The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage
This stuffed cabbage boasts a modern twist: Quinoa is part of the filling. Amy Kritzer/JW
about 10 rolls
active: 30 min
total: 2 hrs 30 min
This is the next installment in our series The Remix, in which we seek to gently rework the more challenging dishes in the Jewish culinary canon. With a little bit of love, we’re convinced we can make any dish delicious, even ones that seem a bit bizarre to the modern palate.
Stuffed cabbage, also known as cabbage rolls for its cylindrical shape, is one of my favorite comfort foods. Bubbe, always a bit health conscious, made hers with ground turkey and a sweet tomato sauce just right for a kid’s taste. We would lick our plates clean every time.
Cabbage has been a staple of the Jewish diet for nearly 2,000 years. Lucky us! It has a short growing period and is easy to cultivate, making it a versatile peasant food. It’s commonly seen in sauerkraut, stews, blintzes, or slaws and, of course, as cabbage rolls.
The Turks were likely the first to add (a little) meat and (a lot) of barley or rice to cabbage and roll it together, but the dish spread throughout Europe, and even Middle Eastern Jews created their own version of that ur-dish. Then Jews of various regions tweaked the dish to their personal palates. Romanian and Polish Jews went with a savory sauce, while Ukraine went for a sweet-and-sour flavor and when the dish came to America, we added more sweetness with raisins and brown sugar and more meat. What a country! (http://troikafoods.com/entertaining-cooking/history-of-cabbage-rolls/)
Stuffed cabbage may sound easy enough. Mix filling, roll up in cabbage, braise, eat. But things can go wrong. Rolls fall apart. Sauces are too thin, or overly sweet. This version is sweet and sour, with brown sugar (no ketchup here!), lemon and vinegar to make a complex sauce that only gets better the next day. Cinnamon and cumin add another layer not found in blander recipes. I also used quinoa instead of rice so it’s gluten free. That way no one is deprived of stuffed cabbage! Here are our tips to stuffed cabbage success.
- Separating the leaves. Removing the leaves from the cabbage without ripping them can be tricky, but not impossible. There are two schools of thought on the best way to do this. I boil the whole cabbage in a large pot of water until the cabbage changes color and the leaves start to loosen. Let cool, and the leaves peel right off. Another way, if you plan ahead, is to freeze the cabbage for a day, and then let it defrost for a few hours. This wilts the leaves so that they come off easily.
- Trim. Your cabbage leaves will have a thick stem piece in the center. Trim that down to avoid any hard bites while noshing.
- Stuff, but don’t over stuff. Dry your leaves well an add a few tablespoons of filling towards the bottom of the leaf. Too much, and you won’t be able to roll it, too little, and you’ll have more cabbage than stuffing. And we don’t want that.
- Tight roll. Fold the bottom part of the leaf over the stuffing and then fold the sides in. Roll it up tightly like an Eastern European burrito. A tight roll is key to not having your rolls fall apart.
- Seasoning is essential. Stuffed cabbage is notorious for being too sweet. (I’m looking at you, ketchup.) This version has balance with tart vinegar and lemon juice, and some earthy cinnamon and cumin. If you absolutely must, add your raisins.
6. Low and slow. Simmer your cabbage rolls on the stovetop on the lowest heat setting. This allows the cabbage to break down and the filling to cook but not dry out.
7. Even better the next day! Make your stuffed cabbage a day ahead of time. The flavors will intensify and the sauce will thicken. If your sauce is still a little runny, remove the rolls and simmer the sauce on the stovetop over medium high for 10 minutes until it reduces and thickens. Add the rolls back in, heat it up and serve to lucky eaters.
Amy Kritzer is a food writer and recipe developer in Austin, Texas. She blogs at What Jews Wanna Eat.