It`s safe to say, my Mom`s recipe for cabbage rolls was… still is … the stuff of legend. Like many things in life, there are impostors… pale imitations of a very good thing. For years, I never had to attempt making them. Why would I when my Mom’s were.. hands down, THE best. Even after moving away from home, there would be cabbage rolls at Christmas visits. You could count on it, just as you could the fridge being full of your favourite foods!
But… never trying meant I had some catching up to do. Good thing I had a lot of experience not only tasting, but catching snippets of them being made. I’m not sure how many attempts it took me to get them to taste ‘just right’… and by that, I mean to taste just like Mom’s. One day, after many attempts, I had made them yet again with my brother Ed as the dinner table’s chief taster. After only a couple bites he flashed me a big grin and said… “these taste just like Mom”s!” I had to stop and collect myself. Trying not to tear up at the table, I graciously accepted one of the greatest food compliments of my life!
My Mom’s/Babcia‘s Cabbage Rolls
To cook the head of cabbage so the leaves are soft enough for rolling, you’ll need a dutch oven sized pot and more time than most recipes say – this process will take about a half hour, but it’s not a constant watch at the stove. The softer you get the leaves during this process, the easier it’ll be to form the rolls. Personally, I like them to be not too heavy with meat – if you want them meatier add another 1/2 to 3/4 lb ground beef. I made 11 rolls, saving some leaves for a possible veg stuffed version. Covered tightly these will also freeze very well – do so without baking and you’ll have a stash in your freezer for another day!
1 head green cabbage
1/2 tsp salt
1 lb ground beef, medium (if you use lean, they will be dry with the long cooking time)
1/2 medium onion, grated
1 cup cooked rice, cooled (use either white or brown, but not instant)
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
half a 28 oz can, whole tomatoes
small can tomato juice or water
Using a long thin knife, carefully cut out the core from the cabbage; this does not need to be pretty, you just need to be able to peel off the leaves as they cook.
Fill a dutch oven sized pot half full with water, cover and bring to the boil. Add salt and the cabbage head, cored side down. cover and bring back to the boil. Within a few minutes the leaves will start to soften. Pull them off with a pair of tongs – being careful not to tear them. (You’ll get about 18 large sized leaves from one head of cabbage).
As the leaves are pulled off, place them neatly on a tray – they’ll cool down and you’ll have easy access for filling and rolling. Save the inside part of the cabbage for another use (in soup or cut and finish cooking & add some butter.
Combine the filling ingredients and set aside; just like making meatballs – don’t over mix. Now, set up your rolling station in a logical way… you don’t want to be exhausted by the time you finish putting together the rolls.
Cut out the heavy rib from the centre of the leaf. Note, if you’re using double the ground meat, you’ll have to shave down the rib instead of removing it, otherwise the leaves will not be big enough to hold the filling, without escaping while baking.
Using either a 1/4 or 1/2 cup measure add the filling at the end closest to you….. don’t pack it too tightly.
Tuck in both sides….
Be sure to finish with the seam side down.