Nothing unites people like food. Not only can a meal bring people together but so can a single dish or recipe. I feel that stuffed cabbage is one of those dishes.
Wikipedia lists thirty-five different variations on stuffed cabbage. From Egypt and Sudan’s Mahshi kuronb to Vietnam’s Bắp cải cuốn thịt to the Dominican Republic’s Niño envuelto it seems like every ethnic and geographic area has it’s own version. But whether they are filled with beef or pork, steamed or baked or covered in tomato sauce or sour cream the idea behind the recipe is the same.
One of the reasons I enrolled in culinary school is my interest in my genealogy and the recipes of my ancestors. My lineage goes back to Ukrainians, Germans and Hungarians who left their homelands because of the persecution they faced for being Jewish. When my mother told me that my grandmother and my great grandmother, who came over from the Ukraine, used to make the Jewish version of stuffed cabbage, called Holishkes, I started looking at recipes.
Yesterday I made my own version of Holishkes for the first time.
2lbs lean ground beef
2 heads of cabbage
24-20oz tomato sauce
14oz crushed tomatos
6oz tomato paste
¾ cup sauerkraut
1 cup chicken broth
2tbsp brown sugar
Makes about 12-18 cabbage rolls (it all depends on how many leaves you get/not tear, and how large you stuff them)
Preparing The Cabbage
There are a couple methods for blanching cabbage in order to make the leaves more pliable. I found the simplest way was to bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil while I rinse off the heads. Once the water was boiling I just plopped the heads in. After about five minutes I removed the heads and shocked them with cold water. Simple as that.
Once they have cooled to the touch you can delicately peel off each bright green leaf and set it aside. Once the soft leaves are removed and you are left with the dense inside of the cabbage that looks a bit like a brain you want to stop and set that aside as well.
For my filling I chopped my onion, though next time I will dice it, and I sweated that in a pan with a tiny drizzle of olive oil and one chopped clove of garlic. Once the onion pieces were translucent I put a half cup of them into my metal mixing bowl to cool.
I also added to the mixing bowl a half cup of cooked rice, a half cup of sauerkraut, two pounds of lean ground beef, two tablespoons of tomato sauce, about a tablespoon of chopped fresh dill, salt and pepper.
Making the sauce was super easy. In a pot combine two cans of tomato sauce (for a total of between twenty-four and thirty ounces depending on can size), one can of crushed tomatoes, one to four tablespoons of tomato paste (depending on how thick you want the sauce, I went with three), a quarter tablespoon of allspice and two heaping tablespoons of brown sugar. Heat everything up and let it simmer a bit while you doing your rolling.
I am not going to give you a how-to on the subject of rolling stuffed cabbage because nearly all of mine turned out different. I chose to cut out the tough center stem. Some people shave it down but I found that difficult and tedious after trying it on one leaf. After cutting the leaf looked like it had two legs. I put a rounded palm-full in the center then fold the legs diagonally across each other then rolled the whole thing up burrito style, folding in the sides near the end. It seemed to work well since I didn’t have any fall apart, but again, they weren’t uniform at all.
I chose to steam my stuffed cabbage rolls. To do so I chopped up the cabbage cores that I saved and put those in the bottom of the same large pot I boiled the cabbages in and put on top of that a quarter cup of sauerkraut. Then I poured a cup of chicken broth in before layering in the stuffed cabbage rolls and covering them with some of the sauce, keeping about a third of the sauce for plating. I brought everything up to a boil before reducing and leaving to steam until a meat thermometer showed the inside of the stuffed cabbage rolls was cooked. It took about an hour and a half.
Plating & Conclusion
Stuffed cabbage is a simple and rustic meal so I served it very simply. Two stuffed cabbage rolls covered in more sauce and served with just a little bit more rice.
I enjoyed making the meal despite the various cooking methods needed and the mess that can come from that. Stuffed cabbage is very forgiving for a beginner cook while a more experienced chef can improvise and experiment with different ingredients.