Each year when my grandmother would ask me what I wanted for my birthday, my answer was always the same, “stuffed cabbage rolls“. It is not exactly what a young girl might want for a special occasion but I absolutely adored those little bundles of goodness and continue to do so to this very day.
I wish I could say that I sat on a kitchen stool and watched as my grandmother made them for me but unfortunately that never happened. One of my parents would drive to the nearby town and pick up my grandmother from her little apartment. She would arrive at our house carrying a big enameled roasting pan filled to the brim with stuffed cabbage rolls. While I didn’t watch her make them and I don’t have her handwritten recipe, she did tell me how she prepared them. Over the years, my version of her cabbage rolls has changed very little. Instead of sauerkraut juice which my grandmother used, but I can’t find in our markets, I use fresh jarred sauerkraut. I also add a can of petite diced tomatoes so that there is extra sauce to serve with the stuffed cabbage rolls.
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Serves 4 to 6, adjust recipe according.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- 1 large, loose head of cabbage, core removed
- 2 Tbsp. oil plus 2 additional Tablespoons
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped and divided (about 1 c. each)
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 14.5 oz. can petite diced tomatoes with juice
- 1 c. water
- 1 lb. lean ground veal or beef
- 1/2 lb. lean ground pork
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/2 c. long grain white rice, uncooked
- 1 egg, beaten (if meat mixture appears dry, a second egg can be added)
- 1 container (16 oz.) refrigerated sauerkraut, drained and juice retained
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Discard any damaged leaves from the cabbage. Break off the large outer leaves and boil until transparent and pliable enough to roll, remove with tongs and drain on paper towels. Add the remaining cabbage head to the water and cook until outer leaves become soft. Remove loose leaves, drain, then repeat the process. When all the leaves are cool, trim the center vein of the leaves that are large enough to stuff, being careful not to tear the leaves. Retain small and torn leaves. While the leaves are cooling, prepare the sauce.
Sauté one half of the chopped onion in oil until soft but not brown. Add the bay leaf, tomato paste, diced tomatoes and their juice, the water and the retained sauerkraut juice. Stir well and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened.
Heat the remaining oil in a sauté pan, add onion and sauté until soft. Add the rice and garlic, stir until nicely coated and cook for a minute or two, remove from heat and cool. Combine the cooled onion and rice mixture, meats and egg in a bowl, season generously with salt and pepper and mix gently until blended. Put a mound of meat mixture on the stem end of each large leaf. Fold in the sides, then roll and place seam side down on a tray. Continue to fold and roll, two smaller leaves can be joined to hold the filling. Chop the smallest or torn leaves and mix with the sauerkraut.
Spoon a little of the sauce in the bottom of the Dutch oven then spread the sauerkraut cabbage mixture on top, this will keep the rolls from sticking. Layer the rolls seam side down, spooning sauce over the cabbage rolls and cover with the lid. Place the Dutch oven on the stove top and bring to a simmer. Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour. Remove the lid, spoon any accumulated juices over the cabbage rolls and return to the oven uncovered. Bake another 30 minutes or so until brown, hot and bubbly.
The cabbage rolls can be prepared a day in advance and reheated. Just take them out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before you put them in the oven to reheat. You will have more than you can eat for one meal but the good news is that they are even better the next day. They also freeze well, just thaw before reheating.
When I think of this delicious comfort meal, I can’t help but think of the love my sweet grandmother put into the stuffed cabbage rolls that she made me each year for my birthday…always along with a wonderfully wrapped present. They are not a quick and easy thirty minute meal to have on the table on a weekday night but when you have the time, definitely make a big roasting pan full of stuffed cabbage rolls. When served to your family, you will perhaps be making memories for them just as my grandmother did for me. “Thank you, Nanny”.