Ethel Sellis' Stuffed Cabbage

October 28, 2018
Photo by Ty Mecham
Author Notes

When I was an infant, someone gave my parents an odd gift: a food mill, so you could turn whatever you were eating into baby food. They used to feed me this stuffed cabbage—my great grandmother's recipe—as if it were puréed pumpkin. As I aged, it’s no wonder that it became a siren song to me. The sumptuous, rich scent it’d give off as it bubbled away on the stove was enough to pry me from whatever I was doing and lure me into the kitchen, shoeless and ravenous as one of Pavlov’s dogs. “Have you ever had anything so good in your entire life?” my dad would ask, cutting a stuffed cabbage roll in two and handing us each an enormous spoonful, complete with hot tomato sauce and shredded chuck, braised until quite literally falling apart. A drop of sauce would fall onto his shirt. “Never,” I’d say, handing him a towel. —Ella Quittner

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: How My Nana's Stuffed Cabbage Taught Me to Treat Myself Better. —The Editors

  • Prep time 45 minutes
  • Cook time 3 hours
  • Serves 6 or more
  • 1 large head of green cabbage, with the tough, inedible bottom part removed by cutting a triangular wedge about an inch deep
  • 3/4 pound ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons uncooked rice
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced, plus 1 large yellow onion sliced into rings about 1/4-inch thick
  • 1/2 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, divided, plus more as needed
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 (10.75-ounce) can Campbell’s tomato soup
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 chuck steak (about 12 ounces)
  • 3 gingersnap cookies, crumbled, plus more as needed
  • 1 pound egg noodles, cooked and tossed with butter and salt, for serving
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, for serving
In This Recipe
  1. Boil the head of cabbage for 30 minutes. It should be soft enough so you can jab a fork an inch or so into the heart.
  2. Meanwhile, make the filling: Using your hands, gently mix together the beef, uncooked rice, small diced onion, ketchup, egg, 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
  3. Make the sauce in a separate bowl: Mix the can of tomatoes, tomato soup, brown sugar, lemon juice, and the remaining salt and pepper. Use a chef’s knife to break the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  4. Drain the cabbage and let it sit about 30 minutes, until it’s cool enough to handle. Separate the cabbage leaves into a pile so you can see how many you’re working with—the better to allocate the filling. With each leaf, put the “right amount” of filling (closer to a couple tablespoons for larger leaves, and closer to a heaping teaspoon for for smaller leaves) into the the concave, cup-like side, and roll it up, tucking in the sides as you go so that you’ve created a cylindrical pouch.
  5. Season the steak all over with salt. In the bottom of a large pot, heat oil at medium high until almost smoking. Brown the steak on both sides. Then, cover the steak with a few tablespoons of the sauce and flip it over so there’s sauce underneath, too. Layer on a row of cabbage rolls (with the open side face down so they stay sealed), then add about 1/4 cup of the sliced onions on top of the rolls, then more sauce. Continue like this until all of the cabbage rolls and sliced onions and sauce have been layered in.
  6. Cook covered over a low flame for 2 hours and 30 minutes. Uncover, then add the crumbled gingersnaps. Stir to mix so they dissolve into the sauce. If you'd like the sauce to be thicker, add additional crumbled gingersnaps. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve over buttered egg noodles. As you distribute the sauce and cabbage rolls into bowls, shred the steak and include some in each. Garnish each bowl with a dollop of sour cream.

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Ella Quittner is a contributing writer and the Absolute Best Tests columnist at Food52. She covers food, travel, wellness, lifestyle, home, novelty snacks, and internet-famous sandwiches. You can follow her on Instagram @equittner, or Twitter at @ellaquittner. She also develops recipes for Food52, and has a soft spot for all pasta, anything spicy, and salty chocolate things.