Cabbage rolls stuffed with a mixture of ground meat, rice and seasoning are one of my mom’s signature dishes. It is a very common main course in Russian and Polish households where cabbage is eaten as frequently, if not more, as iceberg lettuce in the US.
I must admit I have never prepared the traditional version myself, partly because I saw how much work goes into this seemingly simple dish. Firstly, you would need to remove the core from a cabbage using quite advanced knife skills. Next, you would have to separate the leaves, heat a huge pot of water and blanch them for a few minutes to make them more pliable. Then you would also need to cook rice, sauté onion, combine the two with ground meat to make the stuffing which is then wrapped into the cabbage leaves. The next step is to sauté the stuffed rolls in oil before covering them with tomato sauce and finishing cooking in the oven or in a pot on the stovetop.
As you can see, the mere description of the process can be a major turn-off for many home cooks. And did I mention that you would need to use at least 4 different pots and pans?
The complexity of the preparation technique aside, I was not sure that my somewhat average picky eaters will be excited about the prospect of eating whole cabbage leaves. I guessed they would go after the meat filling leaving piles of unappetizing-looking cabbage leaves on their plates.
To make the deconstructed cabbage rolls I used the same ingredients as in the traditional recipe. But instead of wrapping the meat filling into the cabbage, I used it to make meatballs with rice gently cooked in tomato sauce on a bed of stewed cabbage.
The good news is that if your kids are not big fans of cabbage (yes), they can completely ignore it, or take a little serving to taste. But they will probably like the super soft texture of the meatballs and their mild flavor. My kids call them “hedgehogs” because of the rice grains sticking out around the meatball. 🙂
Since I do not cook the cabbage before placing meatballs on top of it, it looks like a lot of raw cabbage when I first put it in the pot. But it reduces its volume dramatically during the cooking process. The 1/2 medium cabbage head I recommend using in the recipe provides 4-6 average servings of this cruciferous super-vegetable and allows you to serve a complete meal (protein, starch and vegetable) from one pot!
- ¾ cup long-grain white rice, rinsed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- ½ head medium green cabbage (about 2 pounds), shredded
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika, divided
- 2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 1 pound ground beef or turkey
- 1 egg
- 1 15oz can of chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon of dried thyme or oregano
- In a small pot, combine the rice and 1¼ cup water
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover with a lid and cook the rice until the water has evaporated about 12-15 minutes. You can prepare it in advance.
- In the meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or a pressure cooker.
- Add the onions and sauté, until softened, for about 5 minutes.
- Add the shredded cabbage and remove it from heat.
- Mix together the rice, 1 teaspoon of paprika, 1 teaspoon of salt, ground meat and egg.
- Using wet hands, form meatballs about 2 inches in diameter and place them on top of the cabbage.
- Mix the chopped tomatoes with 1 teaspoon of paprika, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of sugar
- Pour the tomato mixture over the meatballs and cabbage and sprinkle the dried herbs on the top.
- Cover with a lid and cook on low heat in a Dutch oven for 40-45 minutes or in the pressure cooker for 10-12 minutes.