Rarely do I come across a recipe that I love just the way it is on the first try. I always think of ways to improve it or alter it — maybe next time a dash of this or maybe I’ll use this instead of that. It means that I’m always learning, but it also means that I can serve the same general dish a few times in a month without worrying about getting bored.
Stuffed cabbage became a staple in my house this winter. I changed it up quite a bit since making it the first time. The biggest change is that I now almost exclusively make it in the slow cooker. That means I can get it all prepped the night before (usually a Tuesday… nothing good on tv on Tuesdays…) and then let it sit in the slow cooker all day. The flavors meld great together in the slow cooker. I really love it this way.
But this week I decided to really change it up — I tried a whole new recipe. I borrowed one from my Olive Trees & Honey cookbook that I mentioned last week. I made a few changes based on my preferences and what I had available to me. It turned out great.
Middle Eastern (-ish) Stuffed Cabbage
- large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 cup barley
- 2 cups water
- 2 tbsp minced ginger
- 1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
- 1 head of cabbage (duh)
- salt and pepper
- 2 cups tomato sauce, 2 cups of water
- 2-4 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
Remove the tough outer leaves of the cabbage. Bring a pot of water to a boil and place the whole cabbage head in it. Let it cook for about 10 minutes or until the leaves are pliable. Take it out and remove the leaves. If you get to a place where the leaves are no longer soft, put it back in to boil. Cut out the tough center rib of each leave — just the very bottom in the shape of a triangle. Let the leaves dry.
To make the stuffing, saute the onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil until the onions are translucent. Don’t let the garlic burn! Add the barley and stir until coated, about 2 minutes. Add the water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Cover and cook until all of the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. It will only be cooked about halfway at this point. Add the ginger and almonds, stir and let sit for about 5 minutes.
Use some of the small inner leaves from the cabbage to line a deep pot or baking dish.
Spoon some of the stuffing into the center of each cabbage leaf. Don’t over stuff — the barley will swell as it finishes cooking. To roll, fold in the sides and carefully roll from the bottom of the leaf to the top. Place in the dish with the seam-side down. Continue until the entire dish is full.
To make the sauce pour two cups of tomato sauce and two cups of water into a pot over medium heat. Add the lemon juice and brown sugar. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir until it boils and the flavors are all combined. Add more lemon and/or sugar to your taste.
Pour the sauce over the cabbage rolls. At this point, I let it cool completely and then put it in the fridge to be cooked the next day. You can cook it immediately if you prefer.
Preheat your oven to 350. If you used a pot, cover it and bake for about an hour. If you used a baking dish (which I did), cover with foil and cook for an hour and a half. (I know I said I usually use the slow cooker now… because this was my first time with this recipe, I followed the book for cooking instructions. No reason you couldn’t do this in your slow cooker on low during the work day. Just make sure the rolls are all covered in sauce so the barley cooks through.)
This dish was delicious and healthy. It is full of unexpected flavors! The almonds give this a unique texture that I really loved. You don’t expect a little crunch, but it is there! The toastiness of the almonds was great too. And then the ginger… Mike and I differed on this. I thought it was a great surprise. You definitely don’t expect ginger in a dish like that, but it added a great bright flavor. Mike thought it was weird. He liked the dish overall, but thought the ginger was out of place. Potato potato.