As a small child (and a much older one), cabbage was one of my vegetable nemeses. Pale, tepid strips of the stuff would be dished onto my plate at school lunches; the excess cooking water would inevitably dribble onto my lap as I forked the flavourless shredded leaves reluctantly into my mouth. I don’t recall the day on which I discovered that a properly steamed cabbage is in fact a thing of simple, frugal beauty, but these days, I just can’t seem to get enough of them. Green, white or red; frilly-leaved or waxy; pointy or round: slice and steam a couple of cabbage leaves and drape them over my dinner dish with a knob of butter and I’m all yours. I love to braise it with chopped apple and bacon, shred it finely for salads and slaws, or turn it into soup, but something I’d heard of doing with it until I came to Germany was use its leaves to make parcels and stuff them with something – anything – else.
Kohlrouladen (cabbage roulades) are a classic German winter dish, the leaves blanched before being wrapped snugly round a mixture of ground beef and herbs. I suppose I always thought it looked a bit fiddly, but this, having finally made them last weekend, turned out to be a ridiculous assumption. The stuffing was very simple to throw together and the wrapping and string-tying turned out to be very straightforward: what I had assumed would be a bit of a laborious process for getting dinner on the table turned out to be remarkably easy and quick.
Technically speaking, since I’ve used Savoy cabbage leaves here, these cabbage roulades are Wirsingrouladen. You can use white cabbage leaves for standard Kohlrouladen instead if you wish, just blanche the leaves for a couple more minutes to ensure they’re pliable enough to wrap around the meat.
Both my husband and I were a bit suspicious of the tomato gravy here. Some Kohlrouladen recipes involve whole tins of chopped tomatoes, but I thought the slightly more brothy stock and puree approach would make for a more subtle, gravy-like addition, a little more pleasing for mopping up with mash. We were both surprised to discover that the sauce really brought the whole dish together: the sweetness of the tomatoes offsets the mild bitterness of the cabbage and, well, anyone who’s ever eaten a half-decent ragu knows that beef and tomatoes are a well-matched pair. If you take your Kohlrouladen with some other kind of sauce, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
Kohlrouladen (serves 4)
For the cabbage parcels:
8 large Savoy cabbage leaves, washed
1 small onion, finely chopped
500g ground beef
1 large egg
2 tbsp brown bread (I used a slice of gluten-free)
A pinch of ground nutmeg
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tsp dried
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp olive oil
For the tomato gravy:
500ml chicken stock
1.5-2 tbsp tomato puree, to taste
50ml single cream
Use a sharp knife to make a slit up the spine of each of your cabbage leaves, so that they don’t snap when you bend them. Bring a large pan of water to the boil and blanche them for 2 minutes. (You may want to do this in batches if they don’t fit into the pan properly). Remove from the pan, refresh under cold water and drain.
Mix the filling: add the onion, egg, bread, nutmeg and herbs to the ground beef and mix thoroughly, seasoning well with salt and pepper. Divide into eight equal portions.
One at a time, lay a cabbage leaf on a flat surface such a chopping board and place a portion of the meat filling in its centre. Take the inner end of the leaf and fold it over the top of the mixture, then fold up the sides, and finally roll your stuffed leaf over onto its top end. ,Tie up with string as you would a parcel.
Heat the oil in a wide pan on a medium-high heat and brown the cabbage parcels on both sides. Add the stock and bring to the boil before lowering to a simmer, covering and allowing the parcels to steam through for 30 minutes.
Remove your roulades from the pan and cover to keep warm. Add the tomato puree to the stock a little at a time (you want the tomato flavour strong but not overpowering) and stir away the lumps. Add the cream, remove from the heat and season to taste.
Serve the roulades hot with mashed potatoes; offer the tomato gravy in a jug on the side.
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