Alright, show of hands.
Who else loves cabbage rolls?
Chances are that if you have Eastern European ancestry or grew up in the States, cabbage rolls are a special occasion comfort food. I’m of polish descent, but this recipe blurs the cultural lines of several cuisines. Serbian cabbage rolls taste similar…
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why are they purple?
Well, I had a bunch of ruby kraut leftover from my fermenting vegetables post. Since purple cabbage can bleed into green, the natural choice was to opt for purple-on-purple. Who knew comfort food could look so striking and fun?
In case it’s not obvious, you don’t have to use purple cabbage. The color of the cabbage has no impact on the taste, so feel free to use green for a more traditional appearance.
Star Ingredient: cabbage
Flavor Affinities: Beef + Sauerkraut + Tomato
Tastes: herby and fresh, tangy, savory
Textures: chewy, saucy
Ease: easy – moderate
Wisdom: Cooking the cabbage rolls in an acidic broth of sauerkraut and tomato paste really compliments the rich savory filling inside.
How to Make the Cabbage Rolls
To make the rolling process as simple as possible, I recommend boiling the entire head of cabbage in a large pot of salted water. Depending on the size of your cabbage, this takes about 15 minutes.
Tip: If your cabbage won’t fit underneath the water line, you can rotate it with a pair of tongs halfway through. Let your cabbage cool before gently removing the leaves. Boiling the cabbage makes the leaves pliable and less likely to tear.
Use the natural bowl-like surface of the leaf to hold a large spoonful of filling. Roll and fold in the sides of the leaves. Since the rice will expand a bit, don’t make the rolls too tight. Position the rolls side by side on a bed of sauerkraut in a large pot or dutch oven…
I like to set a plate on top of the rolls to prevent them from moving around. Add the water infused with tomato paste and fresh thyme sprigs (plus extra water – enough to cover the tops). Simmer for 1 hour and get ready to enjoy a fresh steaming cabbage roll with some of the braised sauerkraut.
With a few humble ingredients, taking the time to stuff and roll cabbage makes this a thoughtful dish. Using purple cabbage is especially playful because it’s unexpected. Regardless of the color, this is exactly the kind of dinner I would be proud to serve to guests.
Purple Cabbage Rolls
tangy tomato broth on a bed of sauerkraut.
- ¼ cup long grain white rice, soaked for 30 minutes and drained
- 1 large head cabbage
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ medium onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ pound lean ground beef
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsely
- 2 teaspoons chopped dill
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups sauerkraut
- ¼ cup tomato paste, mixed with 1 cup water
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 lemon
Brine the Cabbage
- In a large stockpot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Season with 3 large pinches of salt.
- Core the cabbage and submerge the whole head into boiling water for 15 minutes. Remove with tongs. Drain and cool.
Make the Filling
- In a skillet, heat olive oil and add chopped onion with a sprinkle of salt. Allow the onion to “sweat” or release it’s juices and turn translucent, then add garlic and stir for 1 minute. Add ground beef and stir for just 2 minutes. You don’t want to fully cook the beef yet.
- Add drained rice to beef and stir in parsley, dill, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Roll the Cabbage
- Gently remove whole leaves from cooked cabbage. Lay flat and use the shape of the leaf like a bowl. Add 1 large scoop of filling. Roll once, then tuck edge in like a burrito. Do not roll too tightly because the rice will expand while cooking. Repeat.
- Cover the bottom of a large pot or dutch oven with sauerkraut.
- Layer the rolls, seam side down, over the bed of sauerkraut.
Braise the Rolls
- Place a plate on top of the rolls. This will hold them down and prevent them from moving. Cover with diluted tomato paste, thyme sprigs, and add just enough water to cover the rolls.
- Simmer for 1 hour, covered, at medium low heat – during the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the juice of 1 lemon and season with salt to taste. Carefully remove hot plate. Serve rolls with sauerkraut and garnish with extra herbs if desired.
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