At that same Jewish dinner where I made the chopped liver, I decided to try my hand at stuffed cabbage. Over Thanksgiving, my brother’s wife’s sister’s boyfriend’s grandmother (did you follow all that?), a Holocaust survivor named Anka, told me her recipe for stuffed cabbage. “The secret,” she let me know, “is raisins in the tomato sauce.” After that, stuffed cabbage was on my mind and when I started planning this dinner of Judaism I knew it would be my entree.
For the first course I made my favorite chicken soup in a large stockpot where it simmered away all afternoon:
I’d planned to make black and white cookies for dessert, but because the chopped liver, chicken soup and stuffed cabbage took so much time, I had to run to the store at the last minute to buy the most authentic Jewish dessert I knew from my childhood–an Entenmann’s crumb cake (the candle is for my friend Mark’s birthday):
But let’s talk about that cabbage. What is stuffed cabbage? It’s basically meatloaf in a softened cabbage leaf soaked in a sweet and sour tomato sauce. It’s a terrific thing to make for a dinner party, actually, because once you stuff the cabbage leaves with the meat mixture, roll them up, and pile them in your Dutch oven–covering them with the tomato sauce–you can put the lid on and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake for an hour at 350.
I decided to Google my way to a recipe that could help me supplement Anka’s and I found that, of course, with The Barefoot Contessa. (I’m really digging how The Food Network has the video of Ina making it embedded on that page; that’s really helpful.)
Here’s the basic outline. You make the sweet and sour tomato sauce first by sautéing onions in olive oil, adding 2 cans of crushed tomatoes, red wine vinegar, light brown sugar, raisins, salt and pepper and letting that cook down:
While that’s cooking, you boil your cabbage. A smart way to do that is to put the cabbage in a pot, add cold water until it comes to the top, then take the cabbage out so you know how much water it displaces. Put that pot on the stove and bring to a boil; then, after removing the cabbage core, plop the cabbage in:
I would’ve used my larger pot, but it was being used for soup. So I rolled that cabbage around in the water until it seemed like the leaves were softened on all sides and then I took it out. Meanwhile, I made a meat mixture with ground chuck, 3 large eggs, onions, bread crumbs, rice, thyme and some of that tomato sauce:
The fun begins when you pull off the first cabbage leaf, cut out the tough rib, add a big spoonful of beef and roll it up like a burrito, adding it to your Dutch oven which you’ve coated with one cup of the tomato sauce:
As you may be able to detect from that picture, not all of my cabbage leaves softened in the hot water–the closer I got to the core, the rawer they were and harder to fold up. But still, I made it work and you should know this: when it bakes with the tomato sauce for an hour, they’ll soften anyway. So just cover them with that sauce:
Put the lid on and pop into your 350 oven for an hour. That’s all there is to it–an hour later, you have stuffed cabbage in a zingy sauce. Look at these happy stuffed cabbage eaters:
So give stuffed cabbage a go. It’s a vegetable, a protein and a sauce all in one–no wonder we Jews have been eating it for centuries.
Recipe: Stuffed Cabbage
Summary: Meat-stuffed cabbage in a zesty sauce, based on a recipe by Ina Garten.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
- 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes and their juice
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (plus more, to taste)
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 large head Savoy or green cabbage, including outer leaves
- 2 1/2 pounds ground chuck
- 3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten (Note: Ina always makes you buy extra-large eggs but I used regular large eggs and they were fine!)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onions
- 1/2 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup uncooked white rice
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Make the sauce first by heating the olive oil in a sauce pan, add the onions and cook until they’re translucent. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, brown sugar, raisins, salt and pepper. Bring that to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally (and tasting for salt, vinegar, etc). Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil (though test how much water your cabbage displaces first so you don’t have a boiling water disaster).
- Remove the core of the cabbage with a paring knife then carefully add the cabbage to the water; cook for a few minutes until the leaves start to soften. Then, with tongs or a spider, lift it to a cutting board and carefully remove the leaves (or: you can leave the cabbage in the boiling water and remove the leaves with tongs as they soften; which probably works better because then the inner leaves will soften too). Either way.
- Make the filling with the chuck, eggs, onions, breadcrumbs, rice, thyme, salt, pepper PLUS one cup of that tomato sauce (use your hands to mush that all together, but do it lightly so it doesn’t get tough).
- Preheat the oven to 350.
- Place 1 cup of sauce in the bottom of a Dutch oven. Lay your first leaf on the board, remove the hard triangular rib with a knife, and place a 1/2 cup of filling near the rib edge. Fold up then fold the two sides over (like a burrito) then continue to roll until it’s all squeezed in there. Place the rolled cabbage, seam side-down, in the Dutch oven and continue until you’ve either used up all your cabbage leaves or your meat mixture. Pour the rest of the sauce on top, cover with a lid and bake for 1 hour until the meat is cooked and the rice is tender. Serve hot.
Preparation time: 45 minute(s)
Cooking time: 1 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 8