Stuffed cabbage is classic Eastern European comfort food. If available, they are so much better if made with fermented cabbage leaves, which can be bought at Eastern European groceries, and add a pleasant acidity to the dish. The fermented leaves (which are essentially sauerkraut which has not been shredded) also cut out the otherwise necessary step of blanching the leaves so that they can be rolled. This recipe is adapted from Robb Walsh’s excellent book Texas Eats, which explores the many cuisines of Texas. (Most non-Texans have no idea how many different groups settled in Texas. For example, Carol’s Slovak grandparents came to the US through the port of Galveston, and lived there a few years before finally settling in southern Indiana.
Here is a picture of the fermented cabbage which I used on this batch. I think I bought it at a Bosnian grocery. Interestingly, the cabbage was prepared in the tiny country of Montenegro.
1 cup long-grain white rice
1 cup boiling water
1-1/2 tsp. salt, divided
1 large fermented cabbage (or a fresh green cabbage)
¼ cup oil (or bacon drippings)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 qt. sauerkraut
1 (46 oz.) can tomato juice
Freshly ground black pepper
Dash of white vinegar (if using fresh cabbage)
Put the rice, boiling water and 1 tsp. of the salt in a small sauce pan. Stir, bring to a boil for a minute, stir again, remove from the heat and let it stand until all the water has been absorbed. Remove the lid and allow to fully cool.
If using a fermented cabbage, separate it into separate leaves. Save any torn or small leaves for lining the pot. (If using a fresh cabbage, fill a large pot two thirds full of water. Bring to a boil. Add the cabbage, submerging it. Remove the pot from the heat, and allow the cabbage to soak in the hot water until the leaves are softened enough to roll, about 10 minutes. Allow the cabbage to cool and separate into leaves.)
In a saute pan, heat the oil to medium hot, and saute the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Put the oil and onion in a large bowl and allow to cool.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Add to the bowl with the onion the cooked rice, the ground beef, the beaten egg, ½ tsp. of salt, and black pepper, and mix until the mixture is uniform.
Line a big pot with the torn or small leaves. Put about ¼ cup of filling on each cabbage leaf and roll up. Put the rolls on a cookie sheet until all are prepared.
Put some of the rolls in the pot to form a layer, and sprinkle on some of the sauerkraut. Continue until all the rolls are in the pan and all of the sauerkraut has been used. Pour the tomato juice to cover the rolls. (It may not be necessary to use all the juice.) Add a dash of vinegar if using fresh cabbage.
Cover the pot and bake for an hour until the filling is fully cooked. Check for doneness by making an incision in one of the rolls and checking that the rice is soft and the meat is cooked.