I love cabbage rolls!
There. I said it. Call me a nerd if ya want, but I love cabbage rolls. My first cabbage rolls were consumed at Lea’s…for those of you in the know…yes, the pie restaurant in the Pie Capital of Louisiana (so named because of the existence of Lea’s), Home of the Louisiana Pie Festival (because of Lea’s, of course), Lecompte, Louisiana.
I remember it was a Sunday, and it was one of those trips that my mom and I took when we were touring the state (or on the way back from my sister’s). I saw it as the daily special, and figured that I like cabbage, so it must be okay. Plus, we were in the South, and it was the main dish, so it had to have meat in it, right?
When it arrived, I was in for a shock. Nestled and smothered in a sweet and tangy tomato sauce were these little rolls of stuffed cabbage-y perfection. Rice, meat, and spices filled the perfectly rolled rolls. Shocker of shockers: Lea’s pie has nothing on their cabbage rolls. Just sayin’. I’ve wanted to recreate them since.
Flash forward several years, and I, now married, am visiting with Josh his grandma just over the border (on the Quebec side) from Ottawa. There she introduced me to something I have searched in vain for down here. We, the people of the United States, have it wrong! For all of our frozen and processed food, we left out one frozen dinner delight (maybe it’s available where you are, but not here): frozen cabbage rolls. I think they are made by Stouffer or its equivalent in Canada. She (Josh’s grandma) didn’t realize that I knew what they were; Josh didn’t realize my nearly scary obsession with them. I may have made a bit of a pig of myself with them.
Did I mention that I love cabbage rolls?
In all of my research, yes, I did come across several recipes for cabbage rolls. My eyes would usually glaze over in despair at the first step: remove the leaves of the cabbage and blanch/boil/steam them until pliable. Remove from the water and drain. And therein lies the problem: I do not blanch/boil/steam well. Take rice, for example. I can make fairly complex sauces to serve on rice. If you have a couple of hours to spare, I can make a gravy that will make you weep. Yet, boiling rice makes ME blanch. I’m better at it than I used to be, but I’ve been known to have gummy stuck-on rice, perfectly cooked rice, and hard-as-rocks-not-done rice, all in the same pot of water.
So, that one scary step kept me from it. Trust me; there’s a reason Josh is the boiler of lasagna (and other pasta) noodles in the house.
Cabbage (cooked cabbage, at least) is one ingredient Muffin has really never shown much interest in. I think he’s eaten sauerkraut before, but that’s not the same. St. Patrick’s Day was coming up, and this is the first year that he’s old enough to really pay much attention to the day. On Monday (by the yearly calendar), I had originally scheduled to make this cabbage rolls, but then I found this casserole that has a fairly hands-on baking time of two hours (in that you have to stir it and add more water in the last half hour), and realized it wasn’t going to happen on a work day.
Plus, it didn’t involve boiling/blanching/steaming cabbage leaves, simply chopping up the cabbage and baking the heck out of it. When I pulled out the head of cabbage, Muffin asked if it was “salad,” his turn for lettuce or greens. Sometimes he likes salad; sometimes he doesn’t. It depends. I had a backup plan if he turned up his nose at it (telling him to pick out the meat and rice). I did change it from the original recipe found at the Black Peppercorn. I did change the recipe some, so I will be posting it as I did below. If I make it again, I will probably slow cooker it, simply because if it had been any warmer outside, inside the house would have been unbearable with the oven being at 350 for 2 hours and being opened and closed four times in that time while being open for a minute or so each time. And I believe that it would cause the cabbage and rice to get softer.
Cabbage Roll Casserole
Adapted from the Black Peppercorn (see link above)
1 pound ground pork
3/4 pound ground beef
1 onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/4 teaspoon crushed thyme (closer to a dash for us–not big on thyme here)
1 small head of cabbage, cored with tougher parts removed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups uncooked white rice (I hate to imagine how long you would have to cook brown rice in this casserole)
2 cans crushed tomatoes (14.5-14.75 ounces each)
3 cups of water with 2 beef bouillon cubes dissolved in it
1-2 tablespoons sugar
This recipe makes A TON. Seriously. Using the heavy casserole pan, I wasn’t able to lift it. It took Josh to lift it.
Brown pork and beef over medium heat in a skillet. At this point, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Add in spices (except for sugar), onion, and garlic. Cook until onion is super soft and translucent. While doing this, place the other ingredients in your LARGEST mixing bowl. Seriously. It needs to be a big one. BIG. The cabbage alone took up half of mine. And I’m kind of a wild stirrer…trust me, give yourself plenty of stirring room. Once the meaty portion is done, dump it in your mixing bowl, scraping all the goodness out of the skillet.
Transfer all of this to a large casserole dish. Mine was full before all of it started cooking. After ninety minutes of cooking, it filled it to the brim (rice expansion).
Cover with foil. I forgot this step for the first portion of the cooking. It turned out okay, but I made sure to cover it for the remainder of the cooking time.
Bake for forty-five minutes. Take out and stir. Thoroughly.
Bake forty-five more minutes, for a total of ninety minutes. Stir again. Test a fairly fibrous bit of cabbage by blowing on it to cool it, reminding your husband (who so generously offered to remove and replace the casserole each time it needed to be moved) that its hot before offering it to said husband who then dances around because…yes…the cabbage was hot. Just as the groundhog determines whether we are ready for spring or not, your husband will determine that yes, it needs ninety more minutes. Add up to one-half cup of water (I added around six tablespoons…between a fourth of a cup and a half).
Bake thirty more minutes. Go do something useful during this time, such as washing your hair. Yes, I did that.
Ask husband politely to remove the casserole again from the oven.
Make a pig of yourself.
Repeat as necessary.
Seriously, this recipe has a lot of vegetation in it, so you should be okay to consume copious quantities of its goodness.
The verdict according to Muffin. I explained to him after explaining that there was a cabbage in front of him instead of a head of lettuce that we were eating it in honor of St. Patrick for his day (well, the day before, but it was almost the 17th in Ireland when we sat down to eat). Muffin’s reaction to the casserole caused both of us to shake our heads in amazement. I gave him a saucer full, around half a cup. He ate every bite and then thanked us for the cabbage.
This recipe is definitely Muffin Approved.
And then came dessert, or ‘Zert, as Muffin calls it. We’ve had ice cream in the fridge with the express hope of doing shakes one night (last week I believe), but in the same week as nearly 80 degree temperatures, the cold snap hit last Saturday, leaving the menfolk in no mood for shakes (and me in no mood for a sorbet fizz).
But even I had to risk pain from dairy intolerance over what Josh concocted.
It all started with ice cream, Breyer’s all natural vanilla (what used to be Vanilla Bean, I guess). Then came the caramel syrup. And then came what had to have been what the lunch ladies were thinking about when they created the peanut butter bars. One bar right smack dab on top and then chipped away with each bite of ice cream and caramel to create something near Blizzard-y in perfection. Or at least the best sundae ever.
Muffin, who had just consumed quite a bit of cabbage roll casserole, ate a scoop with some syrup and a bar.
I had three bites before the pain kicked in, and I figured I better call it quits. Because I might have just gone for broke and eaten it all (I was sharing Josh’s) regardless of the pain.
Needless to say, ‘Zert was also Muffin Approved.