Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tried and Tweaked Thursday: Cabbage Rolls with Nuts and Bulgur

 St. Pat's day is a huge holiday in Buffland, even for those of us that are not Irish in any way, or Catholic. With shamrocks and green beer flowing over the city like a keg of liquid grass, a parade that is never too hampered by March rains, and nearly every bar and restaurant in town serving some specialty for the day, it's a wonder that we ever make it past March at all.

 But we do, and there is rarely a shortage of cabbage afterwards, either. I'd like to recommend a dish for using that head of ruffled green you may have lurking in the crisper-- something non-Irish and utterly non-traditional for this holiday weekend, but good to eat anytime: cabbage rolls. Besides, for anyone named Kozlowski, like myself, a good cabbage roll recipe is a must.

 Unlike most cabbage roll recipes, these do not feature rice, and are filling without being heavy. I first came across them in a lovely book I ordered from a cookbook club, back before I knew what I was doing in the kitchen: it was Susan Costner's Good Friends, Great Dinners. The pictures are marvelous, the menus seasonal and not too fussy, the recipes well written and the food-- perfect. It was a bit of a steep learning curve for me, then, if only because I had so little training, but this magnificently sensual and evocative book gave me some real training as I cooked my way through it. I've seen other grain-filled rolls since, but none as good, and simply springlike, as these.

 Good Friends is by no means a vegetarian volume, but it features many recipes that are veg-based and suitable, and an entire menu for each season that is deliberately vegetarian, as well. From one of those menus came this recipe, which naturally I haven't left as is, due to the fact that I couldn't make the called-for tomato coulis the first time out. I've shared it in slightly different form before, but here's how I make it nowadays:

 By Susan Costner, adapted by Mari
(12 rolls)

1 Lrg head cabbage, regular or Savoy, (about 3 lbs.) tough outer leaves removed
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
2 celery stalks (with leaves if they're nice), finely chopped
1 lb fresh mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 C bulgur, cooked according to package directions
1/4 C finely chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 C walnuts, toasted for 10 minutes at 350 F, then coarsely chopped
Tomato-Caraway Sauce (recipe follows)
garnish: dill or fennel sprigs

Cut out the deep core of the cabbage and discard. Bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer. Add the cabbage and cook until you can easily remove the largest leaves, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the water and drain well. Carefully separate 12 of the largest leaves-- if not soft enough to roll easily, return them to the pot and cook until just tender. Cut the tough central rib of each leaf. Pat dry and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large skillet, add the garlic, scallions and celery and saute just until tender. Add the mushrooms and saute over medium heat, stirring frequently, until all the liquid has evaporated from the mushrooms. Add the cooked bulgur, parsley, dill, and salt and pepper. Stir in the walnuts and heat thoroughly.

Place the cabbage leaves, curly side up, on a clean flat surface. Fill each with 3-4 Tbsp of the stuffing. Fold up the bottom edge, fold in both sides, and roll up towards the top edge. Place seam-side down in one layer in a large casserole.

Add the sauce and simmer gently for 30 minutes, or cover and heat in a medium oven, about 350 degrees F. Heat just until warmed through and a little bubbly. Serve the stuffed cabbage, whole or sliced, with some of the sauce, and garnished with dill sprigs.


1/2 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 C coarsely chopped, canned drained plum tomatoes
1/4 tsp sugar
1 bay leaf
1 tsp caraway seeds
dash of dried dill, rubbed between fingers
1 1-inch piece fresh or dried orange peel
1 Tbsp tomato paste
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a saucepan, saute the garlic and onion in the butter and oil until tender but not brown. Stir in the tomatoes, sugar, bay leaf, caraway and orange peel. Cook, covered, over low heat for 10 minutes; then uncover, add tomato paste, and cook for 15-20 minutes more, till sauce is slightly thickened. Discard bay leaf and peel. (For coulis, force through a food mill.) Correct seasoning with salt and pepper.

***Mari's notes-- You can, of course, use your own light tomato sauce. These could easily go vegan using EVOO instead of butter, and a vegan sweetener. Or you can cheese them up with a parmesan topping. Serving size is two, but one is usually enough for us, with rolls* or a side veg, or both.

 *I like to serve Irish Soda Bread Muffins, from Recipegirl, using a half cup of whole wheat flour subbing for an equal amount of regular. I've also made them subbing a half cup of oatmeal, and I often use dried cranberries for the fruit.

 Here's to cabbage, and good beer, and a happy St. Pat's day!

 Peace, Mari

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