I managed to actually have some success this year growing cabbages. I pretty much grew them to make stuffed cabbage leaves. Could I buy them at the store? Of course, but where’s the fun in that?!
You may have heard of dolmades before, which are the stuffed and rolled grape leaves. These are called lahanodolmades. “Lahano” (LAH – ha – noh) is the Greek for cabbage, and the “dolma” part of the word means stuffed.
Like many traditional dishes, the variations on rolled cabbage seem endless. Regional differences influence both the filling used, the cooking methods, even how the cabbage may be prepared in advance. Someday I want to make “sour cabbage”, a fermented cabbage which is found in parts of northern Greece, as well as through Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria. Talk about making a tasty cabbage roll!
This particular version uses tomatoes, which is not the most common, but gives a nice tangy taste. It also uses some of the cabbage that can’t be used in the rolls themselves. So they are extra cabbag-y! Since the cabbage is added, no onions are used. Yay! No tears!
This is also one of those dishes that gets a bad rap for being time consuming and difficult. It kind of is and kind of isn’t. Like many of the other recipes I have here, there are ways to break up the task to make it more manageable. The end result is sooooo worth the time and effort, though! You can do it! I believe in you!
Cabbage Rolls (ver. 1) Recipe
- 1 head of green cabbage
- 1 lb. ground pork or beef (pork is more traditional)
- 1/2 cup white rice (don’t use quick cooking rice for this, also don’t use brown or wild rice as they take too long to cook)
- 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes, pureed and divided into 3/4 cup and 1 cup portions (pureed fresh tomatoes can be used, instead)
- 1 1/2 cup chopped cabbage core and inner leaves
- 1 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic, about 4 large cloves
- 1 Tbsp. dried parsley
- 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for the pot
- 1/4 tsp. salt (or 1/2 tsp. if using fresh tomatoes)
- ground pepper to taste (optional)
- chicken or pork broth, very hot (allow up to 2 quarts)
Your first task is to cut out the core of the cabbage. This helps to separate the leaves and soften them when the cabbage head is boiled. Using a sharp, long knife, stab into the base of the cabbage head around the stem. Push the knife in at a slight inward angle, and then continue cutting using an in-and-out stabbing motion, rather than trying to pull the knife around the core. Pull out the core, and trim out more if needed. Save the pieces of core.
Carefully pull off any leaves from the cabbage head that you can, without tearing them. Once you start getting to leaves that won’t easily peel off, stop. Heat water to boiling in a pot large enough to hold the cabbage head and keep it submerged. Once the water is boiling, put the rest of the cabbage head in and boil for about 10 minutes, or until the leaves are softened. Any leaves you peeled off will also need to be boiled to soften them. They will need to cook for about 5 minutes, or until they start to become translucent and wilted. Remove head and leaves and drain. Allow to cool. (By the way, the water is perfect for plants and compost bins, once it’s cooled of course!)
Once the head is cool enough to handle, start peeling off the rest of the leaves. Eventually you will get to leaves that may be too wrinkly or small to use. The leaves need to be large enough to hold at least a tablespoon of filling, and be able to be folded and rolled. Finely chop the leftover small leaves and chunks of core for the filling. (See the very bottom for a way to use up any leftover cabbage you may still have!)
**At this point you can take all your prepared cabbage leaves and either refrigerate or freeze them for later if you don’t have time to finish the rest of the process! Just be sure to allow the leaves to fully defrost before trying to use them.**
For the filling, put all the ingredients from the meat to the pepper into a large mixing bowl, using the 3/4 cup portion of the tomato puree. Combine them all thoroughly. This is best done with your hand smooshing it all together.
**This is another point where you can stop if needed. The filling can be refrigerated and frozen until you are ready to start rolling!**
Generously oil the bottom of a large stock pot. Take a cabbage leaf and lay it flat, with the curve of the stem facing upward. Place a spoonful of filling into the curve. The amount of filling will vary depending on the size of the leaf. Roll the bottom of the stem over the filling. Gently fold one side toward the middle, then fold the other side toward the middle. Roll from the base, making sure that the filling stays tucked in, to the top of the leaf. If there are tears in the leaf, be sure to push the edges of the torn part together to keep the filling in. My pictures show me using one hand, but ahem, I had to take the pictures somehow! You get to use both hands! (See the very bottom for a way to use up any leftover filling you may have!)
Place the cabbage roll into the pot with the “seam” side down. You want the edge of the leaf tip held into place on the bottom of the pan, so it doesn’t unravel during cooking. Fill the pan with rolls, packing them snugly together. You can have up to three layers, just be sure to keep them snug. Too many layers will squish the bottom and they could burn as a result.
Pour the remaining tomato puree over the rolls and add just enough of the very hot broth to almost cover the rolls. Quickly put something heavy over the top of the rolls, or they will start floating and become unraveled. The top layer in my pot wasn’t full, so I put a jelly jar to hold the bottom row down, then a small plate on top to hold the rest of the top layer.
Cover and cook over medium low heat (very low simmer, do not allow it to boil) for about 50-60 minutes, or until rice is tender and meat is completely done. Be careful when removing any plates, etc., as they will be very hot and a bit greasy. I like to use a couple of spatulas to gently lift out each roll without tearing them. Place them on a platter, and pour off the remaining broth into a pitcher. Spoon some of the sauce over the rolls as you serve them. (Any leftover broth from the rolls can be put into the soup recipe below, or hey, just drink it straight up!) They can be a meal in one, a side-dish, or even an elaborate appetizer! You can even freeze them in batches for eating at another time. Some cultures also traditionally serve them with a dollop of sour cream. Yum yum!
If you find yourself with extra chopped cabbage and filling (like I did), use it to make a super quick version of my Cabbage and Beef Soup! Add some olive oil to a skillet and sauté the filling over medium high heat until the meat is cooked. Add the cabbage and a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce, and enough chicken or pork broth to make it a soup like consistency. Turn the heat to medium low and cook, covered, until the rice is tender. You can even add some of the broth from the pot of cabbage rolls since you will likely have quite a bit more than needed for serving. Believe me when I tell you that you will gobble this quick soup up, and debate about whether you want to tell anyone you have it since that means you may have to share.