Ground meat (any kind will do - mixing meats is good for flavor) (optional)
Celery (with leaves)
Rice, quinoa, or cous cous
Sour cream (optional)
Cabbage rolls are a bit of work, which makes them a perfect meal to make in bulk and freeze. I actually never tasted a cabbage roll until a year or two ago and I was so sad that I had missed this important food up until then. I love cabbage rolls because they are versatile, forgiving, and always delicious.
Preparing the filling:
Because I always at least double or triple what I'm making I throw together ingredients in whatever ratio I have available and keep making rolls until I run out of cabbage. If there is too much filling, freeze it until the next time you need to make a few batches. Following measurements is quite tedious when it's something that is as forgiving as cabbage rolls. Just use your discretion and have fun being creative.
Begin by cooking rice, quinoa, or cous cous. I will cook 1 cup of any of these "fillers" per 8 oz of meat. If you are making these vegetarian, simply up the amount you make. This is a great time to use whole grains you normally wouldn't eat because of texture or taste - you won't notice them in this delicious dish!
Sauté onions and garlic in butter until soft.
While onions and garlic are softening, prepare celery and peppers, chopping them finely.
In a large bowl, combine ground meat, cooked grains, diced vegetables and herbs to taste. This dish is particularly good with parsley, pepper and salt. Mix the ingredients together with your hands making sure it really comes together and is mixed thoroughly. Refrigerate while preparing cabbage, or leave it until the next day to finish.
Preparing the Cabbage:
There are two schools on how to prepare cabbage. One is to freeze the cabbage thoroughly and then de-frost it. This will wilt your cabbage and soften it so you can roll it easily. The other method is to core the cabbage and boil it, removing it from the boiling water periodically to remove the cooked leaves and allow the leaves in the center to cook.
I always boil my cabbage, but just because I can never wait the day or two for the cabbage to freeze and then the third day for it to defrost.
Remove the core of the cabbage, and gently place in large pot of boiling water. Cook for 3-5 minutes until leaves are bright green and tender. Lift cabbage out of water (you will need some sort of device for this - it's VERY hot (obviously)), remove cooked leaves and return to the pot. Continue to do so until all usable cabbage leaves are cooked.
*Do not discard your cabbage water when finished boiling, you will need this later in the recipe*
*Do not throw out outer leaves of cabbage, they can be used to line pot or baking dish to help your rolls not stick*
*Do not throw out center of cabbage that isn't good for rolling. Once cooled, chop into bite sized pieces and use for soup*
When leaves are cooled, take a paring knife and carefully remove the vein from the cabbage leaf. You will need to slice the vein off without actually cutting the leaf. Martha Stewart makes what she calls "stuffed cabbage" and the video can be helpful for this step:
Putting it all together:
I was told last year by my very lovely Polish friend that there is such a thing as lazy-man cabbage rolls. You simply layer the cooked cabbage on the bottom or the baking dish, pile your filling on top and layer more cabbage on top. Leave some space to put your tomato puree and a bit of cabbage water. We've recently converted to this type of cabbage "roll" because we can use more of the cabbage we wouldn't be able to use otherwise (tears, leaf not big enough, etc.)
If you would like to make the traditional roll, here's how to do it:
Prepare your dish by lining it with unusable cabbage leaves. You should have the sides covered as well.
Place cooled and de-veined cabbage leaves in a pile so you can work easily. One leaf at a time, lay the cabbage out like a tortilla and place desired amount of filling not quite in the center of the leaf. Fold sides of cabbage over filling, and roll (stem end first) tightly.
My Dad loves cabbage rolls that are really stuffed, (Uniqpol in Brantford apparently makes a humungous cabbage roll) but I prefer a medium sized roll. If you have a lot of company or are attending a potluck you can make these as small as you'd like. Just be sure to increase cooking time for very large rolls so that the meat is cooked thoroughly.
If eating the same day:
You can line a Dutch oven with your unusable cabbage leaves and cook this right on your stovetop so there is no oven necessary. Simply line your pot with cabbage, fill with rolls, top with tomato puree and a few cups of cabbage water (until all rolls are covered) and cook for an hour or until cabbage is VERY tender.
If freezing for a lazy day:
Prepare tin (or glass) baking tray with cabbage leaves (not applicable for lazy man cabbage). Fill with rolls and top with tomato puree and small amount of cabbage water. Cover with tin foil, or if using a tin dish it usually comes with a tin lid. Place on a cookie sheet while freezing so that it doesn't leak or freeze unevenly. Do not stack before frozen - you will have one hoo-haw of a mess. Once frozen, I take the cookie sheets away and pile them in the freezer just waiting for a lazy winter day. From frozen, they need 4 hours at 350F to cook properly. I usually place the frozen tin on a cookie sheet or casserole dish with a bit of water to keep it moist while cooking. Remove tin foil from top of rolls for last 15-20 minutes.
Serve with sour cream on the side. Think that's crazy? Just try it and you'll never go back!
*I put the cabbage rolls on the bottom rack (I actually put both racks close to the middle and put it on the bottom/middle) so that I can bake other things that can be cooked at 350F at the same time. You might want to find a bun recipe that cooks at 350 (or close to it) so you can throw them in the oven close to eating time and have fresh buns with your delicious meal!*