Stuffed vegetables are ubiquitous across Jewish cuisine. On a practical level, they help stretch expensive ingredients, like meat, to feed a family. On a symbolic level, stuffed foods are commonly served on Sukkot, when the themes of harvest and abundance are at the forefront. In Ashkenazi cuisine, stuffed cabbage served in a sweet and sour sauce is likely the best-known (and best-loved) filled vegetable.
In 20th-century America, some cooks began to add a can of jellied cranberry sauce to the tomato base. While it may seem unusual, the cranberries lent a welcome tang and color to the dish. And since cranberries are indigenous to North America, it was a nice (if unintended) way to help the European dish settle into its new surroundings. This version of the recipe nods to these home cooks’ ingenuity, incorporating fresh or frozen whole cranberries instead of the canned variety.
Reprinted from Little Book of Jewish Feasts by Leah Koenig with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018
- Fill a large pot halfway with water, set over high heat, and bring to a boil. Use a sharp knife to cut out the cabbage’s core, as deep as you can go. When the water is boiling, carefully drop in the head of cabbage, core-side down, and cover the pot tightly with a lid. Boil the cabbage for 10 minutes, then carefully transfer it to a cutting board. Using a pair of tongs, carefully detach as many outer leaves as possible. When you cannot easily remove more leaves, return the cabbage to the water and boil for 10 minutes more. Repeat the process until you have 18 soft, pliable cabbage leaves. Use a sharp knife to trim off the bottom of each cabbage leaf’s tough, inner rib (the leaves should roll easily) and set aside.
- Meanwhile, fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and set over high heat. When the water is boiling, turn the heat to medium, stir in the rice, and cook for 15 minutes; drain and set aside. (The rice should be about halfway cooked.)
- In another medium saucepan, stir together the cranberries, brown sugar, and vinegar and set over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally and mashing the cranberries with a potato masher or the back of a spoon, until the fruit is soft and has released its juice, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and 1 tsp of salt. Allow the mixture to come to a boil, then remove from heat. Taste and add more salt, if desired.
- Add the ground beef, rice, egg, grated onion, carrot, 1 tsp of salt, and a generous amount of pepper to a large bowl. Use your hands to combine the mixture.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F [180°C]. Lightly grease the bottom of a large Dutch oven or deep 9-by-13-in [23-by-33 cm] baking dish with vegetable oil and arrange the sliced onion rings evenly across the bottom.
- Form the cabbage rolls: Spoon 2 heaping Tbsp of the meat filling along the bottom edge of a cabbage leaf, leaving about 1/2 in [12 mm] of space. Fold that 1/2 in [12 mm] up over the filling, then fold each side of the leaf toward the center. Roll the cabbage leaf up and away from you, tucking the filling inside a neat package. Place the cabbage roll, seam-side down, into the Dutch oven or baking dish. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.
- Use a ladle to spoon most of the cranberry-tomato sauce over the rolls, reserving about 1 cup [240 ml]. Cover with a tight-fitting lid (or two layers of aluminum foil, if using a baking dish) and bake until the cabbage is tender and the rice is fully cooked, about 60 minutes. Uncover and spoon the reserved sauce over the cabbage rolls. Cover again and bake for 30 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Serve hot. Store leftovers, covered, in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Leah Koenig is a writer and cookbook author who's work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Epicurious, Food52, and Tablet, among other publications. Her cookbook, Modern Jewish Cooking (Chronicle Books) was published in 2015 and featured in the Food52 Piglet book tournament. Her most recent book, Little Book of Jewish Appetizers (Chronicle) was published in August 2017. Leah lives in Brooklyn with her husband and 3-year old.