Stuffed cabbage rolls are a European dish comprised of a meat mixture that is wrapped with cabbage leaves and simmered in a broth or sauce. It is made in many variations depending on the location, each with a different name, such as sarma in Turkey, Golabki or halupki in Poland, or töltött káposzta, which translates to stuffed cabbage, in Hungary.
There are so many variations and recipes for stuffed cabbage that you would be hard-pressed to make a recipe on your own that does not come close to an existing recipe. I will just describe my family’s recipe that I love the most out of any I have tried — why mess with perfection?
The most important part of stuffed cabbage is the meat. Everyone has their own opinion about the type of meat to use and usually go with ground beef. My family uses a mixture of ground beef, veal, and pork which adds a bit more flavor and makes the meat tender after cooking. This mixture can be bought at most supermarkets and is sometimes called a meatloaf mix.
The type of cabbage is also important. Choose a large head of cabbage with large leaves on the outside because these are used to wrap the meat mixture and the inner part is chopped up and tossed into the pot to be cooked alongside the stuffed cabbage rolls.
The rice is an important part of the recipe and is a problem for some people. Most people use raw rice and some end up with crunchy, undercooked rice. We have resolved this by using instant rice, such as Minute Rice, which avoids the need for cooking the rice before mixing it into the meat and it also allows the rice to cook with the meat at the same time. This really saves a lot of time and ensures completely cooked rice.
Many recipes use some type of tomato sauce but I find that the broth made by the water, cabbage, and meat in addition to the stewed tomatoes and seasonings make a flavorful juice. You can add more stewed tomatoes or tomato juice/sauce if you want extra tomato flavor.
Making stuffed cabbage is a simple process once all of the ingredients are prepared. It’s just a matter of stuffing the meat into the cabbage leaves and simmering. We use a pot on top of the stove but a crock pot may also be used (approximately 6 to 10 hours on low or 4 to 5 hours on high).
2 pounds ground beef, veal, and pork
1 cup instant rice, uncooked
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1-1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 large head of cabbage
2 16-ounce cans of stewed tomatoes
2 teaspoons paprika
water, enough to cover
salt and pepper to taste
1. Peel the green leaves off of the cabbage, being careful not to tear. Set aside the inner cabbage. Blanch the leaves in a pot of water until tender enough to bend but not soft enough to break apart. Remove from the water and set aside until cool.
2. Chop the inner cabbage (without leaves) into one-inch chunks and set aside.
3. Wash your hands thoroughly and mix the meat, raw eggs, uncooked instant rice, garlic, onions, and salt until uniformly combined.
4. Shape the meat mixture into small oval balls, approximately four ounces each.
5. Lay a cool cabbage leaf open on a work surface and place a ball of meat onto the middle. Carefully wrap the leaf around the meat until it’s completely enclosed and tucked under itself. The leaf will be held closed by its own weight in the pot. Repeat until all of the cabbage leaves are used. Wash your hands afterwards.
6. Place the chopped cabbage into a gallon size pot, followed by the cabbage rolls (carefully place them into the pot without opening the leaves). Sprinkle the paprika over the cabbage rolls.
7. Pour the stewed tomatoes with liquid over the top of the cabbage rolls. Pour enough water into the pot, about an inch or two above the cabbage rolls.
8. Boil the cabbage in the pot over medium heat for approximately 90 minutes.
9. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with mashed potatoes and a vegetable.