Cabbage Rolls with Tomato Cream Sauce

Cabbage Rolls

The other night, the husband and I were watching The Mind of a Chef on Netflix and David Chang said something about tiny grandma style of cooking and I thought that’s exactly what I want to achieve! No, no, I don’t want to be a tiny grandma, but I want to be that tiny grandma who doesn’t need recipes to make good food.  All she needs is her instinct, years of wisdom and experience in the kitchen and love.   Over the years, I have had many cooking fails, specially when I first started cooking!  You can ask my mom for a list of my cooking fails when I lived with her.  I’d promised her a home cook meal, only she’d come home with me crying in my room and with the kitchen filled with smoke and smell of something burning.  Despite all those failed cooking attempts, I never gave up. Over the years, I’ve learned and been learning from those cooking fails and I am also gaining more and more confidence in the kitchen.  I know I have a long way to go to be able to cook tiny grandma style.

In the interest of full disclosure, here’s the truth- when I first made cabbage rolls, it was a definite fail! My rolls were more like blobs of stuffed cabbage, the filling was hard and lacking taste and my kitchen had cabbage leaves everywhere.  My husband was nice enough to eat my cabbage blobs and then clean up the kitchen afterwards! Because I was determined not to give up, I consulted my friend D.K. because I had her cabbage rolls before I made mine and hers were fantastic!  D.K. was kind enough to give me some pointers and her trick to making fantastic cabbage rolls.  She told me she always uses sour cabbage for her rolls.  I’ve never heard of sour cabbage before and I didn’t have the first clue where to find one. Thankfully, my friend D.K. gave me a package of sour cabbage she uses. Sour cabbage is easy enough to find in any eastern European stores and it makes a world of a difference when you make cabbage rolls.  I didn’t have to worry about scalding myself with hot water as I boil a whole cabbage head or having the cabbage leaves rip before I can even stuff them.  So even though I failed the first time, I decided to try making cabbage rolls again, but this time using sour cabbage.  And the result was fantastic! So now that I’ve conquered this cooking fail, I want to share this recipe with you.  If you’re just starting to learn how to cook, don’t give up.  Your kitchen is your friend.  Keep trying, find good recipes, practice and soon you’ll be cooking tiny grandma style.

Here’s the recipe for cabbage rolls with tomato cream sauce:

Cabbage Rolls with Tomato Sauce
For the sour cabbage:
  • Rinse the entire cabbage first in cold water.
  • Peel each leaf carefully and set them aside.
  • Don't worry if some of the leaves are torn because you will use them to line the dish.
For the filling:
  • 1 cup brown rice, cooked
  • 1 medium onion, diced small
  • 2 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ½ pound lean ground beef
  • ½ pound ground pork
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
For the rolls:
  • For the Topping
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 can diced tomatoes {15 ounces}
For the sauce:
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 large white onion, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  1. Preheat your oven to 425°F.
For the rolls:
  1. In a saucepan, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter and add in the diced onion and garlic.
  2. Saute the onion and garlic until they’re softened.
  3. Remove the pan from heat and set aside the onion mixture to cool.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the cooked rice, ground beef, ground pork, salt, pepper, paprika, cayenne, dried herbs, and the onion mixture.
  5. Portion and roll the mixture into 8 equal-sized, oblong meatballs.
  6. Place each meatball in the center of a cabbage leaf, wrapping the leaf around it like a parcel.
  7. Line a 9″ x 13″ dish with the cabbage leaves that you did not use, ensuring that the entire surface and sides of the pan are covered with cabbage leaves. (This will prevent your rolls from sticking to the dish and burning.)
  8. Place your cabbage rolls, seam side down, to make sure they don’t open up while baking and pour on the diced tomatoes.
  9. Finally, use the left over cabbage leaves to cover the top of the rolls to protect them from burning during baking. Again, make sure the entire surface is covered.
  10. Bake the rolls for 1 hour and 20 minutes.
For the sauce:
  1. Add the coarsely chopped white onion to a food processor along with ¼ cup of water.
  2. Puree the mixture until the sauce is completely smooth.
  3. In a large sauce pan, heat ¼ cup of butter and add the pureed onion mixture.
  4. Cook the mixture on medium heat for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Add the minced garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
  6. Whisk in the flour and make a roux.
  7. The mixture will get a bit gooey, but just keep whisking.
  8. After a minute or so, add in the tomato sauce, whisking vigorously to remove any remaining lumps.
  9. Add the chicken stock, cream, salt, and pepper.
  10. Continue to cook the mixture for 3-4 minutes until it starts to bubble and thicken.
  11. Remove the sauce from the heat and set aside.
To serve:
  1. Discard the burnt cabbage leaves
  2. You can either spread some sauce on a plate and top it with cabbage rolls or you can add the cabbage rolls on a plate first and smother them with the sauce.

The sour cabbage was not only super easy to use, but it pairs really well with the tomato cream sauce because the sourness of the cabbage cuts the richness from the tomato sauce.  Okay, okay , I know your momma or grandmomma likely makes your favorite cabbage rolls. I am not competing.  But humor me and try this recipe out.  Here’s a little incentive for you:

Cabbage Rolls2

Cabbage Rolls1

Cabbage Rolls3

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