My Mom used to make delicious cabbage rolls. They were the perfect comfort food on a cold day, steaming hot from the oven, covered in a delicious sauce. I remember her showing me how to make them one wintery afternoon well over twenty years ago, but for some reason I never attempted to make them on my own. I still haven’t actually attempted my Mom’s meaty version, but a few days ago I used what I remembered her teaching me to create a vegetarian cabbage rolls recipe. It was so successful I will be attempting a version closer to hers very soon, but for the moment – and perfectly appropriate for Meatless Monday – here are my Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls.
This recipe makes about a dozen cabbage rolls, and is easily doubled. Three or four cabbage rolls will usually fill up even the hungriest of diners, so that should serve 3 to 4 people. My Mom used to make a double recipe, serve the first batch the first night, and then keep the second in the fridge to reheat over the next couple of days. Cabbage rolls require some time and patience, but they are oh so worth it!
For the cabbage rolls:
1 large, leafy cabbage (Savoy works well)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use mild olive oil)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 red pepper, finely chopped
½ cup mushrooms, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped or grated
½ cup couscous
¾ cup vegetable stock
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried parsley
a pinch or two of freshly ground pepper
For the tomato sauce:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3½ cups passata (seived tomatoes or plain tomato sauce)
¼ cup basil pesto
1 teaspoon dried oregano or Italian seasoning blend
salt and pepper to taste
You will need a medium saucepan for the tomato sauce, and a large frying pan with a lid to prepare the filling. You will also need a large saucepan or steamer to steam the cabbage leaves. For the actual cabbage rolls you will need one or two casserole dishes (preferably square or rectangular) that you can fit the rolls in snugly.
Heat the two tablespoons of oil in the large frying pan and sauté the onion for the filling over low heat, stirring occasionally.
Heat the one tablespoon of oil in the medium saucepan over low heat and sauté the onion for the tomato sauce, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, wash the outside of the cabbage and trim the tough outer leaves, as well as some of the core away. Gently cut the cabbage leaves at the ribs, just where they meet the core and carefully peel them away from the cabbage, keeping them whole. You will need about twelve intact cabbage leaves. (Keep any torn leaves for sautéd cabbage another day.) Set the intact leaves aside.
Add the finely chopped mushrooms, peppers and garlic for the filling to the onion in the large frying pan. Cook until the vegetables begin to soften, stirring occasionally.
Add the passata or tomato sauce to the onion in the medium saucepan, along with the pesto and seasonings. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, steam the cabbage leaves for 2 to 3 minutes each, just until they are soft and pliable enough to roll. You may need to do this in batches, setting the steamed leaves aside carefully on a plate. (They get very hot so do be careful.)
When the vegetables in the large frying pan are soft, stir in the couscous, vegetable stock and spices. Pop the lid on and remove from the heat. Allow to sit for five minutes. When five minutes is up, fork through the couscous and vegetable mixture.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C or 180°C for a fan oven).
Now, to assemble the cabbage rolls. Place a cabbage leaf on a bread board, and spoon about 2 tablespoons of the filling mixture into the centre. Wrap the edges of the cabbage leaf round the filling and form into a roll. Place seam side down in a casserole dish. Repeat until you have used all the cabbage leaves. Be sure to tuck the cabbage rolls snugly in the casseroles. They should look something like this.
Carefully pour the tomato sauce over the cabbage rolls, covering them completely, but leaving some room at the top of the dish for the sauce to bubble up a bit. If you are using two or more pans, divide the sauce between them.
Cover the casserole(s) with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until they are thoroughly warmed through and the sauce is starting to bubble. Remove the aluminum foil and bake for 5 to 10 minutes more to finish off.
This dish is lovely served with warmed rolls and fresh butter.