Oscar worthy stuffed cabbage

1 Mar

For the last 10 years (Lord help me!) I’ve hosted an Oscar Party.  It’s a super casual night.  Bring something to drink, come early and hope for a good spot in front of the giant TV.  I love the Oscars.  LOVE.  I’ve been watching the show forever.  When I was a kid my parents would let me watch the show in their bedroom alone.  That sounds a little depressing, but it was a serious night for me.  I couldn’t let my brothers and sister ruin my night of glamour!  I’d sit inches from the TV, stuffing my face with popcorn while dreaming of my own Oscar moment.  It was and still is one of my favorite TV nights.  This year I shook things up a bit at my party by turning it into a potluck.  The thought of eating cheese pizza with a room full of people devouring pepperoni made me a little nauseous and more than a little jealous.  The solution?  An international themed potluck!

I struggled for a while to figure out what to prepare.  Who picks international food as a theme for a potluck?  Nerds like me, that’s who.  Why would I do this to myself?  I don’t really know the first thing about cooking with an international slant.  The most international food I’ve ever prepared is tacos!  Not to mention cooking with an international theme totally breaks the “don’t cook something you’ve never made for a party” rule.  As the party got closer I began to panic a bit.  Then I started digging through my cookbooks.  I needed something that I could make a lot of and that could be considered international.

What I discovered was stuffed cabbage.  I’ve been wanting to try to make stuffed cabbage for a while.  I found two recipes.  There was the Barefoot Contessa version, which seemed all serious and fancy.  Then there was the Cooking Jewish Cookbook version, which I had to go with because more than anything it promised 36 servings.  Leave it to a Jewish cookbook to get the job of mass cooking done for you.

Stuffed Cabbage:

What you need…

2 large green cabbages, cored

For the meat mixture

3 lbs ground beef

1 medium-size onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)

1 cup soft (stale) challah crumbs…I used Pareve Matzo crumbs instead

2 large eggs, beaten

2 teaspoons kosher (coarse) salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

For the sauce

2 cups chopped onions

1 can (28oz) chopped tomatoes, undrained

1 can (6oz) tomato paste

5 to 9 tablespoons fresh lemon juice to taste

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 to 4 tablespoons dark brown sugar to taste

2 to 4 tablespoons honey, or to taste

2 to 3 1/2 teaspoons kosher (coarse) salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste

HOW?

1. Three days prior to serving, wrap the cabbages in plastic wrap or seal them in plastic bags and freeze them.  This softens the leaves and makes them easy to use.  The night before you plan to make the stuffed cabbage set them on the counter to thaw.  OR…if you’re like me steam them because you forgot to read the prepare the night before bit of the directions.  Though the steaming does take a while.  When cabbage is frozen…it’s REAL frozen.  Thawing them out will take an hour or more.  Once your cabbage is thawed separate the leaves.

2. Place the separated leaves on a clean towel to dry.  Don’t skimp on this step.  I used a bath towel.  Cabbage leaves, unbeknownst to me, are HUGE.  You’ll need all the room you can find to lay them out.  Now…a tip that I got from The Barefoot Contessa?  She says to cut the tough part at the base of the cabbage leaf off to help make the rolling easier.  I cut out this part of the cabbage leaves in a small triangle per BC’s instructions (see pictures below).  I’m not sure if this is actually helpful or not but rolling these dudes was easy, so you bet I’ll be doing it next time.

3. Combine all the ingredients for the meat mixture in a large bowl and mix well.  This process is a lot like making meatloaf.  Get in there.  Smash everything around with your hands.  A spoon isn’t going to cut it.  Touch your food, y’all!  Depending on the size of the cabbage leave, spoon 1 or 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture onto the root end.  Roll the cabbage leaf up from the bottom, covering the meat.  Tuck the sides of the leaf and continue rolling forming a fairly tight cylinder.  Repeat until all the meat mixture is used, placing the rolls, seam side down, on a large platter or a baking sheet.  You will have a lot of cabbage left over, but you’ll use it in the sauce later.

4. Chop the leftover cabbage pieces measure out 3 cups and put it in a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot.  Stir in the onions, chopped tomatoes with their liquid and the tomato paste,  Add 5 tablespoons of the lemon juice, the granulated sugar, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of honey 2 teaspoons of salt and the pepper and stir to mix.  Arrange the stuffed cabbage rolls, seam side down, on top of the sauce.  There will be more than one layer of rolls…don’t be scared…covered the pot.

5. Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 hours.  Then, using a slotted spoon transfer the rolls to an oven proof serving dish.

6. Taste the sauce that’s left in your pot and add the remaining 4 tablespoons of lemon juice brown sugar and honey.  This part is up to you.  Taste what you have and then add these ingredients as you deem necessary. I was very me about the whole thing and threw in some extra black pepper and a bit of Louisiana Hot Sauce while my husband wasn’t looking.  I like to think this added an extra layer of flavor (I didn’t hear any complaints). If your sauce is too thin?  Reduce the sauce by simmering it for a few minutes.  This sounds complicated and delicate.  I promise you’ll know what to do by the time you’re down to this step.

I was especially nervous about this recipe because there doesn’t seem to be much to any of it.  the meat mixture is simple.  The sauce is simple.  Where would the flavor come from?  I promise you that all of this comes together.  The sauce infuses the meat.  The cabbage flavors everything wonderfully.  The best part is the smell of the cooking cabbage.  Your house will smell amazing and people will line up to get one of these magic pockets of love.

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