Thai-style pork and shrimp stuffed cabbage rolls simmered in bone broth flavored with lemongrass, garlic, ginger, chilies and freshly squeezed lime juice. Delightfully refreshing! And filling too.
Yep, there is more than one way to cook and serve cabbage rolls. I grew up thinking that cabbage rolls must always be braised in tomato sauce but I was so wrong. It appears that cabbage rolls appear in so many cuisines “stretching from Europe and the Middle East to the jungles of the Amazon” and there are countless ways to cook them.
In Asia, there are at least two versions of cabbage rolls and both are soup dishes. In Vietnam, the stuffed cabbage leaves are simmered in water to make the soup (although I prefer to simmer them in broth). In Thailand, the broth is subtly sour and generously seasoned with herbs and spices. Some recipes use tamarind to give the soup its sour notes; others opt for lime juice.
When I was prepping the cabbage rolls earlier, I have to admit that I was torn between tamarind paste and lime juice. It wasn’t a question of convenience. There’s a jar of tamarind paste in the fridge and there are kaffir limes galore in the garden. It was a question of flavor and color. Adding tamarind paste to the broth would have turned it brownish; lime juice wouldn’t change its color at all. In the end, I chose freshly squeezed lime juice over tamarind paste from a jar. Nothing compares with fresh. NOTHING.
Does it have to be kaffir lime juice? Won’t regular lime juice work? Sure, it will. The only reason I used kaffir lime juice is because we have plenty of kaffir limes in the garden. It rained last night again and, before cooking today, I was literally picking fruits from the ground underneath the tree. But, yes, juice squeezed from regular limes will do the trick just as wonderfully. Even lemon juice will work although the flavor and aroma will not be the same.
Now, about the cabbage rolls… Although the filling for these cabbage rolls is a little bit different from what I used with the cabbage rolls in tomato sauce recipe, the procedure for softening, trimming and filling the cabbage leaves is the same EXCEPT for one thing. In this recipe, scallions are softened in hot water and used to tie the meat-filled parcels. You might think it’s just eye candy but it isn’t. Scallions are very tasty and they do add another layer of flavor and aroma to the soup.
I used pork bone broth for my Thai cabbage rolls soup but chicken bone broth will be just as good.
- 400 grams ground pork with at least 20% fat
- 100 grams shrimps shelled, deveined and finely chopped
- 1/4 cup finely chopped carrot
- 1/4 cup finely sliced scallions
- 1/4 cup finely chopped shiitake mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 12 large cabbage leaves
- 12 whole scallions
- 6 cups bone broth
- 2 stalks lemongrass (white and light green portion of the stalks only), finely sliced
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and lightly pounded
- 1 one-inch knob ginger peeled and sliced
- 2 bird's eye chilies finely sliced
- juice from one to 2 limes (I used kaffir limes)
- patis (fish sauce) to taste
- cilantro to garnish
- lime wedges to garnish
Make the filling
- In a bowl, mix together the ground pork, shrimps, chopped carrot, scallions and shiitake mushrooms with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Prepare the cabbage and scallions
- For the cabbage, follow the instructions in the other cabbage rolls recipe.
- Plunge the whole scallions in boiling water for a minute then hang on the edge of the strainer where you're draining the cabbage.
Assemble the cabbage rolls
- 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.
- Take one piece of softened scallion and use it to tie the cabbage roll like a parcel.
- Repeat until all the cabbage leaves have been filled and tied.
- Pour the bone broth into a pot. Add the lemongrass, garlic, ginger and chilies. Bring to the boil. Taste. Add fish sauce, as needed.
- Drop the cabbage rolls one by one into the hot broth.
- When the broth begins to simmer, set the heat to low, cover the pan and cook the cabbage rolls in the bone broth for 20 to 30 minutes.
- Scoop out the cabbage rolls and place in soup bowls.
- Strain the broth. Stir in the lime juice. Taste and add more fish sauce, if needed.
- Pour hot broth over the cabbage rolls.
- Garnish the Thai cabbage rolls soup with torn cilantro and lime wedges before serving.
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