This week I’ve been to Montreal and back again. I’ve been working on a project surrounding French pastries, so needless to say I’ve been eating a lot of sucre à la crème, pain au chocolat, and cannelé. This has all left me with a yearning for something that feels homey and healthy. Here I am with cabbage rolls, about the most comforting meal there is for me.
Oh my gosh. The funniest stories of people trying to make cabbage rolls always come out. These mostly involve the process of separating the whole leaves from the head of cabbage without tearing them to shreds.
People, I’m here to tell you that this doesn’t have to be hard at all. Please stop struggling with fragile, crunchy cabbage and ending up with only a handful of whole leaves to show for it.
There are two ways to remove the leaves in one piece. The first is to boil the whole head of cabbage in a deep stock pot and pull off the leaves one by one as they soften and loosen. The second is to just freeze the whole head of cabbage and then thaw it when you’re ready to make the cabbage rolls. The leaves will pull right off. (I have been told that this is a recipe that was often made with winter cabbages that had been left out to freeze and then brought in to thaw for the very reason that the leaves go too soft for the crunchier iterations of cabbage cooking.)
Cabbage Rolls (Holubtsi)
1 medium head Savoy cabbage
1 1/2 lbs. ground pork
1 1/2 cups short grain white or brown rice
2 tbsp. Hungarian sweet paprika + extra for garnish
1 tbsp. hot paprika
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 large yellow onion, diced very fine
3 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups sauerkraut
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
2 tbsp. roughly chopped parsley, for garnish
1 Hungarian long pepper (aka Italian frying pepper), very thinly sliced, for serving
sour cream, for serving
salt and pepper, to taste
vegetable oil, for cooking
Bring a large, deep pot of salted water to a boil. Add head of cabbage and boil, pulling off outer leaves with tongs as they soften and loosen. Transfer cabbage leaves to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Continue this process until you have 15 large leaves. Cut out any overly thick stems from your leaves. Thinly slice remaining cabbage core and combine with the sauerkraut.
Meanwhile, rinse the rice under cold water until the water runs clear. Soak rice in water for 30 minutes. Bring a pot full of water to the boil. Put the soaked rice in the boiling water. Keep at high heat until the pot comes back to the boil. Reduce to medium-high. You have the right temperature when the rice is “dancing” on the surface (i.e. there are enough bubbles to carry the rice to the surface, but not so many that you can’t see the rice). Cook the rice to half done. Half-done rice is just past the stage where when you press a grain with your finger it breaks neatly in half. Drain the rice and set aside.
Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook until browned. Add garlic and onion and cook until the garlic is lightly browned. Stir in hot paprika. Stir in half-cooked rice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set filling aside.
Working with one cabbage leaf at a time, lay leaf flat on work surface with what was the stem end facing you. Place ¼ cup filling in the centre of leaf. Fold top of leaf over filling. Fold in the two side edges. Roll cabbage into tight cylinder.
Place sliced cabbage and sauerkraut mixture in the bottom of an extra large shallow saucepan with a lid. Arrange stuffed cabbage leaves tightly over top.
Whisk together sweet paprika, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, and chicken stock. Season to taste with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Pour over cabbage rolls.
Bring cabbage rolls to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until tender, about 45 minutes. Transfer stuffed cabbage to a serving platter and pour pan sauce over top. Sprinkle with parsley and extra sweet paprika. Serve with sauerkraut from the bottom of the saucepan, sour cream, and thinly sliced Hungarian long peppers.