Stuffed vegetable dishes are traditionally served on Sukkot—often in make-ahead, one-pot casseroles that can be served outside in the sukkah. For me, stuffed cabbage is the ultimate comfort food. Slightly sweet and slightly sour, it has been a Jewish treat since ancient times when Jews from Baghdad started stuffing Swiss chard and beet greens with rice, meat, and onions, and cooked them with beets, a bit of tamarind, and some lemon in a dish called mahshi. As Jewish merchants traveled around the world, they brought their recipes along, varying the stuffed vegetables by region. In Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East, they stuffed grape leaves, carrots, beets, onions, even figs; in Turkey they used zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers; in Hungary and Eastern Europe, they stuffed cabbage. Some, like Hungarians, disliked the sweet and sour taste and made theirs with cabbage and sauerkraut.
This recipe for stuffed cabbage is a distinctly American variation with ketchup, tomatoes, brown sugar, and lemon juice. It is also American to freeze the cabbage and then defrost it, a trick I learned long ago that makes this dish a snap to prepare. And, like many good Jewish dishes, it tastes better the next day.
Sweet-and-Sour Stuffed Cabbage
1 head of cabbage, frozen, about 2 pounds
2 pounds ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 large eggs
1/3 cup ketchup
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 35-ounce can chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and pepper
2 large onions, sliced
1/2 cup ketchup
2 lemons, juiced
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup raisins
1 tablespoon oil
1. Defrost the cabbage the night before cooking. When it is completely defrosted, separate the leaves.
2. To make the filling: In a large bowl, mix the ground beef, salt, pepper, eggs, rice, ketchup, and chopped onion; set aside.
3. Place 1 heaping tablespoon of the filling on each cabbage leaf. Tuck the ends in and roll up like a big cigar. Place them, open side down, in a 6-quart casserole.
4. To make the sauce: Cook onions with oil in a saucepan for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper to taste, onions, ketchup, the juice of one lemon, brown sugar, and raisins. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 15 minutes, covered.
5. Pour the sauce over the cabbage. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for one hour and a half, and then uncover for an additional half hour, adding water if too dry. Taste for sweet and sour and, if needed, squeeze the juice of the remaining lemon over all.
6. Turn the stuffed cabbage rolls onto a serving platter, spoon the sauce over, and serve. This is even more delicious the second day.
Yield: about 24 rolls
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