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Babcia's Cabbage Rolls


This has always been one of my favourite comfort foods - it reminds me of home. I am first-generation Canadian and my family is Polish so this tasty dish has always been a staple. When I was a kid, my Babcia (grandmother) would always make these for me when I went to visit and now I am making them for her.


I have tried to stay as true to this recipe as I can. She is a master chef in her own right and measures nothing (nothing!) so getting this recipe out of her in half Polish and half English was a bit of a struggle - my Polish is worse than her English. Pantomiming was definitely involved.


I usually don't cook with processed foods but this recipe is an exception - its been 'Canadianized' based on the available ingredients here. If you prefer, you can make your own tomato sauce from scratch but as this is Babcia's recipe, I will stay true to her methodology.


Servings: 8-10 Prep Time: 90 minutes Cook Time: 90 minutes


Ingredients

2 cups white rice

1 cabbage, core removed

1 package of mushrooms, quartered

1 medium yellow onion, finely diced

1 pound of ground veal

1 pound of ground pork

2 cans of Campbell's tomato soup

2 cans of tomato paste

1 cup of water or vegetable stock

Salt to taste (we all enjoy different amounts of salt so go with what you'd like - just be wary that Campbell's soup also contains salt)

Pepper to taste


Stuffing


Step 1: Cook rice first (by following the instructions on the package) or, if you like to plan ahead, you can make it the night before - it needs to be cold when you mix in all of the ingredients together so that it doesn't cook the meat - that comes later. If you are strapped for time, once cooked, you can lay it out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and stick it in the fridge or freezer (don't let it freeze, check on it in 15 minutes)



Step 2: dice the onion (small dice, brunoise for the francophones and kitchen people) and quarter the mushrooms. In separate pans (or the same pan used sequentially), saute both in vegetable oil. Let both cool for the same reason as above and if in a rush, you can pop them in the fridge or freezer for 10 -15 minutes. Once cool, grind up/ finely dice the mushrooms until pulverized. What you're looking for: onions should be translucent and mushrooms should be half their original size when you take them out of the pan. Try to get some heat into the mushrooms and hit them with a bit of salt to encourage the water to come out. Vegetables have a high water content and in an effort to deepen the flavour, the more water that you remove (often but not always through heat), the more flavourful it will be.



Step 3: In a large bowl, combine the tomato paste, tomato soup and water/vegetable stock. Whisk together until smooth and set aside.



Step 4: In a large bowl, combine the veal, pork, rice, mushrooms, onions, salt, and pepper and mix together thoroughly. You want to make sure all of the meat is broken up so that there are no large chunks (if they are not properly mixed, they will be a little dry and less flavourful).Once mixed, add 1 cup of sauce and mix it together again until the colour is consistent.



Cabbage Preparation


Step 1: You will need a big pot of water - bring it to a boil



Step 2: The core of the cabbage is bitter with and I recommend that you remove it before boiling it. (the cabbage should add a bit of sweetness that pairs well and helps to balance the savory/fatty elements in the stuffing - we don't want it bitter). This also makes it easier to remove the leaves.



Step 3: Fully submerge the cabbage in the water. It will not be in there for very long (3-5 minutes). As the leaves begin to fall away from the cabbage, remove them from the water with tongs (keep a dish beside the stove so you are not moving around - it will be hot) and keep pulling off the layers until you have cooked all of the leaves. What you're looking for: cabbage still has colour and stability in the leaves but is malleable enough to manipulate and roll.


Assembly


Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit - doing this now will mean that the oven will be ready once you have finished assembly.



Step 2: Have a large casserole dish ready (ideally it will have a lid, if not, aluminum foil will do just fine) so that you have a place to put your assembled cabbage rolls as you form them. take one leaf of cabbage, spine facing the cutting board and form a ball out of your stuffing that is appropriate in size to the leaf that you're using (nature in all it's glory is not uniform so unfortunately there is no 'one size fits all'). You want to be able to fully enclose it in the leaf. Make sure that the stuffing is densely packed (like a snowball) for even cooking and to help them hold together once they're finished. Pro tip: shave down the thick piece of the spine with a pairing knife for easier rolling.



Step 2: Roll the leaf so that the spine turns into itself and will be tucked underneath. Fold the sides in and pinch as you're rolling to form a pouch and place finished roll in the casserole dish. Repeat until you have used all of the stuffing (there may be a few cabbage leaves left over).



Step 3: Pour the rest of the sauce over your pan of cabbage rolls - you really want to get it into the cracks so that they don't dry out




Cook


Step 1: Cover the casserole dish with either a lid or aluminum foil and place in the oven for 90 minutes. Serve when ready. Enjoy!



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