I remember when I called my sister just to tell her that I decided to run my food blog. The first thing she said was ” oh don’t forget to write about the stuffed cabbage!”. I still don’t know why she mentioned this particular dish. However my sister and I have memories linked to it. I’m sure she still remembers, like I do, my mom preparing the stuffing in a special clay bowl, which already that time, when we were kids- about 30 years ago when I think of it now…- was about 60-70 years old. My grandma brought it from Ukraine, where she lived before the Second World War. So you can see, there is a bit of a history there. I don’t know why, but any time my mom was making the stuffed cabbage, she would use that special bowl. When I was little I thought it was enormous, and I still remember my mom mixing the rice, and onions and meat and other things together in that bowl. I can still remember the taste of the stuffing, raw mince meat, salt and black pepper and fresh parsley. My mom was always telling me that you have to put a lot of salt because when you cook it with water, it will loose this salty taste in the end…All this was like a ritual of some kind. When I was a student, my sister and I cooked together from time to time. And now when I think of it we cooked things which probably reminded us of home and our childhood. Staffed cabbage was one of those dishes we would make, even if it was time consuming. But it was making us feeling closer to home, my parents and all those nice memories. With time I modified this recipe a little bit, but it’s still very much the way my mom or my grandma would make. By the way I called my mom to ask whether that clay bowl was still at home. And yes, it’s still there.
Serving- 4 people, preparation time- about 40 min, cooking time- depends on the cabbage you will use- from 40/45 up to 1,5-2 hours
- 1 cabbage- the choice is yours, but I use so called Savoy cabbage instead of the white one- which by the way is the most traditional and always recommended for this dish, Savoy cabbage is softer and its cooking time is much shorter
- 2 glasses of basmati rice- this is my sneaky modification just so the cooking time is shorter, if you are planning on making something really traditional and fancy use the regular white rice- not instant though!
- 400-500 gr of mince meat- I use pork and beef- proportion 50/50- in a vegetarian option of course you don’t need the meat
- 6 pieces of bacon/lard
- 400-500 gr of mushrooms – if it’s a vegetarian version that you give up on bacon and increase the amount of mushrooms
- 2-3 small onions
- parsley, rosemary, thyme
- salt, black pepper
- water, olive oil
In advance- start cooking the rice, and do not cook it well or do not overcook it in any case. We still need to cook our cabbage rolls when they are ready so bear it in mind.
The most tricky part- if you have never done this before- is the cabbage. Look at the pictures below. What you will see is the white core of the cabbage completely removed. The reason why I do this are the leaves. Once you immerse the cabbage a little bit- like on the next picture- the leaves will peel off nicely one by one and they will not get destroyed. You need them as the wrapping for later.Remember if you decided to go for Savoy cabbage do not immerse it for too long- these leaves are very delicate, and they need maybe 10 minutes not more. You will be cooking them again so no need to exaggerate. The very last thing on the leaves preparation. As you can see on this picture each leaf at its base has this white hard triangular rib, and you need to remove if. If you leave it, it will make the wrapping part more difficult. Put the leaves aside and let them cool a little bit.
Once you prepared the leaves, you can start making the stuffing. I assume the rice is already cooked and cooling, so in the meantime you have to fry together the diced onions, mushrooms and bacon- 3 slices only. Keep the other 3 for later.
When the onions and bacon/mushrooms are ready, we have to combine them with the rice, mince meat, parsley, rosemary and spices. Feel free to put more salt and black pepper then usual. As I mentioned before- it’s OK if it feels a bit salty. The water you will use for cooking the cabbage and the stuffing will partially wash out the spices.
Before start making the cabbage rolls you should prepare the dish you would like to use in order to cook our rolls. I use a cast iron pan but any type of baking- deep- dish or a pot will do the job. Grease the dish with some olive oil and place 2/3 leaves on its bottom. You have to do this, because the cooking time is long, and you want to avoid your cabbage rolls getting burned, so these leaves will protect them and your dish.
And now the grand finale- you have to wrap the stuffing with the cabbage leaves. Look at the pictures below, where I show you each step- one by one-
- as a first thing you have to fill in the cabbage leaf with some rice. Place the filling near the rib edge of each leaf – I normally would take two big soup spoons, if the leaf is big even more, but don’t overdo, it has to look nice and tasty- we are not making here cannonballs!
- the next step is to roll it up toward the outer edge
- the last step-you tuck the sides in as you roll
You see it’s easy!
Of course any time you make one roll place it on the bottom of the dish till you fill it up completely. When you place them all, it’s time to place the bacon around the cabbage rolls, as you can see on the picture. I do this for the flavor of a smoked meat only. If you don’t feel like using bacon, then don’t. Add some water- I would say about half of the height of the dish you intend to use. Cover the dish tightly with the lid and cook for 45-50 min if it’s Savoy cabbage. White cabbage needs way more time, but of course it’s also worth trying it. Serve it hot, preferably with tomato or mushroom sauce. However this dish is very tasty on its own, with some bread and good wine. As a next day tip I can tell you that I usually fry it gently on a very low fire- it can be even more tasty! Enjoy!