The weather forecast promises a winter that is the coldest in 70 years and December delivers! After 3 days of none stop rain and snow, all you crave is comfort food.Something warm, that transports you back to your mum’s kitchen. You are a kid again, at your family’s dinner table, hungry, cold and a little gloomy but the hot steam coming off the plate that mum set before you with a smile makes you feel better just by looking at it.
Stuffed cabbage rolls is one of those recipes. Something my mum used to make on cold winter days. The cabbage leaves are neatly rolled and then cooked to perfection. They are so tender that they nearly melt into your mouth, the slow cooking brings out a subtle sweetness in them that pairs beautifully with the fresh tang of lemon juice and the faint garlic note from the garlic cloves nestled between them.
As much as I love cabbage rolls, I have never made them all by myself! Mum always makes them and invites us over to enjoy them :) So when the November challenge was announced. I bought a head of cabbage and called my mum. I asked her for a private cabbage rolling lesson . We made the rice and meat stuffed cabbage leaves I am posting today. I had planned on making the vegetarian version which uses bulgur and similar flavors as yalanji (vegetarian stuffed vine leaves) but as usual, I ran out of time. Hopefully I will post that recipe soon.
November’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge had us on a roll! Olga from http://www.effortnesslessly.blogspot.com/ challenged us to make stuffed cabbage rolls using her Ukrainian heritage to inspire us. Filled with meat, fish or vegetables, flexibility and creativity were the name of the game to get us rolling
Stuffed cabbage leaves
- one large cabbage
- 5-8 garlic cloves
For the stuffing:
- 300 grams ground lamb or beef
- 1 cup medium-grain rice or Egyptian rice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon all spice
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
How to pre-cook cabbage leaves and prepare them for stuffing
Using a large knife, make vertical cuts around the core. Place your cabbage in a pot. Pour enough cold water to submerge the whole cabbage. Remove cabbage from the water then place the pot with the water in it on the stove top. This way you will know exactly how much water you’ll need without risking boiling water overflowing when you add the cabbage to the water. Bring water to a boil. Stick your knife or grill fork firmly into the core center part of the cabbage and carefully place your cabbage into the boiling water, core-side up. Lower the heat, you want the water to simmer not boil. Be cautious, try not to splash hot water on yourself. Use your knife to keep the cabbage submerged in the boiling water. Let cabbage cook for about 5 minutes. Try to separate the leaves without taking the cabbage out of the simmering water.This helps reduce the splashing of hot water To separate the leaves right in the pot, left the leaf at its thickest end and lift cabbage with your grill fork just a little bit, so as to release the bottom part of the leaf. While the whole process seems intimidating, it’s actually easy . Once you have separated the outer leaves, take the whole cabbage out of water. Remover the leaves you have already separated. To check if your leaves are done, try folding one, it should not snap or crack Make new cuts around the core and place the cabbage back into the hot water and back on the stove for 5 more minutes and then repeat the steps – When you reach the layers where leaves are too small and too bumpy, stop the process of separating leaves and save the remaining cabbage to use elsewhere (soups, stews or salads). – When leaves are cool enough to handle, cut off the tough ribs on each leaf.Do not discard the ribs, you will use them to line your pan. Try to cut the leaves into even pieces that are as regular as possible Now, the leaves are ready for filling. All these steps can be done a day or two ahead of time
Prepare the stuffing
Mix the rice with the minced meat, salt, spices and olive oil
How to stuff and roll cabbage leaves
Place a little stuffing on one of the long ends of your cut cabbage leaf.
Spread it to form a line
Fold one of the short edges of the leaves over one side of the stuffing (you only enclose the stuffing from one side and leave the other open to allow for the rice to expand with cooking without causing the rolls to burst)
Roll the leaf to enclose the stuffing like a cigar.
Place each stuffed leaf in the pot, arrange them in layers, taking care to insert garlic cloves here and there. Cover the last layer with a couple of unstuffed cabbage leaves At this stage you can store the stuffed cabbage rolls in the fridge for a day.
When it is time to cook the stuffed cabbage rolls,place a small plate on the cabbage rolls. This will prevent the boiling water from disrupting the rolls. Gently pour water (or chicken stock) until the water level is 4-5 cm over the level of the leaves.
Cover the pan and bring to a slow boil.
Lower the heat and simmer until the water has evaporated.
This should take about an hour. Check by carefully tilting the pot to check if there is any fluid left and then taste one of the cabbage rolls to make sure that the leaf and the stuffing are cooked through
Serve with lemon wedges.
Squeeze some lemon juice on the rolls immediately before eating