Cabbage rolls are a Christmas tradition for me. It’s really the only time of year that I make them. My family makes their cabbage rolls with sour cabbage. I prefer to add crushed tomatoes to my recipe and that deviates from the style of my family’s rolls. That brings up a good point about cabbage rolls. Subtle variations of ingredients can make a HUGE difference to people. Regular cabbage or sour cabbage. Cooked with plain water or tomatoes or cream. A little meat in the filling or a lot of meat… or no meat at all.
Another change that I made from my family’s recipe is that I rinse my cabbage leaves. I find the brine a little too sour. Cut the core out of the cabbage head and begin to slowly peel the leaves off. I throw them in the sink and give them a quick rinse. The outer most leaves and innermost leaves aren’t really great for making rolls but they are good for lining the top and bottom of the roaster so your precious rolls won’t burn in the oven. Sometimes the leaves have a fairly thick stem. This gets in the way when it’s time to roll so I use a paring knife to shave some of the stem off for easier rolling.
My filling consists of rice, onions, ground beef, ground pork and some double smoked bacon. In this last batch of rolls I went a little light on the meat. It made a difference for rolling. The filling didn’t stick together as well. It wasn’t because I was being stingy with the meat. I simply ran out of room in my mixing bowl. Lesson learned. Next time use a bigger bowl. The process for making the rolls is simple. Cook your rice (actually under cook it). let it cool a little and then mix in the rest of your filling ingredients. Line the bottom of the roaster with some leaves. Roll your rolls and place them in the roaster. Add a couple of cans of whole tomatoes and crush them with your hands. Fill the roaster up with enough water to cover your rolls and line the top with some more cabbage leaves. Throw the whole thing in the oven for a couple of hours.
I like to make the rolls a few days before the big feast. They take a long time to prepare and, like any good comfort food, they get better with time. It’s nice to have the cabbage rolls done a couple of days before the big event. I have enough stuff to cook on Christmas day so having a dish that just needs to be heated up is nice.
1 head of Kissel Cabbage Sour Cabbage
2 1/2 cups long grain white rice
4 cups of water (for the rice)
2 28 oz cans whole tomatoes
1 medium onion
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
chunk of double smoked bacon (not sure how big it was)
1 tsp powdered garlic
1 tsp smoked paprika
salt and pepper to taste
Cut the core out of the cabbage and separate the leaves. Rinse them and shave the spines down with a paring knife for easier rolling. Cook the rice with a little less water than the package suggests. I had 2 1/2 cups of rice so I should have used 4 1/2 cups of water. I used 4 cups. The rice will finish cooking when it’s in the oven. Once all the water is gone take the rice off the stove and let it cool. Time to get the other filling stuff ready. Chop up the onion and smoked bacon. Add the salt, pepper, garlic powder and smoked paprika. Once the rice has cooled add it to the bowl. Mix in your ground beef and pork. Time to roll. Line the bottom of the roasting pan with some cabbage leaves. I usually screw up the first roll by putting too much filling in. Place a cabbage leaf on the cutting board and drop a handful of filling onto it. Start rolling the whole thing up and when you’re just about to the end tuck the sides in so filling is squished into the centre of the roll. Stack your rolls in the roaster. Once all your rolls are in the roasting pan dump the two cans of whole tomatoes on top and crush the tomatoes with your hands. Fill the roaster up with water so the rolls are completely covered. Place some more cabbage leaves on top so the top rolls don’t scorch. Put it in a 325 degree oven for 2 hours. Take a peek a the rolls while they’re cooking to make sure the water level is not too low. Add some hot water if the level gets too low.