While many stuffed cabbage recipes claim to be superior, this cabbage recipe is a standout from the rest of the pack due to a secret, distinctly American twist on the original Eastern European recipe: ketchup. We know it sounds a little unrefined, but a bit of ketchup in the sauce, combined with both raisins and brown sugar, helps to cut the sometimes bitter flavor of the cabbage, and gives the dish the hint of sweetness it needs. Ground beef, onion, and rice are the main fillers on the savory side and add signature heartiness.
Getting everything to stay together in the preparation may look complicated, but don’t be intimidated. The recipe’s author, Joan Nathan, has a tip for stuffing the leaves: just roll them up “like a big cigar” (being careful not to overstuff) and you’re done. Serve the stuffed cabbage with sour cream for a touch of cool tang that complements the warm, sweet and sour flavors of the dish. When you’ve finished enjoying the fruits of your labor, as an added bonus for your hard work these freeze really well, so you can enjoy them throughout fall and winter, maybe even with pumpkin rugelach for dessert.
The Ultimate Stuffed Cabbage
Makes 24 rolls
For the cabbage:
1 head of fresh cabbage, frozen a day ahead, about 2 pounds (or 2 pounds Swiss Chard unfrozen) 2 pounds ground beef 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1 teaspoon salt 2 large eggs 1/3 cup ketchup 1/2 cup uncooked rice 1 small onion, finely chopped
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon oil One 35-ounce can chopped tomatoes 2 tablespoons tomato paste 2 large onions, sliced Salt and pepper 1/2 cup ketchup 2 lemons, juiced 1/3 cup brown sugar 1/3 cup raisins
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.