16 January 2011

Happy Birthday Edna: Cabbage Rolls

Regular readers know I take January 15 aside to remember my friend Edna Staebler, a remarkable person in my life. She was kind and sweet with an effervecent charm. Although best known in foodish circles as a cookbook writer, she also wrote about the lives of regular Canadians.

When I trawled through her recipes in search of this year's Day That Really Schmecks tribute I stumbled upon Pam Noonan's Cabbage Rolls in
More Food That Really Schmecks.

Cabbage rolls are ubiquitous here in Waterloo Region. Meat and rice-filled parcelled up in cabbage leaves, served usually with a sweetish tomato sauce or a more savoury brown sauce is common place here, thanks to our German and Mennonite roots. Local diners and country restaurants feature them and the festhallen prepare thousands of them during Oktoberfest.

What struck me about the recipe was its provenance. According to its précis the recipe was born of Pam's fatigue of rice-heavy, moisture-light cabbage rolls. When creating her own, she drew upon her Trinidadian roots, adding a touch of heat and earthiness to the mix.

'How Canadian,' I thought.

This is a land of immigrants. They bring flavours, techniques and ideas with them and adapt what they know to what they have on hand. Others taste and experience and adapt further to better suit their palates and ideas.

That is what happened to the humble cabbage roll.

In its original form, the recipe is prepared via 10 hours in the slow cooker. I procrastinate and am impatient. Since ten hours is more than eight hours too long, one of the changes I made was to snug everything into my 6.5L Dutch oven and pop it into a medium oven for an hour and a half, letting the the pot blurble, uncovered for the last 30 minutes so the sauce can caramelise.

As I've never made cabbage rolls before I stuck pretty close to the original recipe, changing a couple of things here and there to reflect what I had on hand and to better suit my palate. The next time I make them--and I will as I've a few ideas I want to play with--I will make more changes, perhaps reflecting some of my own culinary influences and ideas. Nevertheless, the cabbage rolls were tasty--the meat filling was firm and the sauce was a nice blend of savoury and sweet.

Served with mashed sweet potato and a vinegary cucumber and red onion salad (as suggested in one of my queries), it was a meal Edna would have been happy to eat.

If you are interested in Edna's books, please visit my Amazon estore.

Cabbage Rolls
adapted from Edna Staebler's Pam Noonan's Cabbage Rolls from More Food That Really Schmecks

Yield: 30 cabbage rolls.

For the sauce
1 796ml (28oz) can diced tomatoes
125ml (0.5c) tomato ketchup
60ml (0.25c) vinegar
60ml (0.25c) prepared mustard
60ml (0.25c) barbecue sauce
100g (0.5c) brown sugar
1dspn (2tsp) tabasco sauce
0.5tsp garlic powder
1tsp onion powder
0.5tsp black pepper

For the meat filling
1tsp black pepper
0.5tsp salt
0.25tsp ground cumin
0.5tsp dried tarragon
a spoon or two of favourless oil, for frying
1 onion, cut in a small dice
2 celery ribs, cut in a small dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1.5kg (3lbs) lean ground beef
0.5c rice, parboiled
2 eggs, beaten
1tsp tabasco sauce
1.5Tbsp soy sauce

30 Savoy or green cabbage leaves (two heads, depending upon the cabbage's size)

For the sauce:
Bring all the sauce ingredients to a boil, then turn the hob down and simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste and balance flavours to taste. Turn off heat and let cool. Purée mixuture until smooth. Set aside.

For the cabbage leaves:
Set a pot of water to boil. Remove thickest part of the main stem with a few quick slices with a sharp knife. Fill a mixing bowl with iced water, to about the half-fill mark. Blanch the leaves, in batches, by boiling them for a minut or two, or until the leaves wilt, then plunge the leaves into the ice water to stop cooking. When all the leaves are done.
drain in a collander and set aside.

For the meat filling:
Mix the salt, pepper, cumin and taragon. Divid mixture in half and set aside.

Add celery, onions and oil to a cold pan and turn the heat to medium. Sauté, occasionally stirring until the onions are transluscent. Add the garlic and half the spice mix and stir until the garlic releases its scent. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

In a bowl, add the cooled onion mixture to the meat, as well as the rice, eggs, tobasco sauce, soy sauce, remaining spices and half a cup of the tomato sauce. Mix well.

To check seasoning, heat the pan and add about a half teaspoon of the meat mixture to the pan and fry until cooked. Taste with a bit of sauce and balance flavours to taste.

To Asssemble:

Preheat oven to 350F/180C.

Bundle two tablespoons' worth of filling into each leaf.

Spread a couple of spoons' worth of sauce onto the bottom of a 6-7L Dutch oven. Snug one layer of cabbage rolls into the pot. Sparingly spoon sauce over the cabbage rolls, then fit the next layer of rolls on top and spoon sauce again. Continue until all the cabbage rolls are in the pot and pour the rest of the sauce over the top.

Lid the pot and place in the preheated oven for an hour. Remove the lid and return to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes (90 minutes cooking time in total).


I'm a quill for hire!


Cakelaw said...

These sound very good, but I am with you on the cooking time. I have had Jewish cabbage rolls from Glicks and liked them, so I should bear these in mind if I decide to make my own.

coco cooks said...

First of all Gorgeous new layout. Well done. I may give this recipe a try as this reminds me of something CS's mother would make. Very comforting type of food.

jasmine said...

Cakelaw! I haven't seen you in ages! Thanks for visiting. It's a good all-beef recipe, but I'd suggest removing about a half cup of the meat and adding the equal volume of parboiled rice to lighten it up.

Glamah: Thanks so much--the old look was pretty much the same for five years and needed freshening up. It makes sense that it reminds you of something she would make, given the source of Edna's recipe.


kellypea said...

Ten hours?!? Oh my goodness :) Looks like the savoy cabbage went well with this version. Makes me want them all over again.

Anonymous said...

Yes they certainly look worth a try. I a big fan of cabbage rolls. They are good food.