I had the luxury of spending the weekend with my 87 year-old grandmother, Mary. This woman is the queen of all things cabbage! The daughter of two Russian immigrants, her traditional family recipes include cabbage soup, galuska, creamed cabbage, and our topic of discussion today, the almighty cabbage roll. As the cabbage is simmered for hours next to a delicious mixture of meat and rice, I believe these rolls will pass the “cabbage hater” test for sure! (As an aside, my husband is a fellow cabbage hater, but he likes these rolls. He suggests that it’s the smell of cabbage cooking that’s off-putting for him, but the dish itself tastes good. If possible to have your cabbage haters out of the house while cooking these, that may make a difference. If you are the cooker and the cabbage hater, I hope that the taste of this dish will make it worth your while.)
So a couple of decades ago, I decided to preserve some of my grandmother’s recipes. As nothing was ever written down before, I shadowed her as she cooked and attempted to recreate the magic in written form. The result was Nana’s Amazing Cookbook.
The cabbage roll recipe as she makes it takes some time. It was a nice Saturday afternoon visiting and reminiscing with Nan, but not something I could fit into my schedule everytime a cabbage came across my sharebox. I was of course seeking short cuts along the way, and have a few ideas I’ll test at a later date (and I’ll be sure to report back to you). However, for the purposes of the blog, we went “old school” and took our time. I am grateful that we did!
As we prepped the cabbage, we hit one snag along the way. “Where are the cans of tomato soup?” she said. I proudly pull out my jars of canned Springdell tomatoes and say “we don’t need them, we have these!” Let me just say I came quite close to being sent to the store. I was puzzled… “But what about the olden days? Before tomato soup cans? Isn’t this how they were originally made?” It turns out my great grandmother also used the tomato soup from a can to make her rolls. Oops. At any rate, we settled on using my tomatoes and a small squirt of ketchup to mimic the “sweetness” we’d be missing from the tomato soup can.
Below is the recipe exactly how it was written many years ago in Nana’s Amazing Cookbook. As you can see, there are liberties that can be taken (both the soup and home canned tomato options are good, Nan even throws a carrot or two between the cabbage rolls sometimes “just because”). Have fun with it, keep us posted, and we hope you enjoy it!
The rest of that cabbage can be used in Galuska, a dish featuring sautéed cabbage with egg noodles. I’ll post the recipe for that soon as well.
Nana’s Cabbage Rolls
The recipe exactly as it was written in Nana’s Amazing Cookbook, shared with permissions.
- 1 head of cabbage, medium
- 2 parts ground hamburg, 1 part ground pork (roughly, we did about 3/4 pound of pork and about 1 1/2 pounds hamburg)
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 eggs
- sprinkle of bread crumbs (optional, we left these out)
- 1 cup cooked rice
- salt and pepper to taste
- sliced carrots cut lengthwise (optional)
- 3 cans of tomato soup (editor’s note- or apparently a quart or so of canned tomatoes with a squirt of ketchup)
- splash of milk
- margarine (editor’s note- let’s face it, the 80s are over, let’s get back to tried and true butter!)
- For the filling, mix meats, onion, eggs, milk, rice, bread crumbs (if using) and salt and pepper until the texture of meat loaf is achieved (sticking to hands).
- To prepare the cabbage, core the cabbage, take off raw outer leaves or later.
- In a large kettle of boiling water (with a sprinkle of salt) place the cabbage in the water head down, core facing up.
- Bring the cabbage to a boil (medium heat). Turn the cabbage several times. Start parting the leaves they must be flexible. Start peeling off the leaves, put them on the plate. When getting to the core, if any body is left to the core, you can keep these to line the bottom of the pan.
- Roll the rolls “like a cigar” (editor’s note, about 2-3 tbsp or so in each). Use the thicker raw outer leaves to line the bottom of the pan.
- Layer the kettle as follows: A little tomato soup, pinch of water, raw cabbage, little margarine, least flexible-leaved rolls, soup, rolls, soup, rolls, soup, and top with a little margarine. Cook low to medium heat simmering for 2 hours or so until meat is cooked and cabbage is tender. Check from time to time along the way.
Adapted from Nana’s Amazing Cookbook