Irma Rombauer’s classic “The Joy of Cooking” is my go-to cookbook. To be more precise, I use “The All New All Purpose: Joy of Cooking” all the time. This edition, published in 1997, updated and expanded the cookbook, while retaining the original formula. As Julia Child said of the cookbook (quoting Rombauer):
Joy was aimed at neither the wealthy nor the poor, [Rombauer] explained, but at the middle masses, who did most of their own cooking. Understanding how important time was around the house, she had concentrated on dishes that were not too fancy and didn’t require hours of preparation.
When I want something unusual, I go to Food Network’s website and pick out a recipe, or I comb through the pages of Paula Wolfert’s The Food of Morocco. But when I want something simple, straightforward and hearty, I go to Rombauer. Recipes for just about everything I can think of are in there. In addition, most are either dairy free, or very easily adapted to become dairy free (by substituting margarine for butter, almond or rice milk for dairy milk, etc.). I have made turkey stuffing, apple pie, chicken pot pie, cranberry relish, and on and on and on.
When I was a kid, my aunt would make stuffed cabbage rolls for us, and we loved them. My mom made them a couple of times too, and hers were just as good (she may have borrowed the recipe from my aunt). I don’t know where my aunt’s recipe came from, but a year ago, when I wanted to make cabbage rolls, I pulled out the Joy of Cooking. The results were decent, and last week, when I wanted to make them again, I returned to the source.
Below is the recipe as it appears in the Joy of Cooking, with my comments in bold (and some illustrative photos to help you along).
STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS
6 to 8 servings [I get 7 servings, or 14 rolls, out of this recipe]
Combine in a large bowl:
1 pound ground beef, chicken or turkey
1 large egg
½ cup seasoned dry breadcrumbs
½ cup white rice [uncooked - I guess she tells you if she wants cooked rice]
½ cup water
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 onion, finely chopped [I used half a large onion]
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and ground pepper to taste
Bring to a rolling boil in a stockpot:
16 cups (4 quarts) water
1-1/2 tablespoons salt
If I went by the order of the instructions of the recipe, I would waste time waiting for the water boil with nothing else to do. Baking recipes frequently tell you to preheat the oven at the beginning of a recipe – in my view, this instruction should be the first thing you read in this recipe. That way, by the time you are finished making your stuffing mix (chopping onions, grating carrot, etc.), the water is nearly boiling and you’re ready to move to the next step in the recipe.
Cut out the core with a small knife, then drop stem side down into the water:
1 head Savoy or other green cabbage (about 2 pounds)
The first time I made this recipe, I used regular green cabbage. The rolls came out bigger, but broke apart easily. I used Savoy cabbage this time, and found that the rolls were smaller, but held together better.
Boil for 5 to 10 minutes and remove the softened outer leaves. Return the cabbage to the simmering water to continue to soften as you begin to fill the leaves. (alternatively, freeze the whole cabbage for 24 hours, then remove and separate the leaves.)
Removing a head of cabbage from boiling water is a delicate operation! And a messy one. I avoided getting scalded, and making a mess, by leaving the cabbage in the water the whole time, and used tongs to remove the outer leaves. I found if I worked carefully, I could pull the leaves off one by one without tearing them. My strategy was to do 4 rolls at a time: pull off 4 leaves, stuff them, stack them on a plate, then pull off the next 4. I turned the heat off under the cabbage at one point to make sure the leaves didn’t get too soft, and turned it back on later.
Trim off the back spine of each leave so it will be supple. With the core end of a leaf near you, hollow side up, place an inch-thick roll of stuffing at the bottom of the leaf, leaving a 1-1/2 inch margin at each side. Fold the right margin over and roll up the leaf loosely – the rice will expand. Tuck the left end into itself, closing the opening. Repeat with the other leaves until all the filling is used. Chop enough of the remaining cabbage leaves to make 1 cup.
This sounds more complicated then it is. Here is a photo to give you an idea of what it looks like as you begin rolling:
When you have all your rolls rolled, you will be very proud to have a nice stack of beautiful green rolls ready for cooking. The last ones, made from the smaller cabbage leaves, may not be as satisfying as some of the others – it gets harder to tuck the edges in and keep the stuffing from spilling out. I had one leaf that tore as I rolled it up, which meant that one of my rolls was a little sad! You can see that one right on the top of the pile in this picture:
Heat in an 8- to 10-quart, heavy pot [I use my All-Clad 6-qt. Stainless Braiser]:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
Add the chopped cabbage along with:
1 medium onion, chopped [I used the second half of my large onion]
Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until golden brown.
Ok, you had me going until the “golden brown” part. Do you really want me to cook cabbage leaves until they are golden brown? Or is it the onion that’s supposed to be brown? Either way, this comment is sketchy. I’d say cooking the onions and cabbage until everything is softening up and glistening is good, maybe 5 minutes. They will cook more later in the tomato sauce, anyway.
½ cup dry white wine
Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Add:
One 28-ounce can plum tomatoes in puree, broken or cut up
1 cup water
½ cup raisins (optional)
¼ to ½ cup packed brown sugar
8 gingersnaps (2 inches across)
Juice of 1 large lemon
2 chunks sour salt, or ½ teaspoon powdered (“Sour salt is citric acid, the same as used in pickling and canning. It can be found in drugstores or in supermarkets that have a section of kosher foods.”) [Sour salt may add something special, but I wimped out and just used regular sea salt]
Bring to a boil. Place the cabbage rolls seam side down in the sauce; if the sauce does not cover the rolls, add a little water.
Don’t freak out if the sauce doesn’t cover the rolls. I added maybe 1/2 a cup of water, so that my rolls were swimming in sauce, but nowhere near to being covered. And yet they turned out superb. I don’t know why they say anything about the sauce covering the rolls, frankly – I think the chances of that happening are slim to none.
Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 1-1/2 hours, shaking the pan every 30 minutes to prevent sticking. Serve hot with:
Sour cream or crème fraiche
I served my rolls plain, since I didn’t have any dairy free sour cream. But I made a point of stopping at the store and getting some Tofutti “Better than Sour Cream” the next day, and ate the leftovers with some of that (see my photo at the top of this post to see rolls with Tofutti dollops). Mmmm!
This recipe takes a few hours to execute, so be aware of that if you undertake it. I started around 7pm, and we didn’t eat until after 10. You can cut down a little bit on the time if you make the stuffing while the water is coming to a boil as I suggested, but it takes a few hours nevertheless. Maybe you could cut down on the time a little more with a helper, if one person peels cabbage leaves while the other one stuffs them, for example. But it is a very satisfying dish, and if you are alone or only cooking for one other person, you are going to have lots of leftovers! And it only takes a minute or two to heat up some cabbage rolls in the microwave.