My grandmother taught me how to make this before I was ten years old, and it’s been my favorite ever since. We would eat this at nearly every Christmas gathering. Her house was so warm and inviting—perfumed with sauerkraut! When I was really small, she’d have me stand on a step tool (which doubled as my chair at large family dinners, since I was the youngest and smallest) to watch her cook this, meticulously peeling the cabbage leaves so they wouldn’t tear. The rolls would then simmer away for hours, and waiting for them to be ready was almost unbearable: I would sit in my grandmother’s light blue chair, eating candy, while she sat next to me crocheting a blanket. She used Jimmy Dean pork sausage, so I make this dish a little differently—adding my own spices to the meat with some additional flavors to balance. Of course, you can just buy your favorite sausage. I like to serve this with creamy pickled cucumbers: my grandmother wouldn’t have one without the other, so neither do I.
If you don’t love sauerkraut, no worries: a beautiful rich tomato sauce is a great alternative.
Also, I encourage you to serve the cabbage rolls directly from your baking vessel. So if you’re aesthetically inclined, choose you’re wares accordingly!
Reprinted with permission from Kristen Kish Cooking by Clarkson Potter, copyright 2017. —Food52
6 to 8
1 or 2
large green cabbages, enough for 12 to 15 large leaves
of your favorite sauerkraut
smoked bacon slices (optional)
ground pork shoulder (Boston butt)
sweet, smoked, or hot paprika (I like a mix)
You’ll need 12 to 15 nice large leaves to make these rolls. Gently peel off the outer leaves of the cabbage, then steam these over a pot of boiling water until pliable, roughly 15 minutes. Lay them out on a kitchen towel to cool and dry. Chop up the remaining cabbage (up to 1/2 head) into medium chunks.
In a large bowl, mix together with your hands the pork, beef, paprika, fennel seeds, red pepper flakes, coriander, black pepper, garlic, onion, and rice, adding a generous sprinkling of salt. Shape a very small patty of the mixture and, in a hot small frying pan lightly coated with oil, cook it for 2 minutes on each side. Taste for salt and adjust your overall mixture accordingly.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Roll up 1/4 cup of the stuffing into each steamed cabbage leaf, like you’d roll a burrito, and tuck each roll into a deep baking dish, seam-side down. Pour a light layer of the sauerkraut juice and all of the tomato juice over the rolls. Insert small pieces of the cabbage heart(s) in between each roll, then top with the sauerkraut and more of its juices: the overall amount to liquid should come three fourths of the way up the cabbage rolls. I like to add some slices of smoked bacon over the top to add flavor while the dish cooks, but it’s your choice. Cover tightly with a lid or buttered foil, and bake for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until tender.