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Cynthia Stone: Finally fall

Cabbage rolls can feed a crowd, and if you have more than you need, they freeze well.
Cabbage rolls can feed a crowd, and if you have more than you need, they freeze well.

Unless you’re an ardent skier or snowmobiler you probably dread the cold that’s coming. I do.

Then I think about all the beautiful root vegetables sweetening up and getting ready for my pot. The cabbages looked particularly inviting last week so I bought two. I had no plans to cook for a crowd and eating that much cabbage is possibly lethal, or at least antisocial.

Lamb Cabbage Rolls
No dish I can think of freezes as well as cabbage rolls, so as I begin my fall campaign to get instant meals in the freezer, there is no better way to use up all that cabbage I couldn’t resist buying.

Lamb is usually a luxury ingredient but frozen ground gets you the flavour without emptying your wallet. You can make these with all lamb but adding some ground beef cuts through the richness and improves the texture.

This recipe feeds a crowd on Saturday night or puts about 12 single servings in your freezer.

1 large or 2 small heads cabbage
1 cup long-grain rice
1 large onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 lbs. ground lamb
1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 large bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided

Sauce:

1 large stalk celery, finely chopped
1 large onion, diced
1 each butter and tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 fresh or 4 dried bay leaves
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim away the outermost layer of leaves from the cabbage—they are usually gnarled and tough, anyway. With a sharp paring knife trim out as much of the core as you can. Place the cabbage, core up, in a large pot and cover with cold water. Add a spoonful of salt, cover and bring to a boil. In about 5 minutes pull away the outside layer or two of leaves—it will be easier if you cut into the core to loosen them up. Continue to simmer and remove the layers of leaves until you get right to the centre. Set leaves aside to drain and cool.

Cook rice according to package instructions but reduce the cooking time by 3 minutes. Drain if necessary and cool.

Combine rice, onion, garlic, lamb, beef, salt, pepper and thyme. Cut the big stalks off the parsley and set aside. Chop the leaves and add about half to the rice and meat mixture. Reserve the rest for serving.Gently mix everything together until well combined. Now you absolutely must taste this because it probably needs a little more salt. I know it’s a nuisance but form a small patty and fry in a non-stick pan until cooked through. It should taste delicious. If you need more salt add a scant half teaspoon at a time and repeat the tasting. If it’s any comfort you’re going to use the pan in the next step.

For the sauce, fry celery and onion in butter and oil until soft and starting to brown. Add garlic and cook another minute.
Squeeze or mash the tomatoes and add to pan along with broth, thyme, bay leaves, sugar, salt and pepper. Nestle in the reserved parsley stalks and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Time to roll. Trim away as much of the vein as possible in each cabbage leaf. Lay flat with the base towards you, inside part of leaf facing up. For large leaves you need about ¼ cup of filling; as they get smaller, reduce accordingly. Lay filling close to base. Roll twice then tuck in the ends, left and right. Roll once or twice more, until filling is enclosed. Squeeze the roll firmly but gently. If you run out of cabbage make porcupine meatballs to nestle into the pot. You don’t have to tell anyone.

Place those nasty outside leaves in a large roaster. Pour over a couple of spoonfuls of sauce. Layer in the cabbage rolls and pour remaining sauce over the top. Bake at 325 degrees F 2 hours or until tender. Lift out the cabbage rolls, remove the leaves in the bottom and stir remaining parsley into sauce. If it isn’t thick enough, boil for a few minutes. Discard thyme and parsley stalks, of course.

Cabbage and Potato Fry with Mustard Cream Sauce

Cabbage and Potato Fry with Mustard Cream Sauce

The cabbages I bought were on the small side but so tightly packed I couldn’t roll the inside leaves. That was the only excuse I needed to try a new idea to use the beautiful pale green sweet centres.

Although this recipe was an idea to use up cabbage it’s now in my permanent favourites file. It goes perfectly with a steak, chop, chicken leg or piece of fish.

This amount serves 4 to 6.
1-1/2 lbs. new potatoes
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 cups cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp. minced fresh rosemary
2 tbsp. Dijon or spicy mustard
1/3 cup whipping cream
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

Place potatoes in a bowl with a spoonful of water. Poke them with a fork, cover with plastic wrap and microwave until nearly cooked but not quite. Cool enough to handle and cut into ½-inch chunks.
Heat oil in a large pan and add potatoes, cabbage and onion and fry 10 minutes on medium-low. You want lots of brown bits and the cabbage tender but still with some chew. Add garlic, salt, pepper and rosemary and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in mustard and cream and heat through gently. Add parsley and serve.

Cynthia Stone is an information manager and writer in St. John’s. E-mail questions to her at cynthia.stone@nf.sympatico.ca.

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