Stuffed cabbage

4 Oct

stuffed cabbage

Sukkot, the 7-day Jewish holiday of Sukkot that commemorates the ancient Israelites’ wandering in the desert and also celebrates the fall harvest, starts on the evening of October 13 this year. It’s traditional to serve fall-harvested vegetables, and stuffed cabbage is one of my favorite Sukkot dishes. It reminds me of my Polish- and Russian-born grandmothers. They called the rolls prakas. Others called them holischkes.

How can something that smells so awful taste so delicious? Cooked cabbage is a that cliche of novels and movies about immigrants in tenement houses. I will be the first to admit that the scent of cooking cabbage is not up there with fresh bread and popcorn as an enticing aroma. Cooking it as stuffed cabbage is not as bad, because you also get the bouquet of cooking meat and tomato sauce. But don’t be put off by the fear of cooking cabbage! The end result is well worth it. (When you’re done you can burn a nice-smelling candle to deodorize your kitchen.)

Lots of recipes tell you to boil the head of cabbage and then separate the leaves. This is a mess, because you need a huge pot, and then you have to handle a hot head of cabbage. Others say to cut the leaves off the head of cabbage and parboil them. This is also unsatisfactory, because it’s very hard to get intact leaves off a raw head of cabbage—and then you still have to deal with hot cabbage leaves dripping hot water all over your kitchen.

I have a better way, which I learned from my beloved late Aunt Lili. The only drawback is it takes some planning. At least a week before the holiday, buy your cabbage, wrap it well in foil, and stick it in the freezer. A few days later,  take it from the freezer and put it in your fridge. A block of frozen cabbage takes a long time to defrost, so allow at least five days! You can speed up the process by defrosting it on your counter, but you’ll still need a day or two. Put the frozen cabbage into a large bowl or deep platter, because a lot of water will seep out as it defrosts.

When the cabbage is completely defrosted, cut out the core, and the leaves will just fall away, nice and soft and ready for rolling.

Some people like to make “unstuffed cabbage” by chopping up the cabbage and making meatballs out of the stuffing, then cooking it all together in the tomato sauce. This may be slightly less work, but honestly, the taste is not as good, and you still have to roll the meatballs. The only excuse for doing it this way is if you forget to freeze and thaw your cabbage.

Six years ago I was writing another food blog called Feed the Spirit, part of an online magazine called Read the Spirit, which is still published weekly. I wrote about the Sukkot holiday and included this recipe for stuffed cabbage, and I made this little video to show how easy it is to stuff the leaves.

Ingredients

One large, green cabbage, frozen and then defrosted
2 lb. ground beef
1 cup cooked white rice
1 small onion, chopped fine, or 2 Tbs. dehydrated onion flakes
Garlic powder to taste
1 egg
6 oz. can tomato paste
2 cups water (use the the tomato paste can to measure so you can rinse out the paste that sticks after you spoon it out)
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. brown sugar
½ tsp. salt or to taste
Black pepper to taste
A handful of black raisins

Directions

Combine the ground beef, rice, onion, garlic and egg. Mix well.

Cut the core out of the cabbage and separate the leaves. Cut off any really hard core pieces from the bottom of each leaf, but save the pieces you cut off. Pile the leaves on a plate and set aside.

Place a cabbage leaf on a cutting board or counter and place a few tablespoons of the meat mixture on the leaf near the bottom; mold it into a log shape. Fold the bottom of the leaf up around the filling, then fold in the sides and roll up the leaf into a neat package. Set the filled rolls aside, seam side down, on a plate or cutting board.

When you’ve used up all the meat, chop up any remaining cabbage and put it, together with the pieces you cut from the bottom of the leaves, into a large Dutch oven or slow cooker. Place the cabbage rolls, seam side down, over the chopped-up cabbage.

Combine the tomato paste, water, lemon juice, brown sugar, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well. The sauce should be fairly thick. Take a tiny taste to see if you like the balance, and add more lemon juice, brown sugar or salt and pepper if necessary.

Pour the sauce over the cabbage rolls. Try to cover the tops of all the rolls with sauce, but the rolls won’t be submerged in sauce yet. The cabbage and meat will produce a lot of “juice” and increase the volume of sauce, so don’t fill your pot or slow cooker to the very brim. You may need to use two pots.

Throw a handful of raisins into the pot(s) after you’ve put in the sauce.

If you use a slow cooker, cook the dish on “high” for at least six hours. If you use a Dutch oven, cover the pot and heat on a medium-high flame until the liquid boils. Now you have a choice: you can continue to cook on the stovetop at a simmer, or you can put the pot in a 300-degree oven. Either way, you will need to cook the stuffed cabbage for about three hours.

You can probably use an Instant Pot, but I haven’t done so and I can’t advise you on how long to cook it — probably about an hour.

Another suggestion, useful if you plan to freeze the cabbage rolls: place the cabbage rolls, seam side down, in an oblong aluminum foil baking pan and pour the sauce over. Cover with foil and cook in the oven. Then you can just pop the whole pan into the freezer after it cools.

Check periodically to be sure the tops of the cabbage rolls aren’t getting too dry and that nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add water as necessary. As the cabbage cooks, the sauce should get much thinner in consistency.

This amount of meat, rice and cabbage will make about 20 cabbage rolls of varying sizes.

The cabbage rolls will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. They also freeze very well.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: