Growing up, I can remember my mom making stuffed cabbage as a kid. I hated it. The cabbage stunk up the house when she boiled the leaves. I didn’t like mixing meat and dried fruit (raisins). Scratch that, I didn’t like meat at all so it didn’t matter what you mixed it with. It was a mushy, smelly dish that I couldn’t understand why anyone would eat.
I’m really selling you on this dish, aren’t I?
Years later, it’s still a pain in the butt dish to make, but I’ve grown to have an appreciation for it. It has memories for me of my mom making it. And, it also reminds me of my Babbi (my grandmother) who really enjoyed eating it. Of the few memories of her that I have, one is of her sitting at her small kitchen table eating this followed by a piece of yellow or pink cake (more on those cakes another time). Stuffed cabbage for me is nostalgic. It means family.
So for that, I make it and even though I can’t say I love it, I can say this is a pretty mean stuffed cabbage.
To my girls, I have to say it’s a meatball cooked in cabbage that they can remove if they want. And for the record, they did. But I want them to have the memories that I do. I want them to remember these smells when they get older. And they’ll know the stories of their Gram & great-grandmother because food is family. And that’s why I cook.
So after all that, let’s get cooking! Here’s how I did it:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 yellow onions, chopped and divided
- 2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes and their juice
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
- 3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 1 large head Savoy cabbage, including outer leaves
- 2 1/2 pounds ground meatball meat mix (beef, veal, pork)
- 3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup uncooked white rice
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add 2 onions, and cook over medium-low heat for 8 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Remove the core of the cabbage and immerse the head of cabbage in the boiling water for a few minutes, peeling off each leaf with tongs as soon as it s flexible. Set the leaves aside (you will need at least 14 leaves).
- For the filling, in a large bowl, combine the meat, eggs, onion, breadcrumbs, rice, thyme, and remaining salt, and pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- To assemble, place 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Remove the hard triangular rib from the base of each cabbage leaf with a small paring knife. Place 1/3 to 1/2 cup of filling in an oval shape near the rib edge of each leaf and roll up toward the outer edge, tucking the sides in as you roll. Place half the cabbage rolls, seam sides down, over the sauce. Add more sauce and more cabbage rolls alternately until you’ve placed all the cabbage rolls in the pot. Pour the remaining sauce over the cabbage rolls. Cover the dish tightly with the lid and bake for 1 hour or until the meat is cooked and the rice is tender. Serve hot. Enjoy!