Talk about timing! The theme for this month’s Progressive Eats is Memory Lane Comfort Food. My mom‘s Jewish stuffed cabbage fit the bill perfectly. She gave me the recipe when I went off to college. I haven’t made the dish in years and was looking forward to it.
I planned to cook and photograph the dish this past weekend.
Then the blizzard of 2016 happened. As the snow fell for hours on end and the winds whipped the trees, the stuffed cabbage cooked.
We ate the stuffed cabbage in our warm and cozy den, watching a marathon of streaming episodes of our favorite shows.
Once the snow stopped we started shoveling. We’re still shoveling as I write this, more than 18 hours after the record snowfall ended. But we’re grateful for many things – our power didn’t go out, all of our family and neighbors are safe, and we still have some of the stuffed cabbage left to eat tonight.
This dish is old school. It takes a long time to prepare and cook. Multi-tasking had not yet been invented when my grandmother and mother folded their cabbage rolls. You might get on your smartphone once it goes in the oven. Before then, just turn on good music and enjoy the process of putting the stuffed cabbage together.
The stuffed cabbage has a mild sweet-and-sour flavor. With the proportions and directions handed down in my family, there is just enough sauce to give each roll a spoonful as you plate it. If you want more sauce, cook it covered for a longer part of the specified cooking time.
It’s a one dish supper, with vegetables (cabbage and tomatoes – yes I know tomatoes are really a fruit), meat, and rice. We enjoyed the cabbage rolls with just challah and a glass of red wine. Add a salad if you must – just don’t feel obliged.
The ingredients are simple.
The principle is one people of any ethnicity can relate to – stretch the meat with rice, and cabbage. Then cook it in sauce to make a hearty meal.
Cabbage is easier to work with than you might think. After you cook it to make the leaves pliable, you simply shave off the thick part so the leaves roll more easily.
The cabbage rolls on their own would be rather plain; once stewed in the sweet-and-sour sauce, they are divine.
Jewish Stuffed Cabbage
- 1 large head of cabbage
- 1 1/2 pounds ground chuck
- 1/2 cup rice raw
- 1 small onion grated
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons salt divided
- 3/4 teaspoon Freshly ground pepper divided
- 1 large onion sliced into thin half moons
- 15-16 ounces canned tomato sauce two 8-ounce cans or one 15-ounce can
- 2-28 ounce cans tomatoes with their juice
- 2 medium-large lemons - Juice
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar gently packed
- Boil a huge pot of water. Cut the core out of the cabbage. When the water is at a rolling boil, add the cabbage and cook, covered for about 10 minutes. Occasionally roll the cabbage around so each side is under water as it cooks.
- Once it is done, gently lift the cabbage into a colander or strainer set in a bowl. Pour cool water over the cabbage. When it is cool enough to handle, separate the leaves. If inner leaves are not pliable, put what is left of the cabbage back into boiling water for a few minutes.
- Shave off the thickest part of each leaf, near where the leaf had been attached to the core.
- Pre-heat the oven to 375 degree F.
- Mix the rice, grated onion, eggs, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Add the beef and combine all the ingredients with your hands. Make small meatballs between golfball and baseball-sized. Set them aside on a plate.
- Loosely wrap each meatball in a cabbage leaf and place seam side down on a platter. Arrange the leftover leaves on the bottom of 1 or 2 heavy oven-safe pots. (Total volume of the entire dish is about 6-6.5 quarts.) Move the cabbage rolls into the pot(s), making sure to put the seam side down. Layer with about half of the thin onion slices, which typically fall apart into crescents as you pick them up.
- Once all the cabbage rolls are in the pot(s), add the tomatoes and their juice, the tomato sauce, the lemon juice, and the remaining teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. If the canned tomatoes are whole, open them with a spoon or knife, so that their juices flow out. You can either mix the ingredients in the pot or stir them in a bowl first. Top with the remaining onions.
- Bring the pot(s) of stuffed cabbage to a boil on the stovetop. Sprinkle on the brown sugar and gently mix it in. Transfer to the oven and bake covered for 1 hour, then 1 & 1/2 - 2 hours uncovered.
If you lift the cooked head of cabbage out of the pot - instead of pouring out all the water after the cabbage cooks - you'll still have the hot water left if it turns out that the inner leaves are not yet cooked when you peel down to them.
Do not be concerned if a cabbage leaf tears. You can use it to line the pot(s) or keep it on the bottom side of the roll as you put it the cabbage roll in the pot.
Keeping the meat and rice balls loosely formed and loosely wrapped is important so that the rice has space to expand inside the meatballs and the meatballs themselves can expand in the cabbage rolls.
When reheating any leftovers, add a bit more tomato sauce, juice, or other liquid if the rolls have absorbed most of the liquid.