Counting down to actually getting to eat this stuff LOL. Although, like any conscientious cook I snorf a lot down while I’m tasting, flavoring, making sure everything works together. Including the wine.
I remember as kids, we’d come home to the smell of boiling cabbage and we knew it was cabbage rolls for dinner. Along with the bazillions of perogies my mother made through the year, cabbage rolls ranked right up there as a staple in the diet. She would get up early and get the pot boiling, toss the whole cabbage in and cook it until the leaves were tender. The smell of that boiling cabbage would linger for days, even clinging to clothes, hair, skin so even the kids at school knew we’d had cabbage roll day too. Both grandparents houses always had that lingering smell too because I’m sure it got into the furniture and wallpaper.
And it never worked, fully. The core of the cabbage always had to be tossed back in because while the outer leaves got cooked, they’d be mush if you waited for the inner leaves to get done. Then there was the pleasure of trying to peel off the hot leaves in one piece. They always tore or split if you didn’t cook it long enough, or they’d slip off like cabbage slime if you left them too long.
Hah. Purists might slap me upside the head for this, but I never boil my cabbage. I came across a trick two, maybe three decades ago that saved my furniture and wallpaper. I freeze the suckers. Pop the cabbages whole into the freezer, let them turn rock solid…a couple of days, a week or more even…then take them out the night before Cabbage Roll Day and let them thaw. The leaves peel off clean and easy, no tears, no slime. They come off right down to the center with no problems. Cut into the core first to remove it, then just peel away. Hah. I can honestly say it increased the number of times during the year I made cabbage rolls, because before discovering the freezer thing, it was like the dreaded cabbage boil, once a year at Christmas. The rest of the time we relied on leftovers from other people’s cabbagy smelling houses.
So for todays task, I froze and thawed two heads of cabbage. I cut the core out of each and peeled off the leaves, then took a sharp knife and sliced off the thick icky vein at the end that attaches to the core. Makes them much easier to fold and roll. Boil up two cups of Uncle Ben’s rice in four cups of water in a large pot and set it aside. I whack up a healthy chunk of salt pork…a fist sized chunk…into tiny diced bits and fry that up just until the bits turn brownish, then add four big diced onions. When that cooks up, toss it into the pot with the cooked rice, juices included. Next comes 4lbs of lean ground beef…fried up and broken up into little pea-sized morsels, salted and peppered. Purists look away, because I usually add some supplementary flavour here. We had a roast for dinner on Friday and I reserved the delectable pan drippings, which went into the ground beef mix. If I don’t have real drippings, I add Maggi or (ick) bovril stuff…but I like to boost the beef flavour a little. When that’s done, into the pot with the rice and the onions it goes and gets all mixed up. At this point there will be even more juice from the cooked beef, so that goes in too, but here I also add a cup of uncooked minute rice, cuz if you don’t, the rice that’s already cooked blows up and turns mooshy.
Easy peasy so far.
I have what I call my cabbage roll pans because all I ever seem to use them for is cabbage rolls. But you’re reading the blog of someone who has a bazillion pots and pans and dishes that all have specific uses. I even have a cabbage shaped serving dish for saurcraute. I’ve been told I have too much *stuff*, but all my *stuff* gets used at some point or another, so neener neener.
I like to spray with pam first…I spray everything with pam first, cuz I remember having to wash pots and pans as a kid, back when the only kind of pot was stainless steel or aluminum and regardless what you cooked in them, or burned in them in my case, stuff always stuck to the bottom. Corning ware didn’t fare any better and I have some of those baking dishes that still have stains from meals that were cooked two decades ago. Every now and then I soak them in hot water and bleach, but you can never get the crud out from under the lip. Besides, it adds character and makes you look like Someone Who Knows How to Cook. I’m always suspicious of people who don’t have stained pots and baking dishes. I will never forget the day I came home from a long day of shopping and there on my counter sat my wok, scrubbed so clean with a brillo pad that I could see my reflection. I nearly fainted from the horror of it. It had literally taken YEARS to get that wok black and seasoned to the point that nothing, not even straight scaled milk boiled down to scum would stick to it. And there was my hubby looking all proud of himself for getting it so clean. That should have been my first clue that the marriage wouldn’t last. *snort*
So…cabbage roll pots, sprayed. Next they get a thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom, and a couple of big spoonfuls of diced can tomatoes. Armed with sheets of cabbage, I cradle the widest end in my palm, scoop in two heaping soup spoonfuls of the beef mixture…more if it’s a big leaf…then roll the end over, fold both sides in, then roll it again so the filling is sealed neatly inside. Start lining the bottom of the pots with the rolls, smearing a bit more tomato sauce after the first layer. Two cabbages worth (and I don’t use leaves that are smaller than my hand with the fingers spread wide because they turn out too small) usually gives both pots two hefty layers, and no I didn’t count but if I had to guess I’d say maybe two dozen in each pot. Don’t overfill the pot or roasting pan. You need enough room to pour a can of diced tomatoes over the finished rolls, and enough room for the little suckers to expand, which they always do…and unless you enjoy cleaning the oven afterward, or like the smell of self cleaning ash…leave room. And use a drip tray. The diced tomatoes go on, then the lids, then the pots go into the oven for about 2 hrs at 325.
But..but…there is still beef mixture left in the pot….and the fist size knob of unused cabbage leaves!
Purists…look away, go no further. Because now we venture into the realm of Cheater Cabbage Rolls. Non purists can skip all the former directions and come straight to this one, forgoing all the wrapping and stacking of neat little rolls if they like. Because this is where I take the remaining cabbage and dice it up, toss it into the pot with the remaining meat mixture, scoop it into another baking pan, dump a can of diced tomatoes over it and back it just like the rolls. The finished product tastes exactly like cabbage rolls, because it is cabbage rolls just not rolled. This is my little freezer treat that gets hauled out a month or so after Christmas. No muss, no fuss. Just reheat and voila, the taste of Christmas cabbage rolls in each bite.
I did try making it this way for the actual Boxing Day festivities, but all the non-Polish guests who looked forward all year to the traditional cabbage rolls and perogies and whatevers…just looked at the bowl of Cheater Cabbage Rolls like I had slain Rudolf and served him as a sloppy joe. Pillocks. No sense of humour. So I went back to making the rolls, but I keep my little portions of Cheater stuff for sneaky little treats through the winter.
So there you have my recipe for perfect cabbage rolls every time. In my best Julia Child voice: Bon Appetit!