Friday, September 18, 2009

Family Recipe: Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

In direct betrayal of the German side of my heritage, I am not a cabbage lover. I can tolerate cole slaw once in a while, but only if it's laying on top of a big old bbq brisket sandwich.

No cooked cabbage, particularly not that nasty sweet and sour red cabbage that sends my father into a swoon.

And sauerkraut? Forget it.

My father even likes the Sauerkraut Salad of White Trash Motherlode fame. It boggles the mind how much he adores that stinky, cruciferous stuff.

I was riffling thorough some old recipes the other day and came across a recipe for Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. My mother made them a few times growing up, and, if memory serves me, I think I sort of liked them. Probably because there's not that much cabbage IN them. And, if memory serves me, Mama's cabbage rolls were the only edible cabbage rolls on the planet.

Other people's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are vile concoctions, to be avoided at all costs. Because other people stuff hideous crap like pine nuts, raisins, or bulghur into theirs. And they muck up the sauce with lots of vinegar and sugar, so it becomes this viscous, sweet/tart monstrosity. Shudder.

Curiosity got the better of me. I mean, had I really eaten Stuffed Cabbage Rolls as a child and survived the experience? Or do I clearly have early-onset Alzheimers, because looking at the recipe, I can't believe I ate them. The filling reads suspiciously like....God, can I even say it? *M.L.* My life-long nemesis.

I decided, against my better judgement, that I needed to try this recipe. I went to the store and bought a head of cabbage--an item that had never graced my cart. Ever.

Just to add a little drama to the experience, I decided to serve Stuffed Cabbage Rolls on the eve of my 9th Anniversary. Clearly, I was testing the devotion of my husband. He was expecting something sexy, like filet mignon or seafood paella.

When I placed this little steaming plate of Deutchland in front of him, he looked at me, dumbfounded.

"It's an experiment," I said.

To his credit, he dug in. He's a trooper, my man is.

Verdict: Not bad! Oddly kind of comforting, if not just a little bland. I think we're so used to eating spicy food that if I make them again I'll throw in some Harissa or chile flakes. We ate a couple and decided that Stuffed Cabbage Rolls aren't evil.

However, the next day I boxed up the leftovers and took them to the one person I knew would appreciate them most.

This girl knows her daddy.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls*
serves 6

12 large cabbage leaves
1 1/4 lbs. ground beef
1 cup cooked rice**
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 egg
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons oil
2 (8 oz.) cans Hunt's Tomato Sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Cover cabbage leaves with boiling water and let stand for 5 minutes or until limp; drain. Combine beef, rice, pepper, salt, garlic, onion, egg and thyme.

Trim any stiff spines off of the cabbage leaves. Place equal portions of the meat mixture in the center of each leaf. Fold sides of each leaf over meat; roll up and fasten closed with toothpicks.

In a large electric skillet***, heat oil. Brown rolls on all sides. Combine tomato sauce, sugar, lemon juice and water. Add to the skillet. Simmer covered, one hour, basting often with the sauce in the pan.

* And no, the filling for these does NOT look suspiciously like meat loaf. No! It does NOT. I'm tellin' ya.

** It's best if you undercook the rice just slightly. That way, it doesn't get mushy in the end.

*** It goes to show you how ancient this recipe is by the reference to an electric skillet. Do you remember those things? Mama had one and made my favorite fried pork chops in it. I don't have one. I'm not even sure if they make those suckers any more. You can use a large saute pan or, if you are lazy like me, skip the browning step altogether and bake the Cabbage Rolls in a large covered casserole dish in a 350 degree oven for an hour, basting occasionally.


  1. I actually really love a good cabbage roll! Course I love cabbage in all of its stinky forms, so really it's no surprise here! I'll have to try your mama's recipe :D

  2. Thank you for this 'cause I really like cabbage! Even though I rarely eat it because it sounds like something I shouldn't like! Bad case of the stripes, I guess.

  3. Another great story! My mother and adopted grandmother loved the stinky sweet/sour red cabbage dish- it is still to this day one of the only foods I cannot eat without gagging. I bet sriracha sauce would be good with the rolls. (P.S. - I had an electric skillet in my college dorm room, and it was the only way I survived!)

  4. You make them **exactly** like I do, since I was about 5 years old forced to scoop and roll. The hick side of the family puts ketchup on them (along with evvverything else), the Long Island side doesn't.
    Funny, my meatloaf is eerily similar too.

  5. i love cabbage, yum yum yum. There are so many delicious things you can do with it and it is so cheap. Cabbage soup, blue cheese garlic slaw, and the best, just saute it up with lots of garlic and butter, and then squeeze lemon over it and top it off with truffle oil. That is freaking delicious and goes great with mashed potatoes and any meat!!

  6. This is so close to the way my Grandmother made cabbage rolls - except she used tomato soup instead of the sauce. I think this was to convince us kids to eat it since we loved her tomato soup. Thanks for sharing your story and for the trip down memory lane. I didn't have my Grandmother's recipe (she never wrote it down) and I haven't had it since she passed away. I'm looking forward to trying this - thanks for the nudge.

  7. My greek grandmother made a very similar rendition of stuffed cabbage. I agree, it can be narsty, but when made properly with a simple, non-scary sauce, it's one of my favorite comfort foods!

  8. You are too funny! :D

    These don't look 1/2 bad! I love cabbage and I love things wrapped up (as you well know) so I do believe I would love these too!

  9. I bet your Dad is happy! How great!

  10. My Aunt use to make corn beef and cabbage. God did it stink. The whole block would reek of it. I hated it.

  11. Interesting concept - never really thought about this...hmmm....very brave of you to give it a whirl though - especially for the your 9th anniversary - and your husband's reaction was a positive one! Good man you've got there! :) I personally love red cabbage but the rest I've not go any strong opinions on...except I hear it gives some people wind...! Do you like brussel sprouts?! I'm thinking perhaps not?

  12. CC: Cabbage does, indeed, as you so adorably put it "give people wind!" And you are correct: Brussel sprouts are evil!

  13. Electric skillet--hilarious. What was the purpose of those things?

    Don't disown me--I love cabbage. In almost every form.

  14. Um. I own an electric skillet. When I put on our wedding registry my husband looked at me like I was CRAZY. In 5 years of marriage I've used it twice - to make the pipsqueak french toast.
    Also, your Dad's sweatshirt is quality.

  15. Ever since you mentioned the electric skillet, I've been craving the sweet-and-sour meatballs that my Mom used to make in ours. Ah, General Electric Goodness.

  16. i remember we had to learn to cook in the electric skillet in home ec

  17. If I tell you I love cabbage, will you still be my friend? I do, and mainly because I was forced to eat numerous variations of it, especially in the fall/winter.

    The rolls look really good and when I make them, I'll take your suggestion to add a bit of heat.
    Thanks for sharing, and I love your comments abou your dad. :)

  18. I think I'd bring my cabbage rolls to your daddy too...not sure though...I've never tried one. :)

  19. we are big cabbage lovers in this house - and i'm always looking for new ways to use it. this looks just perfect!

  20. My Hungarian friend cooked stuffed cabbage for me some moons ago. Apparently, stuffed cabbage is also commonly eaten in Hungary. Personally I'm not a fan of cooked cabbage stuffed with anything.

    A cabbage I do like is the one from Asia (no, not Chinese/Napa cabbage). It's leaves are much softer than the regular cabbage, and is pretty good stir-fried with onions and garlic/dried baby anchovies.

  21. That's a great story!
    Ans to answer your question, yes, they still make electric skillets. I saw one at Walmart the other day.

  22. Ok so I think I might like these I am not a big fan of cabbage dh is and he never gets it. One question, do you bronw the ground beef first or wrap it raw in the cabbage?

  23. There are only two ways I use cabbage:
    1. in coleslaw
    2. when I was trying to dry out my milk when I was done breastfeeding. Did it work? Only if turning my breasts into two stinkweeds is considered successful.

    P.S. I do like brussel sprouts, as long as they are covered in butter.

  24. I make them all the time just with lamb instead of hamburger, you did a great job on these for someone who hates cabbage, and the pictures is really very nice...I enjoyed your blog entries.

  25. loved your story and recipe it helped me finsh my soup I used to make but lost recipe.I'm a semi lazy cook like the rolls but not the work is why Iturned them into soup same taste but less work.
    I love cabbage too. When I lived in alaska an elder lady brought me a cabbage chicken soup for my cold.It was the best .It help the cold very much.Only thing I add to it now is extra garlic and lemon juice. work wonders