Today I have veganized stuffed cabbage, known in Yiddish as holishkes. Interestingly, this is one of the few Ashkenazi dishes that has a direct Sephardi counterpart. It is also a dish that is common in most of Eastern Europe and parts of North Africa. While most of the variations involve rice, ground meat, and a tomato sauce, you could easily tell them apart by flavor.
Ashkenazi stuffed cabbage stands apart from most other versions in that the sauce is quite sweet. Some traditional recipes even call for apples or raisins in the sauce. My version doesn’t, but feel free to add them if it tickles your fancy. This is just one of several sweet and sour recipes in Ashkenazi cooking. I have found that sweet-and-sour is a very personal taste – for example, if you ask 3 people in my family to make my great-grandmother’s cabbage soup, you will get 3 different soups. Some like it sweeter, some more tart. I recommend you taste the sauce as you make it so that you can decide if it needs more sugar or more sour. You can, of course, use lemon juice for the sour taste but if you want to be really authentic, you use sour salt. Sour salt is basically crystalline citric acid; any good Jew has it in their spice cabinet. So of course I couldn’t find mine today and had to use lemon juice. It’s not BAD, per se, but it does impart a lemony flavor that is absent when using sour salt.
I LOVE stuffed cabbage. My grandmother-in-law used to make it all the time and then give me and my husband containers full of it. Her version was not vegan, but I think I captured the essence fairly well. Incidentally, she used to freeze her leftovers and thaw them later – it freezes pretty well. We were still discarding containers of stuffed cabbage from the freezer well after she stopped cooking.
I’ll admit that stuffed cabbage is something of a daunting task, so making a lot and freezing it is probably not a bad idea. This is a recipe that generates a lot of dishes, and it can take about 3 hours to make. Not all of this is active time, but it’s not something you’re going to throw together for dinner on a whim. The hardest step is probably peeling the cabbage leaves off of the cabbage head. Not that anyone is going to care if your leaves are a little torn. Seriously, they’ll be too busy eating.
I’ve put together a little tutorial on rolling the cabbage leaves. It’s really no different than rolling a burrito, or an egg roll, except that cabbage leaves are a bit less pliable. Well, not less pliable than gluten-free tortillas!
First, you’ll need to steam or blanch the cabbage so that the leaves are pliable. Then you will carefully peel the leaves off of the cabbage, trying to keep them in one piece. I steamed the cabbage for 5 minutes but found after a few layers the leaves got stiff, so I steamed it again for 5 more minutes to soften up the inner leaves.
Once you have the leaves, you will need to pare off the thick stalk at the bottom.
Then, turn the leaf over so that the edges are curling inward. Roll about 1/4 cup of filling into an elongated ball shape and place it near the base of the leaf.
Roll the leaf up a few times, then tuck the edges in. Finish rolling and place the cabbage roll seam-side down into the baking dish.
You will not use an entire head of cabbage. This recipe makes enough for one pan of cabbage leaves, which was about 16 for me. You can chop up the leftover cabbage and put it under the cabbage rolls in the pan, boil it up with some additional sauce, or throw it in the fridge for later. I’m going to save mine for some fried rice tomorrow, with the leftover rice and mushrooms.
- 1 head of green cabbage
- 2 c cooked lentils
- 1½ c cooked white rice
- 6-7 crimini mushrooms, chopped
- ½ onion, chopped
- 1 tbsp oil
- 18 oz crushed tomatoes
- ½ c brown sugar (or to taste)
- 2 tbsp lemon juice or 1 tsp sour salt (or to taste)
- ½ cup water
- 2 tsp salt, divided
- 1 tsp ground pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Core the cabbage with a sharp knife. Place it in a pot with about 1 inch of water and steam for 5-10 minutes, until leaves are pliable. Let cool.
- Sautee mushrooms and onions in oil on medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until softened. Place the mushrooms and onions into a food processor with the lentils and process about 30 seconds, until the lentils are broken up. You will have something resembling thick paste.
- Stir the lentil mix into the rice with 1 tsp of the salt. Try to break up the rice so it is separated and well mixed with the lentils.
- Carefully peel the leaves off the cabbage and stuff with about ¼ cup of the lentil-rice mixture. Roll up and place in an ungreased 13x9 inch pan.
- Mix together the tomatoes, lemon juice, pepper, and remaining salt. Add up to ½ cup water to thin for ease of pouring/basting. Pour this mixture over the prepared cabbage leaves, spooning it over the cabbage rolls so they are well covered.
- Cover the pan with tin foil and place in the oven. Cook for about 1-1.5 hours, until the cabbage is soft and the sauce is thickened, basting every 20-30 minutes during cooking.