Monday, March 4, 2013

Cabbage Rolls

One of my favorite winter dishes is Cabbage Rolls. I never get to have them. On the rare occasion that I stumble into an old style deli and they have them, I always get some. The very few times I've found them on a restaurant menu, I've ordered them. No matter what time of day, no matter what time of year, no matter what occasion. I love 'em. I'm not sure where I first tasted them but it was love at first bite. (Anyone remember that hokey George Hamilton movie from the 80's?) The sweet savory combo is one of my favorites. Cabbage Rolls have all the elements of old fashioned comfort food. Hot, hearty, one-dish prep, awesome reheated for leftovers and an entire meal (veggie, meat, starch) all wrapped up in one. Yummy, yum, yum!

I finally decided to take the plunge and try and make them on my own. Unfortunately I don't have a Polish Nana to show me how. No long passed down secret family recipe. I'm totally on my own with this one. So, I researched, and read many, many, many cabbage roll recipes. Wowza, there are about a million different ways to make them. Oven or stovetop? Brown or white rice? Chunky or smooth sauce? Onion? Garlic? Pork? Beef? Sausage? So many variations. What I finally decided to try was the recipe below which I came up with by cobbling together what I liked from 4-5 different recipes. See what you think. . .

The players: a head of cabbage, a medium onion, butter, Italian stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, garlic, brown sugar, salt, cooked brown rice (I used the instant because I had it. Any kind of brown rice will do but it needs to be cooked before you measure.), ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, ground beef, pork sausage (I'm showing ground pork but you want pork sausage, if you use plain ground pork the finished rolls will be a tad bland.).

Start off by cutting the core out of the cabbage and pulling off the first one or two outer leaves. Put it in a large pot and fill with water until the cabbage is fully covered. Remove the cabbage and bring the pot of water to a boil. When fully boiling, turn off heat, add cabbage to the pot, cover the pot and let set for 15 minutes.

Now get the sauce going. Dice the onion and add 1/2 to a large saute pan with the butter and cook until soft and just starting to turn brown.

Because my husband has an extreme dislike for the texture of cooked onion (but oddly not an aversion to the taste), I put the cooked onion in a small chopper/blender with 4 cloves of garlic and pureed the whole mess.

You can skip this step entirely and just leave the onions in the saute pan and add 4 cloves of minced garlic to the pan.

Back into the saute pan with the pureed onion and garlic, add the stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, brown sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Simmer gently for 10-15 minutes.

Next comes the meat mixture: mix the ground beef, pork sausage, cooked brown rice, ketchup, Worcestershire, pepper, salt and remaining chopped onion until well combined.

Using tongs, gently pull off 8 cabbage leaves from the now cooked head of cabbage and drain on paper towels. Use a knife to trim down the thick ridge in the middle of the leaf.

Put a 1/2 cup of the meat mixture at the base of the cabbage leaf.

Roll up in the leaf tucking in the edges so you have a nice tight roll.

 Put all the rolls back into the saute pan with the sauce and spoon sauce over the top. Cover the pan and simmer on low heat for about 1 hour.

I loved these so much. I was so pleased with the way the recipe turned out. The sauce is tangy and sweet, the meat mixture, savory and hearty. These will probably end up in our regular winter dinner rotation. Love. Love. Love. I hope you'll give them a try. 

Cabbage Rolls

1 head cabbage
1 medium onion, chopped and divided
1 T. butter 
1 can (14-1/2 oz.) Italian stewed tomatoes
1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce
4 garlic cloves 
2 T. brown sugar 
1-1/2 t. salt, divided 
1 C. cooked brown rice
1/4 C. ketchup 
2 T. Worcestershire sauce 
1/4 t. pepper 
1 lb. lean ground beef 
1/4 lb. ground pork sausage

Core cabbage and remove any damaged outer leaves. Put cabbage in a large stock pot and cover with water. Remove cabbage. Bring water to a full boil. Put cabbage back in pot, cover and turn off heat. Let set for 15 minutes. Use tongs to remove 8 leaves from cabbage, drain on paper towels. Set remaining cabbage aside.

In a large saute pan with a lid, saute half the chopped onion in butter until tender. Add the sauteed onion and garlic cloves to chopper/blender and blend until smooth. Add onion/garlic puree back to the saute pan. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, garlic, brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. (see below for alternate directions.)

In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, pork sausage, cooked brown rice, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, remaining onion and salt. Mix well.

Remove the thick center vein from the cabbage leaves. Place about 1/2 cup meat mixture on the bottom of a leaf. Starting at the bottom, roll up leaf to enclose filling folding in sides as you go. Place seam side down in the same pan with the sauce and spoon sauce over the top. Repeat with remaining leaves.

Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 1 to 1-1/2 hours or until rolls are heated through and a thermometer inserted in the filling reads 160°F.

Alternate Directions: If you prefer a chunkier sauce skip the puree step: Saute the onions until tender, finely mince and add the garlic, saute 1-2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, garlic, brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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