I have unhappy childhood memories of cabbage. At school lunches, a mound of pale, flaccid leaves would be ladled onto my plate, usually next to a helping of shepherd’s pie, the excess cooking water dribbling down my shirt as I forked them into my mouth. That cabbage was entirely devoid of flavour, and nothing short of unpleasant to eat.
It wasn’t until well into adulthood that I discovered that a helping of properly steamed cabbage is in fact a thing of simple beauty, and these days, I just can’t get enough of it. Come winter time, there’s one in my shopping bag almost every week. Green, white or red; frilly, 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 braise cabbage with chopped apple and bacon, shred it finely for salads and slaws, and turn it into soup.
Something I hadn’t done with cabbage until I moved to Germany was to fold the leaves into parcels and stuff them with meat and/or vegetables. Kohlrouladen (cabbage roulades) are a classic German winter dish, the leaves blanched before being wrapped snugly round a mixture of ground beef and herbs. It may sound fiddly, but it’s actually very straightforward – and really quite fun – to do. The stuffing is very simple to throw together, and the wrapping and string-tying is surprisingly easy and quick, but if you’re not good with that sort of thing, you can always skewer the parcels with toothpicks instead.
I’ve used Savoy cabbage (Wirsing) here, but you can use white cabbage leaves for standard instead; just blanche the leaves for a couple more minutes to ensure they’re pliable enough to wrap around the meat. Some Kohlrouladen recipes involve whole tins of chopped tomatoes for making the sauce with, but this tomato purée/stock version makes it a little lighter and more gravy-like, which I find much more pleasing for mopping up with mashed potatoes.
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 (substitute with gluten-free bread if required)
A pinch of freshly 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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