Sadly, aside from Peter Rabbit, the rest of my family is really not completely in love with cabbage. Sometimes called the workhorse of the winter kitchen; cabbage is one of the few green vegetables that can be stored from harvest in the fall until spring in my root cellar.
The first cabbages were brought to the United States by the French explorer Jacques Cartier on his ocean crossing in 1541- 1542. An excellent source of vitamins K and C, cabbage is an important seasonal, New England winter food, as the tightly packed heads with overlapping leaves grow better than lettuces in colder weather.
While cabbage is the backbone of winter salads, this hearty green also is delicious when cooked. The leaves melt into sweet tenderness when prepared slowly in braises, stir-fries and soups. The outer leaves, once removed from the head, make excellent wrappers for stuffings filled with savory vegetables and meats.
The inspiration for Vegetable Stuffed Cabbage Bundles came to me from a 2005 Gourmet magazine. While some folks surf the web for recipes, I still enjoy leafing through old books and magazines for more dated recipes and menu ideas.
In this preparation, the cabbage is cored, then dropped into a pot of boiling water to soften the outermost leaves, which are then stuffed with a savory filling of mashed potato, and sautéed vegetables. Delicious and satisfying enough for a vegetarian entrée, the stuffed leaves, or bundles, also may be prepped in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Come mealtime, pop the pan in the oven while the meat component is cooking.
Like many recipes, this formula is merely a guide. If you’re not feeding vegetarians, try cooking the vegetables in bacon fat. Chop some ham or cooked bacon and add it to the mix. Prepare extra mashed potato, and vary the vegetables to include leeks, sweet bell peppers, or parsnips.
An important food during the Dark Ages, cabbage abounds in both peasant and wealthy cuisines. Food historians credit stuffed cabbage with German cuisine, but these bundles, prevalent also in Asian, African and European cooking, can be steamed or simmered in a tasty broth. There are few vegetables that grow so robustly and look so abundant. Take a tip from Peter Rabbit and enjoy your cabbage.
Cheryl Wixson lives and cooks in Stonington. She welcomes questions and comments at [email protected]
Vegetable Stuffed Cabbage Bundles
Makes 6 servings
1 head leafy green cabbage, about 2-3 lbs.
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup grated carrot
1 garlic clove, minced
1 olive oil
2 cups mashed potatoes
½ cup yogurt
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese (about 3 oz.)
2 Tbsps. bottled horseradish
2 scallions or green onions, chopped (optional)
2 Tbsps. butter
¾ cup breadcrumbs
Sea salt and fresh pepper
Assemble ingredients and tools. Bring a 6 to 8-quart pot of salted water to a boil. If planning to bake cabbage bundles immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Remove the damaged or dirty outer leaves from the cabbage. Core the cabbage, and carefully lower it into the boiling water. As the cabbage starts to cook, remove the outer leaves with tongs, until you have 6 blanched cabbage leaves. Set aside.
Cook the remaining cabbage until just tender. Remove from heat to a colander and drain. Coarsely chop enough cooked cabbage to measure 2 cups.
Heat some olive oil in a skillet and then add the chopped onions. Cook until they start to soften, and add cabbage. Then add carrots and garlic. Stir and cook until the mixture is soft and golden. Season the vegetables with sea salt and fresh pepper. Remove mixture to a bowl and set aside. Wipe out the skillet.
In a saucepan, if necessary, slightly warm the mashed potatoes. Add the yogurt and horseradish, mashing well. Then stir in the grated Cheddar cheese. If needed, add a bit of heat under the pot to melt the cheese. Stir in the scallions and season with sea salt and fresh pepper. Set aside.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the cleaned skillet; add the breadcrumbs, and cook, stirring frequently, until golden.
To assemble cabbage bundles: Fill each leaf with about ½ cup mashed potato. Divide the vegetable mixture between the leaves, then cover with the remaining mashed potatoes. Sprinkle the crumbs on top.
Bake the bundles in the preheated 375-degree oven until heated through and the edges are browned, about 20-25 minutes. These tasty treats may be assembled a day in advance, covered and chilled. Bring to room temperature before baking.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 311 calories, 10 grams protein, 33 grams carbohydrates, 16 grams fat, 428 mg. sodium, 5 grams fiber.