Steamy and packed with a little torpedo of rice and meat, these Holubtsi (read Cabbage Rolls) were a bowl of sweet and savory. Cabbage rolls don't look like much, but they are these wonderful little wrapped packets of wonderful comfort. They involve a concentrated bit of flurried preparation in the kitchen and then ... they get popped in the oven to smell up the place with the best homey aroma! Served piping hot with a cold dollop of dilled sour cream, you will be wishing you had an old kerchiefed Mamushka living with you to tweek your cheek, pour you a nip of vodka, slap a loaf of crusty bread down and holler for you to get to the table.
So. This dish starts with that rich red tomato sauce that you saw in that first photo. The sauce looks deceiving, though. It's actually chock full of grated carrot, minced onion, dry white wine, a bit of sugar, AND oh yes, tomatoes and tomato paste. Simmered for a short while, it develops a nice sweet character that gets better when you nestle in the cabbage rolls and dot the rest of the filling ingredients down around them and into the sauce. After a slow bake, the sauce improves even more in flavour - must be the cabbage, meat, and currant juices that add their three cents.
My meat and rice filling consists of steamed rice, ground pork sausage, ground venison, onions, currants, salt and plenty of black pepper. While the rice is steaming, boil water in a big pan and blanch the cabbage leaves. Mix up the filling. Then, the 'origami' begins.
Once the rolls are rolled and tucked onto a bed of the simmered tomato sauce, all one needs to do is slow bake them for about 40 minutes and chop some dill to add to a small bowl of sour cream. Chill the sour cream well, have a bowl ready for the Holubtsi and a crust of bread for mopping up the tomato sauce. Satisfying, to say the least!
Mamushka's Cabbage Rolls
Serves 6 for supper or 2 for supper and leftovers
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 medium onions, minced and divided
2 small carrots, peeled and grated
1 tsp. sugar
1 bay leaf
1/4 c. dry white wine
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1- 14.5 oz canned chopped tomatoes in their juices
- a scant can of water - rinse out the tomato can
a knob of butter
1 medium sized Savoy cabbage - 12 perfect leaves separated
8 oz. ground beef (venison)
8 oz. ground pork (sweet sausage)
1 c. cooked rice
1/3 c. barberries (currants, because whose got barberries handy?)
1 handful fresh dill, stemmed and chopped
1/2 c. sour cream
Making the Dish:
1. Make a small batch of steamed rice and set it aside to cool when it has steamed plump.
2. Heat the oil in a small sauce pan and add the grated carrots and half the onions. Sauté until softened. Add the tomato paste and mix to coat the vegetables and begin to cook the tomato paste.
3. Add the dry white wine, bay leaf, sugar and stir things well. Add the water, stir well. Lower the heat to a simmer. Cover partially and let simmer for a half hour, stirring now and then to keep things from sticking and adding a knob of butter to smooth things out. Optional: Use an immersion blender towards the end of the simmer time to break up the tomato chunks a bit and make the sauce a bit thicker ( but not too smooth!).
4. Meanwhile, boil some water in a big pot. Choose 12 perfect leaves. Rinse them clean and drop them into the boiling water to blanche for 2 minutes. Drain the cabbage water and refresh the cabbage leaves with cool water. Set aside.
5. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Place half the simmered sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish.
6. Mix the meats, the rice measure, the currants, and salt and black pepper in a bowl. Have ready once you've drained the cabbage water.
7. Place a blanched cabbage leaf on a plate. Cut the tough vein from the lower section of the leaf.
Place a heaping tablespoon of the rice/meat mix on the center of the leaf. Fold the trimmed lower edges up and over the torpedo of filling. Bring the outer edges inward and roll toward the top crinkled edge of the cabbage leaf. Place seam side down on the bed of tomato sauce and repeat with the rest of the cabbage leaves. Nestle any remaining filling in around the cabbage rolls. Top with the rest of the sauce (remove the bay leaf).
8. Cook uncovered in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes. The sauce will thicken and the house will smell terrific!
9. Warm a loaf of crusty bread, pour a small shot of good vodka, bring out the dilled sour cream and enjoy!