Two cabbage roll recipes

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The two recipes for cabbage rolls (lachanontolmades or sarmades) adjusted from the Greek edition Christmas issue of Olive magazine

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For our New Year’s Eve dinner we had a varied spread including a spinach Quiche, the recipe for which I gave you two weeks ago, a butternut squash pie made by Elpida, vegetatian lasagne made by Valentina Brioschi and finally cabbage rolls, lachanontolmades or sarmades.

Cabbage rolls are an ideal party dish but you can also prepare it as a main course. I think it is an fantastic dinner dish for the post-Christmas healthy eating time when all of us are looking for light but tasty treats. It is possible to diet with flavoursome and light dishes, no need to torture yourself.

I got the idea to cook these very different cabbage rolls recipes from the Christmas Greek edition of Olive magazine. The recipes were provided by Simona Kafiri and Georgia Kofina. I adapted the simplified version of the traditional Greek cabbage rolls to my liking, and a tested a new spicier version with a red sauce that uses diced pork instead of minced meat. Both are fantastic. I also discovered that you can use iceberg lettuce to make a lighter but extremely tasty version of the dish. So here is my innovation!

The recipes below can feed 6 people and take nearly 2 hours to prepare and cook.

Thanks to Dan Green for photos.

Two cabbage roll recipes: one traditional and one spicy

Preparation of cabbage, the basic ingredient, 30min

1 large or two medium white cabbages
1 iceberg lettuce

This is the first step of your preparation. But you can also start with the preparation of the spicy filling as it needs to simmer and cool down before the cabbage leaves are stuffed.

It is impossible to fill and roll cabbage without blanching or slightly boiling it. Remove outer cabbage leaves that might be scarred but keep for layering the base of your pots before cooking.

Cut around the base of the cabbage with a sharp knife and remove the stem of the cabbage(s).

Place the cabbage in a large deep pot with boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove and cool down before peeling the leaves and preparing them for filling and rolling.

As I started to peel the leaves I realised that I did not have enough cabbage for all my filling. I was pushed for time so I decided to experiment with iceberg lettuce as an alternative. Iceberg lettuce leaves are quite firm compared to other lettuce varieties, so I peeled and dipped them in the hot, but no longer boiling water, for 30seconds to a minute to soften. Iceberg lettuce rolls are absolutely amazing and surprisingly worked really well, particularly with the traditional recipe.

For the new spicy filling of Georgia Kofina, 20 min:

300 gr pork fillet or chops, finely diced
¼ cup rice (either Carolina variety or Thai rice) – the rice you have will do
½ large onion, finely diced
1 garlic clove
2 Tbspns finely chopped parsley
1/6 cup olive oil or about 4 Tbspns
1 cup stock (either home-made or bouillon meat stock)
¼ glass white wine
½ tspn paprika and cayenne pepper

Sautee the onion in the olive and then add the garlic.

Once translucent add the white wine and then add the meat, rice, parsley, paprika and cayenne pepper, and finally, add the stock and season.

Cover and simmer at very low heat until the rice absorbs all liquid.

Then remove from the heat and set aside to cool down before the rolling begins.

For the sauce of the spicy version of Georgia Kofina, 5 min:

3 celery sticks thickly diced
1 carrot, peeled and roughly diced
200 gr finely diced ripe tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to season

Prepare all your ingredients for the sauce. You don’t need to do anything else at this stage as all ingredients are added to the cooking pot after you laid your rolls.

For the traditional filling adapted from Simona Kafiri’s recipe:

175 gr minced pork
150 gr minced beef
1 large onion, grated
½ cup of finely chopped parsley
½ green pepper finely diced
¼ cup grated ripe tomatoes (1 or 2 tomatoes)
1 ½ flat tsbns salt
Freshly ground pepper
¼ cup rice (either carolina variety or Thai rice) – the rice you have will do
½ tspn ground cloves
½ tspn ground cinnamon

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl with your hands and set aside for filling.

Filling, rolling and cooking, 1.5 hrs:

2 separate pots, 25cm circumference or at least 20cm

The red sauce ingredients you have prepped for the new and spicy version.

2 Tbspn olive oil or butter (for the traditional recipe)
1 ½ cup stock (either home-made or bouillon meat stock) (for the traditional recipe)

Add a little bit of olive oil at the bottom of each pot. If you have kept the outer leaves of the cabbage layer the pot with these/ Remove the thick end (vein) of each cabbage leaf by making an (upside down) V shaped incision. This way you will be able to roll the leaf more easily.

Add enough filling in the middle and roll the cabbage leaf, by folding its outer sides in and then rolling so that you can have the top of the leaf facing your cooking surface. You should then place the roll in the pot, with the top of the leaf facing the bottom of the pan, this way your rolls will not unfold and open whilst cooking. It is a lot easier to roll with the iceberg lettuce leaves.

Use all cabbage leafs and layer the rolls in the pot close and tight to each other. I made to layers of rolls in each pot. If you are using iceberg lettuce roll too, you can place those on the second layer as they will cook faster.

For the new spicy version, spread the celery and carrots over the rolls, evenly pour the tomato and olive oil and add some salt and pepper. I had to add some more stock to the pot, just a couple of tablespoon. Simmer on low heat for 45 minutes.

For the traditional recipe, add the olive oil and stock in the pot. Cover and simmer for 1 hr. Don’t throw away the liquid.

Once the rolls are cooked, set aside for cooling and serve on long platters garnished with the sauces you have prepare.

For the traditional recipe sauce, Avgolemono, 10 minutes:

1 Tbspn Corn flour
1 Tbspn butter
¼ cup lemon juice
1 egg yolk
Some paprika (optional)

You might prefer to have the traditional cabbage rolls as they are. But this avgolemono, lemon and egg, traditional sauce is the perfect accompaniment to this dish. Simona’s recipe of avgolemono is simple and delicious: I had never made it before but it was very easy to deliver.

Remember the sauce preparation must happen really quickly so have all your ingredients within easy reach. There should be about a cup of juices left in your pot from cooking and you will need all of it for your sauce.

Melt the butter in a small pot and mix in the flour well so that you have no lumps.

Then remove from the heat and mix in your egg yolk swiftly. Aim for a creamy mixture.

Immediately stir in the warm juices from the pot, little by little, constantly stirring on very low heat. Keep mixing until your sauce has thickened to the consistency of double cream.

Pour over your traditional cabbage rolls and enjoy!

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