Something I really enjoy is taking cheap foods and making them look fancy, which is why I really like stuffed veggies. Stuffed cabbage is one of my favorites. My mom never really made stuffed cabbage, but we would often have stuffed cabbage for our school lunches, which I would relish. That was one of their specialties, chewy cabbage leaves in a delicious soupy sweet and sour tomato sauce. I salivate just thinking about them.
When I tried learning how to make stuffed cabbage myself, I learned that most recipes call for tomato juice or V8 or something else of the sort that is expensive round these parts, so I figured out how to make it with just watered down tomato paste and spices. I put together a recipe that is processed food free, with refined sugar free alternatives, and is egg free as well.
But I'll be honest, as much as I love stuffed cabbage, cabbage that hasn't been made into sauerkraut doesn't really agree with me, so I try avoid having too much cabbage. Since I have an abundance of wild greens near me, I like to stuff those instead, reminiscent of stuffed cabbage, and they taste very similar, and are more digestible, not to mention cheaper. The greens I tend to use the most for these are giant mallow leaves, as well as their cousin, hollyhocks, a commonly cultivated but also often wild plant.
I've included all variations in this recipe- with cabbage or with wild greens, with sugar or without, and with rice or with alternatives. Whichever version you decide to go with, you won't be disappointed.
1-2 heads of cabbage or a bunch of mallow or hollyhock leaves
1 cup of sauerkraut (I use homemade sauerkraut, but you can use store bought)
2 cups parboiled rice or quinoa, or grated potatoes or carrots or sweet potatoes
3/4 cup ground flax or 2 eggs
4 1/4 cup ground beef, ground chicken, ground turkey, ground pork, or a mix (roughly 2 pounds of meat)
3/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon honey or sugar or any other sweetener
2 cups tomato paste
5 cups water
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon garlic
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1. If using cabbage, freeze the whole head(s) of cabbage and then defrost, or boil the heads of cabbage. This softens them to make them pliable. If using mallow or hollyhock leaves, pour boiling water over them to soften them first, or freeze them and then defrost. Once prepared, if using cabbage, cut off the thickest part of the rib of the cabbage to make it more flexible, and cut off the stems of the mallow/hollyhocks.
2. Chop the onion for the filling, and cook the rice or quinoa if using. Cook them with just enough water that they are a drop soft but have a decent amount of crunch left in them.
3. Add the rest of the filling ingredients.
4. Stuff the leaves the same way as you would stuffed grape leaves. See this post for a step by step tutorial on how to roll and stuff them. But if you don't mind without the pictures... Lay the leaf, vein side up on a plate, or if using cabbage, vein side down, with the bottom facing you. Place an oval of filling along the bottom edge of the leaf, but not all the way to the sides. Fold the sides over onto the filling, then roll the leaf and filling from the bottom towards the top. Don't fill too tightly or too losely.
5. Place a few slices of raw potatoes along the bottom of a pot so the entire thing is covered.
6. Place the rolled stuffed cabbage, seam side down, along the edges of the pot. Add more and more of them, going in a circle, until the entire edge of the pot is filled with them, and then fill the center. You want it tightly packed so they don't loosen up and come apart. If needed, you can make a second row.
P.S. I know you can see that the pot in the picture is "dirty". I rendered chicken fat in my cast iron pot, and saw no need to take out the bits of chicken skin cracklings before making these stuffed mallow leaves- they just enhance the flavor, and why waste the water when the skin being there doesn't hurt a thing?
7. Mix all the ingredients for the sauce. You can add extra sweetener or lemon if you want, or increase the amount of spices.
8. Place sliced potatoes on top of the stuffed cabbage/greens to hold them down and stop them from floating up. If you have a ceramic plate that fits inside the pot and can be put directly onto the stuffed leaves that is even better. Because I have an oval pot and my plate is round, I put potatoes along the sides and the plate in the middle it worked.
9. Pour the sauce over the stuffed cabbage/greens so the entire thing is covered.
10. Cover, and bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, until the meat is all cooked and the rice/quinoa/carrots/potatoes/sweet potatoes are soft.
11. Serve with sauce. I recommend these over rice or mashed potatoes, but you can certainly have them plain as well.
Variation: I've made a similar dish with rice and red lentils in the filling, without any ground beef, and possibly held together with an egg, but I'm not sure.. I don't have an exact recipe, but it came out superb as well, so feel free to play around if you're vegetarian. (That's the above picture, inside a hollyhock leaf.)
Are you a fan of stuffed cabbage? Are yours sweet and sour? Or more savory? Do you put rice in your? Or do you make yours grain free?
Ever seen/picked/used large mallow? Ever heard of hollyhock leaves? Ever stuff them?
Does this look like a recipe you'd try? If so, which version?
Linking up to Real Food Wednesday and Allergy Free Wednesday