Stuffed cabbage is a classic Ashkenazi Jewish dish, and everybody seems to have their favorite way of making it. Also known as holishkes, stuffed cabbage leaves were a central part of the Eastern European Jewish diet. When we talk about these types of dishes, it nearly always comes down to one question: “How did Bubbe make it?”
As a child of survivors, I never had the luxury of learning firsthand how Bubbe made it, but growing up in a Hungarian household, I grew up on stuffed cabbage. My mom always prepared it the same way. I guess she didn’t have too much time to be adventurous. Over the years I have tried different ways to prepare this dish. I am going to share some of my favorite ways.
• 1 large green cabbage (3.5-4 lbs.)
• 1 lb ground beef,
• 1 cup cooked long grain rice, white or brown
• 1/3 cup finely minced onion
• 2 tbsp fresh minced dill
• 1 egg
• 1 1/2 cups sauerkraut, divided
• 2 cans (14 oz) tomato sauce, divided
• 1 can (14 oz) diced or crushed tomatoes
• 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (or more to taste)
• 2 tbsp brown sugar (or more to taste)
• 2 tbsp tomato paste
• 1 tbsp paprika
• 1 clove minced garlic
• 1/4 tsp allspice
• 1/2 cup chicken stock or water
• Salt and pepper to taste
I know the traditional way to prepare cabbage leaves is to boil them up and let them soften until pliable. Some people put the cabbage into the freezer for a day or two and this helps soften the leaves as well. I came up with a new method which I love. I simply put the head of cabbage into the microwave and at 5-10 minute intervals I pop the cabbage out and simply pull off the softened leaves. If I feel the leaves need more time, I pop them back into the microwave till I get them as soft as I want.
Prepare your filling. In a bowl, mix together ground meat, cooked rice, minced onion, minced dill, egg, ½ cup sauerkraut (drained of juice), 1/3 cup tomato sauce, salt and pepper to taste. I use about 1 ½ tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper.
Peel off the large cabbage leaves from the head of cabbage as directed above, keeping only the leaves that are whole/intact and big enough to stuff. Chop up the remaining smaller leaves and set aside. Place your large leaves on a cutting board. Take a leaf and pat it dry with a paper towel. Shave down the tough, thick part of the stem at the base of each leaf using a paring knife, being careful not to cut through the leaf itself. Repeat the process for the remaining leaves. Now it’s time to stuff the leaves. Place a leaf on the cutting board, stem end closest to you. The leaves tend to curl in one direction, so make sure that the curl is facing upward—in other words, it should have a bowl-like shape with edges that curl up, not down.
Place 1/4 to 1/3 cup of filling at the base of the leaf, centered, about 1/2 inch above the edge. Do not over-stuff the leaves; you want a substantial amount of filling, but a good amount of cabbage leaf around the edges makes for easier rolling. Fold the base of the leaf up and over the filling till it’s completely covered. Fold the left edge of the leaf inward. Leave the right side of the leaf open. Continue rolling the leaf till it’s completely rolled up (with the right end still loose/open). Tuck the loose end of the leaf inward, pushing it into the filled center of the leaf. This will create a neat package that has a better chance of holding together in the pot. Continue the process for the remaining leaves. Depending on how many useable leaves your cabbage has, you may find you have some leftover filling. Simply roll that filling into meatballs; you can place them into the pot along with the stuffed leaves, so you don’t waste anything. In a small saucepan, combine the rest of the tomato sauce with the diced or crushed tomatoes, lemon juice, brown sugar, tomato paste, garlic and allspice. Warm up over medium heat till bubbly and fragrant. Taste the sauce; season with salt and pepper and more brown sugar or lemon, if desired. Put remaining 1 cup of sauerkraut and the chopped cabbage leaves in bottom of pot. Sometimes I buy another small cabbage and chop it up just to have extra loose cabbage which we like to eat.
Spread the mixture out to create an even layer, then pour ½ cup of chicken broth or water over the top of the leaves. Place half of the stuffed cabbage leaves on top of the sauerkraut mixture. Pour 1/3 of the warmed tomato sauce over the first layer of stuffed cabbage leaves. Put another layer of stuffed leaves on top...and top with the rest of the sauce.
Heat the pot over medium high and bring the sauce to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to a slow simmer and cover the pot. Let the cabbage leaves cook for 2-2 ½ hours till the thickest parts of the leaves are tender. Check the pot periodically to make sure it’s not boiling too vigorously—this can make the leaves fall apart. A slow, even simmer works best.
When finished cooking, remove the stuffed cabbage leaves from the pot carefully with tongs. Top the stuffed cabbage with some of the sauce and a very generous sprinkle of black pepper. Serve hot. Leaves can be refrigerated for 4-5 days or frozen and reheated before serving.
DELICIOUS DAIRY STUFFED CABBAGE
2 heads cabbage
1/2 cup oil
4 onions diced
4 cups shredded cheese
4 cans 13 oz. mushrooms
3 cups uncooked rice
2 8 oz. cans tomato sauce
2/3 cups sugar
sauce 2, 46 oz. cans tomato juice
2/3 cup sugar
4 tsp salt
1 tsp curry powder (optional)
Prepare leaves as above. Saute onions in oil for 10-15 minutes. Add mushrooms and continue sauteing for an additional 10 minutes. Then add cheese and allow to melt. Cool 15 min.
Add rice, tomato sauce and sugar, mixing well.
Fill each leaf with 1 tab of filling, rolling up and tucking in ends as above directions.
Divide sauce into 2 pots; put 10 in each pot and cook 2 1/2 hours.
Note: some like to cook the rice beforehand
By Gail Hochman