Source: The Gefilteria
Stuffing cabbage is best around the table with loved ones. A tight wrap is the goal, with a uniform amount of filling in each leaf. Slowly braise these cabbage rolls in a mushroom stock, until the cabbage is soft enough to slice with a spoon. For the sauce? We turn to dried porcini mushrooms and some white wine. You can find dried porcinis in most specialty stores in the US, if you haven’t smuggled them back by the pound from Poland (ahem). This simple sauce is hardly a reflection of difficult times; in fact, we see it as a new path forward, a Polish and Jewish future we can all get behind.
Keep in mind that the filling and sauce in this recipe can be loosely interpreted, based on what you have at home. Substitute rice instead of barley, try a different kind of lentil, skip the sauce altogether. Lean into the shtetl mindset and cook with your kishkes, but leave a couple of hours since this slightly epic recipe is no quick weeknight meal. But it’s ideal for this moment of elongated days at home.
Prep Cabbage Leaves
Bring a large soup pot of salted water to a boil. Chop off the core. Place the cabbage in the boiling water. After a moment, the outer leaves will become loose and translucent. Using tongs, remove the translucent outer leaves and set aside. Repeat again and again, continually peeling off the outer leaves, being careful to keep the leaves from ripping. When leaves are slightly cooled, use a paring knife to trim off the toughest part of the leaf, which will make them easier to fold later.
The process begins the same whether you’re making the meat or lentil filling: combine 1 cup stock and ¼ cup pearl barley in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer on very low heat until the barley is cooked but still al dente, about 25 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Meanwhile, saute onions in oil in a large frying pan until they are caramel in color. Remove onions and set aside. In the same pan, adding extra oil if needed, saute mushrooms until shrunken and browned adding salt along the way. Set sauteed mushrooms aside.
If you are making the beef filling, use the same skillet to brown the ground beef. Heat skillet over medium heat and stir the meat until it is cooked through, adding more salt and pepper throughout. For the lentil filling, use a separate pot to combine the lentils with 2 cups of stock. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until lentils are cooked through. Once ingredients are all assembled, combine cooked barley, onions, mushrooms and either the beef or lentils. Stir in the egg, bread crumbs and fresh herbs.
Lay a leaf flat and scoop a scant ½ cup of the filling into the center. Fold up the “bottom” of the leaf (where the core was attached) and lift it over the filling, about halfway up the cabbage leaf. While holding down the first fold with one hand, use the other to take the left side of the leaf and lay it over the first fold. Roll the leaf all the way to the right side and keep it tight. The top of the roll will be untucked. Push it down into the roll, forcing the top into the opening with your thumb or forefinger, which will form a tight little bundle. As you finish them, place the rolls into the baking dish. Pack them tightly, in a single later and pour in enough stock to cover the rolls. Cover the baking dish and braise for 2 to 2 ½ hours. Stuffed cabbage is ready when the rolls feel completely soft when pressed with a finger (careful, they’re hot). Remove from the oven.
While stuffed cabbage is baking, heat a small pan and add oil. Saute the onions until they are translucent and beginning to turn caramel in color. Pour in the wine, quickly stirring up the onions with a wooden spoon to scrape up all the bits. Add a couple pinches of salt, and let the onions cook in the wine until most of it is absorbed. Add the dried mushrooms and the hydrating water, again leaving the broth to cook down for a few moments until about half of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and blend mixture in a blender or with an immersion blender. Stir in sherry vinegar, adjust salt and pepper.
Serve immediately or prepare up to 2 days in advance and reheat in the oven before serving. Serve the cabbage rolls hot, on a bed of sauce, garnished with a generous dose of chopped parsley and dill and a squeeze of fresh lemon.
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