THE WASHINGTON POST – Stuffed cabbage is like the hand-knitted blanket of food for me: a cozy comfort that holds the essence of my grandmother’s love. It’s not surprising I’ve been craving it lately. But I haven’t gotten around to making her recipe because it has felt like more of a project than I can motivate myself for.
The main sticking point has been the step of blanching the head of cabbage to make the leaves pliable enough to use as wrappers. It’s not difficult, really, and I even find it fun once I get into it. But still, it has been a barrier, so I found a work-around with this recipe.
This dish has all the essential flavours and textures of grandma’s beloved dish: tender cabbage and a blend of ground beef and rice, smothered in a sweet-tangy, raisin-studded tomato sauce. But here, the meat-and-rice combination is reborn in the form of meatballs, and the cabbage is chopped and sautéed, so there is no blanching or stuffing needed. And, rather than being left with a kitchen full of pans to wash, everything happens in one pot.
While I was tampering with tradition, I made a couple of small ingredient tweaks, too: swapping in brown rice in place of white (I saved another step by using frozen cooked rice), using no-salt-added tomato sauce, and adding maple syrup (more sparingly) instead of white sugar for a deeper flavoured sweetness in a minimally processed way.
The final dish hit the spot exactly the way I needed it to, providing all the nourishing comfort I have been yearning for without demanding much effort at all.
UN-STUFFED CABBAGE MEATBALLS IN SWEET-AND-SOUR TOMATO SAUCE
Active time: 35 minutes | Total time: One hour five minutes
This dish delivers the essential flavours and textures of grandma’s stuffed cabbage in a weeknight friendly, one-pot way. The classic meat and rice “stuffing” takes the form of meatballs here – made more healthful with brown rice – and the cabbage is simply chopped and sauteed in the same pot the meatballs are browned in. It’s all simmered in a sweet-tangy, raisin-studded tomato sauce, giving you all the comfort of the Old World recipe, with a fraction of the effort.
One medium yellow onion (about six ounces)
One pound lean ground beef
One cup cooked brown rice (fresh cooked, leftover or thawed from frozen; from about one-third cup uncooked)
One large egg, lightly beaten
Two cloves garlic, minced and divided
Three-quarter teaspoon kosher salt, divided
Half teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
Two tablespoons olive oil
One medium head green cabbage (1.5 to two pounds), cored and chopped
Two (15-ounce) cans no-salt-added tomato sauce
Half cup cider vinegar
One-third cup maple syrup
One-third cup (scant two ounces) raisins
Fresh flat-leaf leaves, for garnish (optional)
Grate the onion on the large holes of a box grater until you have three tablespoons. Dice the remaining onion.In a large bowl, combine the beef, rice, egg, half of the garlic, the grated onion, and a quarter teaspoon each of the salt and pepper.
Gently mix with your hands until just combined; do not overmix. Roll the mixture into 12 meatballs that are slightly larger than a golf ball.
In a Dutch oven or large, heavy pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the meatballs and cook, gently turning the meatballs until browned all around, four to five minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a plate.
Reduce the heat to medium, then add the diced onion and the cabbage to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage softens a bit, about five minutes. Add the remaining garlic and cook, stirring, until aromatic, about one minute.
Add the tomato sauce, vinegar, maple syrup, raisins and the remaining half teaspoon salt and quarter teaspoon pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the cabbage softens, about 15 minutes. Remove the lid and return the meatballs to the pot.