food

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

I don't know about where you live, since I've been hearing about weather in the 70's in certain places that are supposed to have cold winters (thanks, climate change!) but the temps around here have been crazy cold lately.  It's just the sort of weather that has me craving comfort food.  Considering we just finished the season of excess, though, my tastes this time of year lean away from heavier comfort dishes like baked mac-n-cheese and tend more toward precisely the kind of recipe I'm sharing with you today.

Stuffed cabbage rolls can be described with all the requisite adjectives of a classic comfort food: they're warm, hearty, smothered in sauce, and baked in a casserole.  But instead of leaving you with the gut bomb that a lot of casseroles do, these beauties don't weigh you down.  Have I hooked you yet?

An eastern European classic, stuffed cabbage rolls, also known as parkkas or holishkes, are like tiny meatloaves flecked with rice and steamed inside cabbage leaves in a faintly sweet and sour tomato sauce.  They come together quickly, reheat like a dream, and serve as a complete meal (though we like ours with a little extra veg on the side.)

As you may have guessed, this process begins with a head of cabbage.  Once the core has been removed, the head is plunged into a pot of boiling water for a few minutes to soften the leaves.  The outer leaves are then easily removed to serve as the skins for your rolls and the inner leaves are chopped as the base of the sauce.

The filling is a mixture of ground meat and some super flavorful accompaniments.  We generally use ground turkey, but -- though turkey is delicious, as are beef and chicken -- this time I had the great fortune of a gift of ground elk meat.  Mixed with grated carrot, onion, rice, breadcrumbs, egg and seasonings, it was a treat for certain.

Shaped into mini loaves, the filling is then placed in the cabbage leaves and rolled into little meat and veggie burritos.

As I mentioned, the sauce utilizes the smaller cabbage leaves, which you have to know my waste-not heart would love.  Along with onion sauteed until golden and fragrant, white wine for acidity, tomatoes, a handful of currants for a sweet bite, and an interesting little addition of a crumbled gingersnap for spice and depth (don't fret; I have an easy substitution in case your mom didn't send you home with a homemade gingersnap,) this makes for a wonderfully complex sauce in which the cabbage rolls get to bathe.

While most recipes will have you nestle the rolls in the pot of sauce and cook them on the stovetop, I prefer to let mine steam in a casserole dish in the oven.  While, yes, it means one more pan to clean, I favor this method because you neither have to babysit the flame to keep the sauce from sticking nor worry about the rolls popping open from moving around too much. 

These rolls come out super tender every time due to the moist heat and the addition of rice in the filling.  They are divine with a dollop of sour cream on top and though they need nothing else, a hunk of crusty bread never hurt any meal I can remember.

I'd love to know what you think of these holishkes if you try them.  Tell us about them or post a photo on Instagram with the tag #blairfromscratch !

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

serves 6-8

  • 1 head green cabbage (around 2 lbs)
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, small-diced, divided
  • 1 lb ground meat (turkey, beef, chicken, elk, etc.)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup uncooked white rice
  • 1 1/2 cups water, divided
  • 1 large carrot, scrubbed and grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • coarse salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, optional
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1-28 oz can petite diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1/3 cup dried currants or golden raisins
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • juice of a lemon
  • 1 gingersnap cookie OR 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice and 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • sour cream for serving

Preheat the oven to 350.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Remove the core from the cabbage with a paring knife and plunge into the boiling water hole-side-down for 5-10 minutes to soften.  Remove 12-16 of the large outer leaves (I usually find 14 to be perfect) and lay out for rolling.  Chop the inner part of the cabbage.

Dump the water from the pot and heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add 1 1/2 onions and the chopped cabbage to the oil along with salt and pepper to taste and saute until golden brown.

Meanwhile, combine in a large bowl the meat, remaining 1/2 onion, egg, breadcrumbs, rice, 1/2 cup water, carrot, garlic, salt and pepper to taste, and parsley and stir well.  Shape into as many loaves as you have leaves for rolling.  Place each loaf on a leaf and fold the sides of the leaf in, then roll up like a burrito.

When the onion and cabbage in the pot are golden and soft, pour in the wine and allow to boil for a couple of minutes.  Add the remaining 1 cup water, tomatoes, currants or raisins, brown sugar, and lemon juice.  Next, either crumble in the gingersnap OR stir together the pie spice and cornstarch in a medium bowl and pour in a ladleful of the liquid from the pot and whisk thoroughly before pouring the mixture back into the pot while whisking.  Bring the sauce to a simmer, then pour half of it into a 9x13 casserole dish.

Place the cabbage rolls seam-side-down on top of the sauce in the casserole dish.  Pour the remaining sauce on top and cover the pan tightly with foil.  Place the pan on a sheet pan to catch any drips.  Bake for 45 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and turn the cabbage rolls over using tongs and recover with foil.  Bake 30 minutes more.

Serve topped with sour cream.  Store leftovers in the fridge up to a week.

*Note: I adapted this recipe quite liberally from the one in Joy of Cooking.  Mine are far less sweet and a bit easier due to the oven cooking method.