As the temperature dips slightly and our schedules acclimatize to the return to school, extra curricular events and projects, our appetites also grow more attuned to the changing season and what the markets have to offer. Just in time for the Jewish Holy Days and perfect for the end of Succot (the festival of the Fall harvest), the autumn favorite stuffed cabbage satisfies on many different levels. Depending on your heritage, be it Polish, Hungarian or Russian, cabbage rolls can have many different tastes. Even in my household, there are two versions which win top marks. One is made the usual way with ground meat, cabbage leaves and tomato juice. Plain, simple and delicious. My second version, which I’m delighted to share with you as well, is also made with cabbage and ground meat but a wonderfully tasty homemade tomato sauce replaces the tomato juice. It’s just as light and satisfying but unique in its own way.
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Freezing the cabbage helps to initially wilt the leaves, making it more pliable for the filling. This autumn and winter-friendly dish may take some time to put together but the effort is well worth it.
2 heads cabbage
¼ cup oil
2 onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, crushed
2 beef or veal bones, with some meat left on the bone
3 cans (19 oz each) tomato juice (made from whole tomatoes only)
¼ cup agave nectar
1 tbsp salt
1 lb ground dark chicken
1 lb ground dark turkey
2 large eggs
¾ cup white rice, cooked according to package directions
½ cup agave nectar
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp each garlic powder and salt
½ tsp pepper
1. Place each cabbage in a Ziploc bag. Freeze overnight. Remove from the freezer and defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
2. Separate the cabbage into 20 leaves; rinse the leaves under cold running water. Pat each leaf dry. Set aside.
3. Heat the oil in a saucepan just large enough to hold 10 average sized cabbage rolls snugly in one layer over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic; sauté for about 10 minutes or until translucent. Add the beef bones; cook for 1 minute or until well coated in the oil and onions. Pour in the tomato juice; bring to a rolling boil. Stir in the agave and salt. Reduce the heat; simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. (Or use the chunky tomato sauce variation below).
4. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the two ground meats, cooked rice, agave, oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Spoon 2 heaping tablespoons of the meat mixture into the center of one cabbage leaf. Fold the bottom of the leaf over the filling. Fold the top of the leaf over. Finish by folding the two sides of the leaf in over the top and bottom part of the leaf. Repeat with remaining cabbage leaves and meat filling.
5. Remove the tomato sauce from the heat. Nestle 10 of the filled cabbage leaves into the sauce, making sure they fit snuggly. Arrange the remaining 10 packets in a single layer on top of the first layer. The juice should just about cover both layers. If necessary, add about ¼ cup of water.
6. Return to a medium-high heat. Bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, covered, for 1-1/2 hours. Remove the bones for another use.
Yield 20 servings.
Chunky Tomato Sauce Variation:
Use this fresh tomato sauce in place of the tomato juice based one above. You reap all sorts of rewards when you make homemade tomato sauce. Not only do you know exactly what you put into it, but it’s also lighter, less sweet and certainly contains less sodium. It’s the perfect companion to meatballs and chicken and can do double duty as a topping for baked eggplant or a meatloaf.
20 vine-ripened tomatoes
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 red pepper, thinly sliced lengthwise, optional
¼ cup agave nectar or raw organic cane sugar
2 tbsp Kosher salt
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1. In an 8-quart pot, bring 8 cups of water to a rolling boil.
2. Carefully add 10 of the tomatoes to the boiling water; cook for 3 minutes. The peel will begin to crack open and the skin will soften, but the insides will remain firm. Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon; place in a large bowl.
3. Place the remaining 10 tomatoes in the boiling water for 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place with the other 10 tomatoes in the bowl. Cool slightly. Using both hands, squeeze the tomatoes a bit to make them mushy.
4. Wash and dry the 8-quart pot. Add the oil to the pot and heat over medium-high heat. Add the onion; sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and red pepper, if using; sauté for 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and any accumulated juices to the pot; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low; cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Stir in agave, salt, garlic and onion powder.