Author Notes: This month my book group read the book “Miriam’s Kitchen” by Elizabeth Ehrlich. It is a memoir by a woman who came to know her mother-in-law by learning to cook old time Jewish recipes. We had a potluck dinner for which each of us brought a dish that made memories--either something from our family, or something we make for our families and friends. One of the women brought a dish she called “unstuffed cabbage”-- sweet and sour cabbage with meatballs. It was amazing, and I ate way too much of it. Her recipe called for meatballs that you bake in the oven while you make a sauce of shredded cabbage, jellied cranberry sauce, and something called Chef Emilio’s tomato sauce (which she said was really hard to find). I wanted to re-create it with fresh ingredients. (In case you were wondering, I did find Chef Emilio’s tomato sauce and I think the main ingredient is MSG--it has 560 mg of sodium in a 3 ounce can.)
This is a stew so it gets better as it sits. You could make it in a slow cooker. I formed the meatballs in the morning and refrigerated them, and made the sauce and let it simmer on the stove for about an hour. Then I browned the meatballs and added them to the sauce and let it all cook together for another hour or so. You can change the amounts of sugar and add vinegar to your taste--just add a little at a time.
Serves 4-6 (can be multiplied)
For the meatballs:
- 1 lb. Ground beef or turkey
- 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 1 egg
- olive oil
- Fold all ingredients together till well-blended. Place a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add a little oil and sauté the meatball until it is cooked through. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Form the rest of the mixture into meatballs--about a tablespoon of mixture per meatball. Pack them lightly. Refrigerate meatballs while you make the sauce.
For the cabbage:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil plus more to brown meatballs
- 1 sweet onion, sliced
- 1 pinch kosher salt
- 1 small head cabbage, shredded
- 1/2 cup fresh cranberries
- 3 cups crushed tomatoes (I used 1 box of Pomi)
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper
- Vinegar and more brown sugar as needed
- In a large dutch oven, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat and sauté onions with a pinch of kosher salt till soft. Add cabbage, and cover, stirring occasionally, till cabbage cooks down. Stir in cranberries, and continue to cook, covered, stirring occasionally until cranberries start to burst and release their juices. (They will continue to cook as you add the rest of the ingredients.) Stir in tomatoes, onion powder, brown sugar, cayenne and ginger. Cover, and let all ingredients stew together.
- Remove meatballs from refrigerator. Place a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add a tablespoon or so of olive oil, and brown meatballs on all sides. Gently add meatballs to cabbage mixture when they are browned. Stir them in gently till submerged. Let meatballs cook in cabbage mixture until they are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Taste sauce, and add salt, pepper, vinegar and/or brown sugar if needed to your taste. I served it with a crusty multi-grain boule.