Words and Photos by Amanda Callahan of Callywood Farms
The classic cabbage roll dish that we generally think of is an Eastern European ancestral food, commonly incorporating tender cabbage leaves stuffed with a filling of rice, ground beef and aromatics then gently braised in a simple tomato sauce. However, this comforting combination turns up in many global cuisines like Asia, Europe, and North Africa.
This is a method recipe and once you have the basics down, it’s infinitely adaptable to seasonal changes and flavor preferences. For instance, in the fall I make one with a filling of roasted sweet potatoes, apples, and quinoa finished with a cinnamon spiced tomato sauce. It is divine. It also doesn’t have to be cabbage! Swap in collards or even Swiss chard. Heck, if greens aren’t your thing, the sauce and filling would be delightful tossed with pasta and baked.
Though the results are worth it, because of the rolling process this recipe does take some time and is best as a weekend cooking project as opposed to a weeknight dinner. However, we love the flavors of cabbage rolls so much that on weeknights we apply the flavors in different ways like in a soup or meatballs.
- 1 large head of green cabbage
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 small to medium onion, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 small carrots, shredded
- 2 celery stalks, chopped small
- 2-4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup uncooked rice
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 3 to 4 cups of your favorite simple tomato sauce, my favorite is here
- Cut the core out of the cabbage, but leave it whole. Place the cabbage in a large bowl with the cored part facing up. Boil a small pot of water and pour the water over the cabbage and let it sit for 10-15 minutes.
- Heat the oil in a sauté pan. Cook the onions until they are soft, and add the carrot and celery. Sauté them for a couple of minutes, until they are soft. Add the minced garlic and season the mixture with salt and pepper. Transfer it to a bowl and let it cool a bit. Mix in the meat, rice and tomato paste and season again with salt and pepper.
- In a large Dutch oven (or large pot with a lid), heat your tomato sauce (or make it).
- Drain the head of cabbage. Pull off large leaves, trying not to rip the leaf. Cut out the large vein — if the leaf is very large, you can make two rolls from each, if it is smaller, you can cut the vein out partially and pull the sides to overlap before you roll it into one roll. Pat the leaves dry with towels.
Roll about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of filling in each leaf. Place each roll in the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat, letting them simmer covered on the stove on low for about 45 minutes. Serve immediately.