Huh? UN-stuffed cabbage? I would like to say that it is this week’s inclement weather which is inspiring me to make this wonderful comfort food, except I love comfort foods anytime anywhere, in all seasons. Cabbage, tomatoes, rice, meat (or even no meat for a fantastic vegetarian stuffed cabbage variation)? I’m there! Un-stuffed cabbage is very liberating, as it is so easy and just as delicious than stuffed cabbage. Don’t get me wrong, I love stuffed cabbage and the rolls are so pretty. But chances are, when you realize that un-stuffed cabbage is every bit as delicious as stuffed cabbage, you might mike it more often, as I do!
I trust you can find recipes for stuffed cabbage anywhere. What I would like to share here is a recipe for a dish that was earnestly meant as stuffed cabbage I made in my early bridal days, when I attempted to duplicate some of my mother-in-law’s wonderful Eastern European dishes, in a great desire to reassure her that her son will get his usual native dinner treats with his Moroccan-born wife. My rolls all came undone, cabbage leaves hanging on for dear life above the meat layer. I was mortified, but my unflappable mother-in-law lifted the pot’s lid, took a couple whiffs, steering the steam toward her with an expert hand, and said, “This is going to be delicious, I can tell: Who cares how it looks, as long as it has taam (cute little word for ‘flavor’)?” Serendipity had upstaged skill once and for all, and I just continued to make this dish the lazy way—good-bye stuffed cabbage rolls! Just as long as I am not serving funky-looking un-stuffed cabbage as my main dish, and I have more presentable dishes to offer at the same meal, I think I’m doing all right.
So here comes: Sort of like Sloppy Joes with a healthy twist. Perfect choice for buffets. Leftovers freeze very well.
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 large onion, quartered
- 4 ribs celery, peeled
- 2 Granny Smith (green) apples, unpeeled, quartered
- 1 large bunch dill, fronds and stems
- 3 pounds lean ground beef or turkey (ground lamb will work perfectly too)
- 1 medium head white cabbage, center cores discarded, sliced very thin (food processor)
- 1 cup golden or dark raisins
- 1 1/2 cups short grain brown rice
- 6 cups canned crushed tomatoes
- 6 cups unsweetened cranberry or pomegranate juice
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 4–5 bay leaves, or 1 teaspoon ground
- Salt (go easy on the salt, as the meat is salty) and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a wide-bottom pot. In a food processor, coarsely grind the onion, celery, apples, and dill. Add the ground mixture to the pot, and sauté until translucent. Add the meat and sauté a few more minutes, stirring and breaking it up, until no longer pink. Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the flame to medium low and cook covered for 1½ hours, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching, or a little longer, until the cabbage and the rice are very tender and the liquid in the pot is nice and thick. Transfer to a platter and serve hot. Makes a dozen ample servings.