Winter Comfort Food: Stuffed Cabbage

Filed under: Recipes , Tags: , , — Author: Caron Golden , January 7, 2019

Chefs, how many of you rely on cherished family recipes that come from your people or your clients’ family? Given how closely knit food, tradition, and love are my guess is that even if you don’t exactly replicate those recipes many are the basis for the dishes you prepare for clients–and, of course, yourself and your own family.

When I was in my 20s I hounded my grandmother, Tillie Gould, to write down her recipes for me. The result was a small denim loose-leaf notebook with a photo she taped on the front page of her with my grandfather Abe carving a Thanksgiving turkey. The photo was taken before I was born and I treasure it and the notebook, which is filled with all sorts of family favorites. The recipes vary from holiday classics–Jewish holiday classics, that is–to kind of strange salads of the day, jello molds, chuck roast, dill pickles, and hummus. And lots of desserts. Tillie was a wonderful baker.

But one of the most cherished recipes in this book is for stuffed cabbage, or prakas in Yiddish. Unfortunately, by the time Tillie wrote it out for me her handwriting was moving toward illegible and she had a tendency to leave out ingredients or directions in her old age. So I took out a red folder filled with recipes my mom has given me over the years. There it was. But the ingredients list was slightly different. I gave Mom a call and together we reviewed the process with me typing and editing as she talked. Then I got an assignment last summer from the San Diego Union-Tribune to write a piece on holiday dishes for Rosh Hashanah. We spent a day in late August making it together in anticipation of the photo shoot. The great thing is that this fairly labor-intensive dish is freezable, so we were able make a ton of it for the shoot and then freeze it to enjoy later. You see, prakas is a traditional Rosh Hashanah dish, but it’s not exclusive to the holiday. In fact, it’s the perfect comfort food for a cold winter’s dinner.

Stuffed cabbage is one of those peasant dishes that makes great use of inexpensive ingredients to create a large filling meal. Traditionally, it’s made with ground beef but I’ve had it with ground turkey and it tastes wonderful too.

Here’s the trick for getting the leaves off the head of cabbage intact. Core the cabbage head, then microwave it in short bursts. That will loosen the larger leaves enough so you can more easily pull them off. Then trim the thick membrane and blanch the leaves so they’ll fold.

Stuff them with the ground meat mixture like you would a burrito and place the rolls seam side down in a tall-sided pan. You’ll cover them with crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, as well as dried apricots and prunes.

After two hours pull out as much  of the now soft fruit as you can and some of the juices. Instead of pushing them through a sieve, like my mom and Tillie used to do, make life easier for yourself and puree them in a blender with the pan juices. Then add a mixture of lemon juice and sugar to the puree, stir, and pour back into the pan to continue cooking. By the end you’ll have a thick sauce enveloping your cabbage rolls. I think this sweet-and-sour sauce is the dish’s most important element. Play with the lemon juice and sugar amounts until you get it just right. It should have some punch to it.

Try to make this at least a day before you’ll be serving it so the flavors can deepen.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Yield: About 20 rolls, depending on size

Ingredients

2 large green cabbages
2 1/2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
2 cups cooked or instant rice
½ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Large can of crushed tomatoes
Medium can of tomato sauce
½ pound each seeded prunes and dried apricots
2 bay leaves
1 ½ cups of sugar
Juice of 2 1/2 lemons (to taste to get sweet and sour flavor0

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring large pot of water to boil. Core cabbages and microwave each for about a minute and a half to begin to soften the leaves so they can be gently lifted with as few tears as possible. Once they become difficult to separate, microwave again at 30-second intervals. You only want the largest leaves but pull off some smaller ones to use as patches in case larger ones tear. On the back of the leaves is a thick membrane. Slice a thin piece off to make the leaf more flexible for rolling. Blanch the leaves in batches in the boiling water for about 40 seconds or until the spines are pliable. Drain and stack on a plate. Set aside.

Mix together ground meat, rice, pine nuts, garlic salt, kosher salt, and pepper. Place about 2 ½ ounces—depending on the size of the leaf—toward the bottom of the cabbage leaf. Fold the bottom up and over the meat mixture. Then fold in the sides and roll to the top. It should look like a cylinder. Place each roll in a high-sided pan with the seam of the roll on the bottom. You can stack a couple of layers.

Scatter the prunes and apricots around and on top of the rolls. Pour crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce over the rolls. Add bay leaves. Cover and bake for about 2 hours or until the leaves begin to look wilted. Starting after 45 minutes in the oven, baste the cabbage rolls with the liquids. Do this a few times in 20-minute intervals (more or less).

While the cabbage rolls are cooking, mix together sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl. After the two hours, remove the pan from the oven and spoon out a little of the hot cabbage roll liquid and add to the sugar/lemon juice mixture to dissolve the sugar and create a sweet-and-sour sauce. Remove as many of the prunes and apricots you can find. Put them in a blender and add the sweet and sour sauce. Puree and pour the puree back into the pan with the cabbage rolls. Stir it around to incorporate well. If it’s too thick, add a little water and stir into the sauce.

Taste and correct with more sugar or more lemon juice until flavors are balanced sweet and sour but not bland. Make sure the sauce covers the cabbage so it absorbs the flavors.

Cover and return to the oven to cook for another hour. Then remove from the oven and remove the bay leaves. The cabbage rolls can be served at this point but the flavors are best when this is made a day ahead. It can easily be frozen with the sauce.

What family recipe do you most love to share with clients? How have you updated it?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

Be Sociable, Share!
Caron Golden

About 

Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

1 Comment »

  1. What do you think about The “BestChef” App?
    Is it a good tool for chefs to connect and learn from each other ?
    They seem to have about 10000 members… some of them are quite amazing chefs sharing some incredible dishes on there

    this is their app and slogan :

    The “BestChef” App – https://www.bit.ly/2qQmIBk
    Connecting The Culinary Industry!

    Comment by Chef John — January 8, 2019 @ 2:56 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment