This dish is so popular in Lithuania that it is considered a Lithuanian national dish, right next to the potato dumplings. The name of the dish translates "little pigeons" (balandeliai, in Lithuanian), and I don't have any idea why the stuffed cabbage leaves are called "pigeons". It is a true comfort food, flavorful, filling and delicious. That's a dish that warms up your heart. Everyone in my family loves it - my Lithuanian parents, my Lithuanian sister, my American husband, and both my half-American and half-Lithuanian boys. Since the recipe is being submitted to "Dirt Cheap Dinner" contest, it has to be very inexpensive. And it is - the big pot of these "pigeons" will result a dinner and a next day's lunch for at least 4 people (5 people in my case), and it will all cost less than $20. Way less. So make this for your family, and I'm sure they will all love it. Serve it with some boiled and buttered potatoes, some fresh dill, and of course, a generous dollop of sour cream. And if you, by any chance, happened to be one of those Lithuanians that have been living far away from home for way too long, you can also pop in that old Lithuanian CD, just to add the last bit of nostalgia to this absolutely perfect meal! —Ausra
4-5 (with leftovers!)
ground beef, inexpensive 80% lean works best
Remove the core from the cabbage without separating the leaves: with a sturdy narrow knife cut around the core, then remove it carefully, and you'll end up with a hole right in the middle of the cabbage head.
Boil a large pot of salted water. Submerge the whole head of cabbage into the boiling water with the hole facing up, cover the pot and boil for about 5 minutes, until the outer leaves soften and begin to separate from the cabbage head. Remove the outer leaves and place them into colander to drain and to cool. Continue boiling and separating the leaves until most of your cabbage is out of the pot and in the colander.
Prepare meat filling: A) Boil rice until it is half way done, drain it and put it aside to cool. B) In medium saute pan heat oil, add onion, celery, carrots and saute on medium heat until vegetables soften a bit. C) Add minced garlic to the pan, cook for another minute or so. Remove the pan from heat and let vegetables cool slightly. D) In the large mixing bowl mix together ground meat, sauteed vegetables, the undercooked rice, salt, pepper, dill, you can also add some chopped parsley. Mix everything nicely with your hands (or with a sturdy wooden spoon, if you don't like mixing this with your hands...).
Assemble the "pigeons": A) Lay the cabbage leaf flat on the cutting board or large plate, thick leaf stem facing up. B) With sharp paring knife remove some of the thick part of the stem without cutting through the leaf (the purpose of this step is to make the leaf thinner at its thickest part that we could easily fold it). C) Place about 2-3 tablespoons of meat filling onto the leaf and fold it into a nice tight parcel. D) continue with the rest of leaves and filling.
Cover the bottom of large stock pot with the cabbage leaves that you did not use (torn, too small or simply left over). You can use the same pot that you boiled your cabbage in. Layer the stuffed cabbage leaves in the pot by placing them snug to one another. When all stuffed cabbage is in the pot, pour chicken stock and crushed tomatoes on top of the whole thing, cover the pot and let it cook on medium heat for about 45 minutes - 1 hour.
Serve stuffed cabbage with the soupy tomato sauce from the same pot, with some boiled buttered potatoes, and some sour cream.