Cabbage rolls are not trendy, nor instagram-worthy. Some might call them dated, even though their doughy tablemates (peroghies) bask constantly in nostalgic adoration (even by those who did not grow up with Babas making them). I forgot how much I love them until my friend Dorata, who has been doing my hair for something like 20 years, and is one of the best cooks I know, brought me a plate with a few delicate Polish-style cabbage rolls as I sat with my hair under the dryer, and they were some of the best things I ever ate.
I’ve never actually made them myself, and so I gave it a go for the radio this morning. I don’t expect to nail anything straight off the bat, especially not having had relatives telling me how and how not to make them. I texted Dorata, read a bit and went from memory, and came up with something that, in my mind, is a pretty delicious cabbage roll – meat-heavy (I used pork and beef, and a handful of rice), not overly spiced, simmered in plain, slightly sweet tomato sauce. Turns out W loves them too, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that they like vaguely like brains.
The trickiest part was wrestling the leaves off the head of cabbage in one piece – I imagine savoy cabbage would be easier, and someone suggested freezing the whole head, then thawing and peeling off the leaves rather than try to boil the whole thing or snap off fresh leaves without them breaking. Genius. However you do it, they need to soften enough to be pliable.
As for the filling, anything goes. It doesn’t really need an egg to bind it, since it’s all enclosed by the cabbage leaf – I used chopped green onions from the garden, and a shake of Vegata Dorata recommended. It’s easy to squeeze in your palm and roll up in a rubbery leaf, then stack in rows, seam side down (they won’t open up) in a baking dish, fitting them snugly together in a bed of tomato sauce and covering them with same.
Some people bake theirs, or do them in the slow cooker – I made mine in an enamel-coated cast iron pot, covered on the stovetop, and they cooked through in about half an hour. W thought they tasted like spaghetti and meatballs, heavy on the meatballs, and I can’t disagree.