I have a love/hate relationship with cabbage. I hate the smell of cabbage when it is cooking in water. Hate it so much that I want to grab it and toss it out the window. Its smell makes me think of Zola or Dickens, people living in hovels, eating cabbage and water.
However, when it is stuffed with rice or bulgur, infused with mint and lemon, with the subterranean flavor of garlic and lamb, when a cabbage roll will instantly melt in my mouth so tender are the leaves, why, at this point, I love it so much!
Unfortunately, outside of Lebanon, I have yet to meet a cabbage that will melt in one’s mouth; cabbage leaves remain tough or chewy no matter how long one cooks them; so I will just boil and stuff the whole cabbage and not bother with the individual leaves.
INGREDIENTS: For 2 small cabbages, feeding 4 people
- 1 cup of coarse bulgur (#4), soaked in 3 cups of boiling water for one hour until it has swelled 100%.
- 1 can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 onion, minced and 1 onion, whole
- Spices: 1 teaspoon cinnamon, allspice, salt and pepper to taste; 1/2 cup of dried mint. (can also use cilantro pesto, or any herb that you like)
- 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled; mash half the cloves with salt and keep the other half whole.
- 2 lemons, juiced
- olive oil, as needed
- 1 tablespoon of tomato paste (optional)
- 2 tablespoons of pomegranate molasses (optional)
- You can cook the cabbage in a tomato-pomegranate molasses sauce.
- You can cook the cabbage in a lemon-olive oil and mint based sauce.
- In a bowl, mix the stuffing ingredients: bulgur, onion, mint (or cilantro), spices such as pepper, allspice, cinnamon, sumac, cumin. Add the garbanzo beans and taste. Add some lemon juice and olive oil to the stuffing.
- Boil the whole cabbage in a pot filled halfway with water and a small onion until the cabbage is tender. Remove from the pot and let it cool. Cut the core with a sharp knife and remove.
- Stuff the cabbage, cover the opening with all the outside leaves and tie with kitchen twine.
- Place in a pot, add the sauce of your choice and simmer for 30 minutes or so.
- Serve warm.
Tomato-pomegranate molasses sauce:
In a bowl or in the same pot mix about one tablespoon of tomato paste with the cabbage cooking water, add one or two tablespoon of pomegranate molasses; add some whole garlic cloves to the sauce and a couple of tablespoons of dried mint.
Lemon-olive oil and mint sauce:
In a bowl or in the same pot, add to the cabbage cooking water the juice of two lemons, about 1/2 cup of olive oil and two tablespoons of dried mint. Add a few garlic cloves to the sauce as well, mashed or whole.
NOTE: I prefer the lemon-olive oil mint sauce; first of all, this is the traditional sauce for stuffed cabbage leaves in our community; tomato-based sauces overpower the taste of cabbage too much. Your call!