Thursday, January 13, 2011

Epic Cabbage Rolls!

So, when my mood is in the crapper food, eating, meal planning, cooking, and grocery shopping all become very challenging for me. The last bout left me scrambling for meals and it wasn't pretty, so I decided during a sunny spell of three days and the resulting lift in my mood to get organized, get prepared, and start stashing meals in my trusty new freezer so that the next time I don't feel great, I'm not living on scrambled eggs and oatmeal and junky stuff that's easy to grab off the grocery store shelves.

Enter the humble cabbage roll. Actually, enter that show we get in Canada every afternoon called Best Recipes Ever. I was flipping around recently and decided to watch this; I'd kinda turned my nose up at it before because it's a Canadian Living thing and I already get the magazine and the subject matter is...well...cue the snoot...simpler than I prefer in a cooking show. But, there really was nothing else on so I gave it a go. And the chick made a vegetarian cabbage roll recipe that triggered some memories. My mom used to make killer cabbage rolls when we were kids, and also, my good friend and fellow foodie Mr. Anchovy, also posted eons and eons ago his mother's cabbage roll recipe. Mr. Anchovy comes from a Polish background and he has been known to post delicious recipes from that culture from time to time. A quick email to him asking about the cabbage roll recipe resulted in a quick response and a trip to the grocery store after the next pay day. All of that resulted in an epic cabbage roll afternoon.

It was as lot of fun, and in the end, after a few hours, I got 46 cabbage rolls, which for me turned into about 15 meals. Total cost of the meal = $15.21! So, my budget was pretty happy, too.

There were a few issues. I ran out of cabbage, so I froze the leftover filling I had for another time. Also, I got long grain rice from the bulk bin at LOGS because I didn't want to use a whole bunch of my pricey scented jasmine rice in this, and the rice was terrible. I have no idea what happened to it, but it cooked up into a pile of mush, and when the cabbage rolls were cooked, the absorbed so much liquid from the sauce that the rice went even mushier in the roll. That was disappointing. I seem to remember my mom using raw rice in her filling, but I need to confirm that. Certainly, I'd do that the next time given this experience.

I made a few amendments to Mr. Anchovy's recipe. His mom used salt pork, but I didn't want to go around looking for something like that in the boonies, but I did have on hand some fatty home-made bacon my dad's friend smoked for him and so I used that instead. Also, Mr. A's mom used to put a pork rib on the top of her cabbage rolls, but I didn't do that either (not really a fan). Also, the original recipe called for ground veal, pork, and beef, but I'm not a fan of veal, and while I was looking for a lot of cabbage rolls, Mr. Anchovy's claim that this recipe makes enough for the entire Polish army wasn't far from the truth, and I didn't quite need that many cabbage rolls. So, I stuck with only ground pork and ground beef). My mom used to put green peppers in hers, so I added some to mine, too.

So, here is the adapted recipe I used. And yes, that is a gigantic turkey roasting pan!

Epic Cabbage Rolls

2 - 3 cabbages
1lb each ground beef & ground pork
1/2 lb bacon, chopped
2 cups long grain rice, cooked
1 - 2 cans (the big ones, 1.36L) tomato juice
2 chopped onions
1 chopped green pepper
salt & pepper to taste
ground basil & dried thyme

OK...This really is quite simple!

Take your cabbage, and dig as much of the core out as possible without de-leafing it. Steam until soft - about 15 - 20 minutes. Now, I had to keep steaming the farther into the head I went, so you might have to do that, too. Alternately, I've heard of people freezing their cabbages, then as they thaw the leaves come right off. Keep some of the cabbage leaves to line the bottom and sides of your pan.

Brown all meats with onion & salt & pepper to taste. Add to rice and mix until combined.

Now make sure everything is cool enough to handle, because this is where the hands-on part begins. Trim the fibrous spine out of the cabbage leaves. This helps flatten them & makes them easier to roll.

Make your rolls like you would a burrito (this is how the host of Best Recipes Ever described the process). Take a small amount of filling in your hand, put it at the top of the cabbage leaf, roll, folding in the edges. Then place seam down in the pan. Repeat. Layer the cabbage rolls at will. Repeat.

I sprinkled the seasonings and chopped green peppers between the cabbage roll layers.

When you're all done rolling, pour the tomato juice right over top. Make a lid with cabbage leaves, which will help keep things nice & moist. I ran out of cabbage leaves...

Bake long & slow: 325F for 2 - 3 hours, or until nice & boiling hot. Mr. A says it's OK if the leaves on the top & sides start to brown; they are caramelizing & turn sweet. Mine didn't do that; my oven was very slow and I actually wound up cooking the whole thing for about 4 hours in total. Keep checking for dryness. If your rolls are looking at all dry, just chuck in more juice. Bear in mind that you are braising here, so you'll need plenty of liquid.

And, voila!

These freeze excellently...Here are all the fruits of my labour...

Woo-hoo! I am so set!

Full Flickr set here.

Many thanks to Mr. Anchovy for the recipe & the advice!


Tina said...

Those do look epic! We have a similar program here called America's Test Kitchen. The magazine is good too. Those sorts of shows are my favorite.

Chris said...

Oh my freak, that looks WONDERFUL!

And I have been craving the thick tomato beefy flavor of a cabbage roll for weeks.

Wandering Coyote said...

@ Chris: get cracking!

BunBun4life said...

I am in hell. A few months ago I looked up several recipes for Swedish Cabbage rolls (i am marrying a Swedish man) and I made them, and they were AWESOME and perfect. BTW, thank you for that beautiful photo example of cutting that little triangle out of the cabbage leaf !!!! I had NO idea what to do. I didn't even know it was tough. But, like many cooks, I gotta take a bite of everything XD XD So I just cut it out JUST LIKE THAT and thought I was just stupid and pitiful for doing it.

OH lordy, now I can't find that recipe. People in Memphis TN even kids, ate my Kaldomare UP. NO left overs. AND to top it all off, I wanted to make it lower fat, so I used ground turkey, no butter on the cabbage, and a little sugar mixed with a little butter & water for the 'syrup'. The result? Low fat, and delicious. OH we always think we will remember, right?

Anyway, no tomato sauce or anything like that. If anybody has any ideas, PLEASE let me know. YOUR recipe looks divine, dear. But living in Sweden, I see that all they put on it, is gravy from the pork & the syrup. NOT tomato sauce, unless, is this the german version?



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