
The following barbecue sauce, which I used for the stuffed cabbage recipe, is quite tasty and can be used in many different recipes. This sauce is especially good where a slight tang is desired, or, when you wish for a sauce that is not plain tomato sauce. This sauce, added warm to a pulled pork sandwich or basted generously on a a pork tenderloin toward the end of cooking, adds complex flavoring to heighten the deliciousness of the dish. Seasonings added to the sauce, with various aromatics, depending on what you’re cooking, could truly flavor any poultry, veal or beef dish. Adjust to your liking.
Finally, for a quick and easy recipe/tip, cook country style ribs using this sauce. Cook the ribs, once patted dry with a generous coating of salt and pepper. Add the ribs to a 9 x 13 inch pan. Cover with aluminum foil and cook at 300 degrees for about 2 – 2 1/2 hours. Test after about one and half hours for doneness and to drain off some of the fat and flip the ribs. Add your favorite spices now, such as a half teaspoon each of oregano, thyme, tarragon and parsley. At 2 hours, slather the barbecue sauce over the ribs, cover again and cook for approximately forty-five minutes to one hour, or until the meat is falling-off-the bone tender. Serve extra sauce on the side, along with hot jasmine rice and perhaps a green vegetable.
BARBECUE SAUCE Yield: 1 1/2 – 2 cups sauce
3-5 garlic cloves, sliced thin, or for stronger garlic flavor, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
3 Tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup ketchup
3/4 cup water
3- 4 Tablespoon chili sauce
1 can ( 28 oz.) whole tomatoes, pureed, or 1 can ( 28 oz.) stewed tomatoes, mashed
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon unfiltered molasses
2 1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon rosemary leaves, crushed
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, or any herbs which you prefer
1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon cumin, dried
1/2 teaspoon basil, dried
salt and pepper to taste
1 In a large frying or cast iron pan heat to medium-high 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and cook for 3-5 minutes as you turn down the heat to medium. For the last minute or so, turn the heat down to low, add the garlic and cook for one minute longer, but not so long that the garlic burns. Add the rosemary, Italian seasoning, cumin and basil, plus salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about three minutes as the seasonings blend.
2 Add the brown sugar, ketchup, water, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and molasses. Cook on medium- low stirring occasionally for an hour as the sauce thickens and reduces by about one third to one half. For a smoother sauce use an immersion blender or, just add a bit of chicken broth or water to reach desired consistency. If you wish a spicier sauce, add a dash or two of cayenne pepper or any other cut up pieces of a hot pepper. Don’t overly spice this dish!
3 Toward the end of the cooking process, the last five minutes, stir in the apple cider vinegar and blend it in stirring for about one minutes. Taste and adjust any seasoning.
4 Use about three quarters of a cup of this sauce combined with tomato sauce for the stuffed cabbage recipe. Enjoy!