Makin' excuses and cabbage rolls

Sorry about the hiatus – I ended up with a nine day vacation and while I didn’t do one lick of blogging, I did 1) throw out my back, 2) take a lot of painkillers and muscle relaxers, 3) watching a bunch of Falcon movies starring George Sanders, 3) get my kitchen cleaned and reorganized, and 4) make a boatload of cabbage rolls. The thing with cabbage rolls is you can only make boatloads. No one ever says “I’ll think I am going to whip up a cabbage roll or two!”

Cabbage rolls are a tradition on my mother’s side of the family. My mother was half-Polish and my aunt by marriage was either Hungarian or Slavic (I can’t remember now!). A birthday party? Cabbage Rolls! A funeral dinner? Cabbage Rolls! Family reunion? Ten types of cabbage rolls!

Once I moved away from home, I did not eat another cabbage roll for 20 years. No kidding. I disliked them that much. I hated my mom’s cabbage rolls. I am not sure what she did, but the meat mixture was always dense and rocklike. Her meatloaf was the same way. (A side note on the meatloaf: when cold, you could slice my mom’s meatloaf into 1/16th of an inch slices. That is how dense it was. *shudder*)

My aunt’s rolls, on the other hand, were always light in texture and the cabbage was always perfectly tender. When we would go to a family reunion, I would eat my aunt’s cabbage rolls, but not mom’s. And then I would be stupid enough to praise my aunt loudly in front of my mother. Doh! My dad finally had a talk with me and took care of that issue.

So from then on, I never ate another cabbage roll (or at least tried not too unless forced with threats of physical punishment) - until I went to the local U.N. Festival. If you do not have one in your town, I feel bad for you. The festival is a celebration of all the different cultures that make up Columbus, Ohio. And believe me, there are a lot of them. You can buy tons of crafts and other junk to take home, see examples of folk dancing, and best of all - you can eat! You name it – you can probably find it here.

My daughter and I had picked up some black beans and rice, curry, egg rolls, and a variety of pastries and were on our way to the seating area to eat and watch the belly dancing demonstration (*shudder*), when we passed a Hungarian food booth. The smell was heaven. I had to know what it was!

As it turns out, it was a booth for a local church and there were five tiny, ancient ladies making goulash and cabbage rolls. The line was pretty long, so by the time I got up to the order counter, the goulash was sold out and all they had left was cabbage rolls. Ok – I ordered them to be polite. How could I insult these wonderful ladies who worked so hard? I figured I survived my mom’s rolls; surely these couldn’t be worse than hers.

It was an eye opener. They were delicious! Better than my aunt’s! I went back and bought two more. When I went home, I decided that I wanted to be able to make cabbage rolls for myself.

My family was skeptical. My daughter had refused to try any at the festival. (While cabbage rolls taste great - they look less than appetizing.) My hubby had heard horror stories of my mom’s rolls, but in the end, they agreed to try them out just one time.

Cabbage rolls are not for the weak. It takes stamina to prep everything needed. The blanched cabbage, the rice, the tomato sauce – lots and lots of prep. It was a labor of Herculean proportions the first time. I would have rather cleaned The Augean Stables than sweat over the blanching pot one more minute.

In the end, it was well worth it though. My rolls were not as good as the lil old ladies’ rolls at the festival. I bet if I were 85 and had been making rolls for 70 plus years, then mine would have tasted that good. They weren’t even like my aunt’s. But they definitely weren’t like my mother’s and I was thankful for that!

So here ya go! Cabbage Rolls - share them with your family, friends, co-workers, people you met at the bus stop - trust me you’ll have that many!

Cabbage Rolls

I usually get between 25- 30 rolls

2 pounds hot sausage
2 pounds ground beef
3 cups cooked rice
2 medium onions, chopped
3 gloves garlic, smashed
1/2 cup dried mushrooms, soaked then chopped (reserve soaking water) (I used shitake as that is what I had lurking in the house)
8 slices bacon, diced
3 T Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup tomato sauce

2 eggs
seasoned salt and pepper
onion powder, garlic powder, paprika
2 large heads or 3 small heads cabbage, cored and blanched

2 15 oz cans of tomato sauce
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 15 oz cans of small diced tomatoes
1 cup mushroom soaking water

1 medium onion, diced
3 T sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
salt, pepper, onion powder, paprika

To make the sauce:
Saute the onions in a small amount of bacon fat or oil until soft. Add all of the tomato products and mushroom water and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the vinegar and sugar; simmer, until the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and paprika. Remove from the heat.

Place a skillet over medium heat and cook the diced bacon until fat is
rendered. Sauté the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes, until soft.
Put bacon, onions and garlic in a bowl and let cool. Combine with the
ground meat in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs, Worcestershire
sauce, the cooked rice and mushrooms. Toss the filling together with
your hands to combine, season with a generous amount of salt and
pepper and paprika.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Remove the large, damaged
outer leaves from the cabbages and set aside. Cut out the cores of the
cabbages with a sharp knife and place the whole head into boiling
water. Carefully pull off all the large leaves with tongs, keeping
them whole and as undamaged as possible. Run the leaves under cool
water then lay them out so you can assess just how many blankets you have to wrap up the filling. Roughly chop the remaining part of the heads.

Next, carefully cut out the center vein from the leaves so they will be easier to roll up. Take the reserved big outer leaves and lay them on the bottom of a large roaster, let part of the leaves hang out the sides of the pan. This insulation will prevent the cabbage rolls from burning on the bottom when baked. Put in part of the chopped “core” cabbage as well. Use all the good looking leaves to make the cabbage rolls. Put about ½ cup of the meat filling in the center of the cabbage and starting at what was the stem-end, fold the sides in and roll up the cabbage to enclose the filling. Place the cabbage rolls side by side in rows, seam-side down, in the roaster.

Top with tomato sauce, then any extra leaves and chopped cabbage left over.

Place in oven pre-heated to 350 degrees.

Cook covered for about 2 hours until cabbage is soft and the meat is done. Refrigerate overnight to let flavors meld. Reheat for 30 mins at 350 degrees until heated through.

Serve with boiled potatoes topped with butter and sour cream. Bread and butter is good too!!


Sarah (the headhunter) said...

MMM....cabbage. I love cabbage. Long time!

And in a move very much like Laurence Olivier in Clash of the Titans I called home and proclaimed, "LET LOOSE THE KRAKEN!!" after reading this post.

Ok, I didn't say that, but even if I had my kids wouldn't have been surprised.

What I did say was to take 3 pounds of ground beef out of the freezer so I can make sama for tomorrow night. Rich meat quennels (or however the hell you spell that) cooked between layers of sauerkraut. Heavenly.

Those cabbage rolls look delicious and I'm drooling over your potatoes. I think I'll make them to go with the sama. =)

Rosie said...

I wanna make Sama!! gimme, gimme!

BTW, you made my hubby shoot cola out his nose when I read outloud "I love cabbage. Long time!" Yeah!

Jules said...

I made these over the weekend and they were fabulous, but...the "1 medium onion, diced" listed in the sauce...how/when does that go in?

I didn't know, so I just sauted it for about 5 minutes in some spare bacon fat and threw it in...seemed to work...

Rosie said...

Hi Jules!

You're right - I missed adding in the onions when I wrote up the recipe. I have changed it now.

I am glad you liked my cabbage rolls!