A recent Facebook conversation with a cousin who lives in the midwest brought some memories of my paternal grandmother back to the forefront of my mind, and this dish emerged. She was 100% pure countrywoman and would have fit in well on The Waltons, complete with the “night Jon Boy” at the end. She was a Pentecostal Holiness believer–the folks who take protestantism to a level of eyebrow-raising one step beyond the Baptists, just without the snakes. I’ve heard her speak in tongues.
Why the backstory? More on that in a minute. I don’t remember much about her cooking other than a liberal use of onions, white rice, and the fact that she had a washer, dryer, AND a chest freezer in her kitchen. What I do remember are cabbage rolls. I know she made them often and I remember eating them from an early age.
As I’ve reflected upon this memory, I find myself asking the question Why did a decidedly non-Eastern European woman make this Eastern European dish? There is no trace of that in our family–we trace our ancestry to the isle of Great Britain, and none of us were Jewish or knew anyone who was. In the time before the Internet, and for someone who didn’t visit the library, where did she get this recipe? She passed away in 2005 and didn’t leave behind a recipe box that I could find. We may never know. My closest approximation is yours to enjoy.
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
adapted from several sources
1 head green cabbage (4 lbs or so)
2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes, with juice
1 finely diced large yellow onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
2 lbs ground beef
1 small yellow onion, grated
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup uncooked white rice
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
two ladles of the prepared sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
pinch of granulated garlic
To prepare the cabbage, slice off the base, or take the core out if you’re strong enough. I’m not. Dunk the cabbage in boiling water and cover it with a lid. Boil for 2-3 minutes and remove. When they’re cool enough to handle, peel the leaves off one by one and use a paring knife to cut the thickest part of the rib out of each one. You’ll need about 20 leaves.
To make the sauce, or sugo, as Francine calls it, sweat the onion in the olive oil over low heat until it becomes fragrant. The key to sweating is to not brown the item. Think about what you do when you get hot–rarely do you burn, you give off water and you start to smell. That’s what we’re going for with this. Add the two cans of tomatoes and their juices, and the rest of the ingredients. Add the raisins if those nasty things are your cup of tea–they aren’t mine. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for half an hour. Resist the urge to eat it directly from the pot with a spoon.
To make the filling, beat the egg and then add the remainder of the ingredients to it, stirring just to combine. Overmixing the meat will make it tough.
To assemble, spoon some of the sauce on the bottom of a casserole or dutch oven. Place a quarter to a half cup of the filling on each leaf, depending on its size. Fold over and tuck in both sides to create a package. Place seam side down in the dish. Continue until one layer has been formed. Spoon sauce over the first layer, and repeat with another layer. I used a smaller dutch oven and got two layers. Then, pour the remainder of the sauce over the rolls, clamp on the foil or a lid and place into a 350 degree oven for one hour.