There was an old cabbage rolls recipe in the archive published in 2004. The photo was bad, the recipe was non-formatted and it was really crying out for an update. A surprise visit from a friend made me decide it was finally time to post a new recipe for cabbage rolls with better photos and better visual instructions.
What’s the connection between my friend and cabbage rolls? Well, we hadn’t seen each other in a long time and we tried to catch up. The name of a common acquaintance was mentioned and that brought memories of cabbage rolls flooding in.
Years ago, the common acquaintance bought an electric steamer to our house with “cabbage rolls” in the baskets. The cabbage leaves were uncooked, they did not soften sufficiently during steaming and, worse, the rolls opened while they were still in the steamer. Someone (not me!) jokingly said it reminded her of cabbage rolls she and her classmates cooked when they were in the fourth grade. We ate a few of the cabbage rolls anyway. I mean, the person who brought them was no cook and, to her credit, she deserved an “A” for effort. She tried and that counted for something. I’m sure she makes better cabbage rolls by now.
The thing about cabbage rolls is you have to cook the cabbage leaves before stuffing them. If you don’t, they are hardly pliable enough to fold and roll. There’s a technique for cooking them to minimize chances of the leaves tearing before they are ready to be stuffed.
Unlike most of my recipes where I show step-by-step photos before the printable version of the recipe, for these cabbage rolls, I am including the step-by-step photos within the printable recipe so that if you print it, you will have a visual guide as you cook.
In a large sauce pan, start boiling about three liters of water.
Make the filling
Peel and finely chop the carrot and onion.
Peel and mince the garlic (or finely chop, if that's easier for you).
Discard the stems of the shiitake. Coarsely chop the caps.
Place the ground pork in a mixing bowl. Add the chopped carrot, onion, minced garlic, chopped shiitake, parsley, salt, pepper and Parmesan. Mix well. Cover the bowl and let the filling sit in the fridge while you prepare the cabbage.
No egg in the filling? None. The grated Parmesan acts as binder. It's tastier, believe me.
Prep the cabbage
Place the cabbage on a cutting board.
Using a small pointed knife, cut around the core in the shape of a cone. Keep going until the core is loose. Pull it out and discard.
Drop the cabbage into the boiling water, cored side down, and let the water come to a rolling boil once more.
Lower the heat, cover the pan and cook the cabbage for about 10 minutes.
Scoop out the cabbage and dump in a bowl of iced water. When cool, place in a strainer, cored side up, and allow to drip for a few minutes.
Carefully loosen the cabbage leaves to separate.
Take one cabbage leaf and, using a sharp knife, shave off the thick portion that runs vertically in the middle of the leaf. Be careful not to shave too deep to avoid tearing the cabbage. Do this with all the cabbage leaves.
The too small ones near the core, you may chop finely and mix into the filling. But that's entirely optional.
Assemble the cabbage rolls
Take the filling out of the fridge.
Lay a trimmed cabbage leaf on your work surface. Position it so that the thicker side is pointing towards you. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling near the center. Fold the thick side of the cabbage leaf over the filling. Then, fold in the left and right sides. Roll the cabbage leaf away from you to seal in the filling. Repeat until all the cabbage leaves have been filled or until you run out of filling. Optionally, you may secure the cabbage rolls with toothpicks.
Cook the cabbage rolls
Heat up your tomato sauce if you've made it already. Use a pan wide enough to contain all the cabbage rolls snugly in a single layer.
Or start cooking your tomato sauce (get the recipe). If you're not into homemade tomato sauce, use store-bought.
When the tomato sauce is hot, arrange the cabbage rolls in the pan, seam side down, in a single layer.
To prevent the cabbage rolls from opening during cooking, pack them as tightly as you can. AND keep the heat on LOW so that the sauce is barely simmering. The least agitation taking place in the pan during cooking, the less the chance that the cabbage rolls will open up and look ruined.
Cook the cabbage rolls over LOW heat for about 30 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the cabbage rolls and arrange in a bowl.
Spoon the sauce over and around them. Optionally, sprinkle with more chopped parsley.
Serve the cabbage rolls hot. With rice or crusty bread.