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Monday, March 16, 2009

Cabbage Rolls





Starting this blog has caused me to change a lot of habits! I am far more a "dump and taste" than a "measure everything" cook, which means my usual instructions and amounts are sometimes more than a little hazy! To be sure any recipes I provide are workable for any reader so inclined to make them, I will be testing each one with measuring spoon and cup in hand before including them here.

Still, there will always be some "about" or "approximately" to describe amounts. That actually should be encouraging for even beginning cooks. For example, in the recipe for cabbage rolls below, I have included volume measurements for the onions, celery, and carrots but these really should be approximations only.

Why?

First, there are the definitions of "large," "medium," etc. I normally would have written the recipe to include a large onion, one medium carrot, and a stalk of celery, but what do those size descriptions really mean? As it turns out, the "large" onion I used was just under two cups after being coarsely chopped. What if you start out with a "large" onion and find that you have three cups of chopped onion, or maybe only a cup and a half? It won't mean that the chemistry of the dish will be ruined—this isn't like using only half a cup of sugar in a cake instead of two cups—but it will mean you will end up with quite a different flavor. The same differences apply to the meaning of "medium" carrots and a "stalk" of celery.

Even if we have similar ideas of what constitutes a large onion, however, the likelihood of any onion yielding exactly two cups after chopping is pretty slim. You might have a couple of tablespoons less or maybe a third of a cup more. You might chop yours more finely or pack the pieces down more firmly. The point is—if you end up with 2 1/4 cups of chopped onion, don't throw out the extra quarter cup, and if you have only a cup and a half, don't feel like you must cut up another one to fill up the measure. Approximations are fine!

Not everything, of course, is ever going to be completely measured. You will still find a lot of seasoning that will be listed as "to taste." Two reasons for this: these wonderfully natural flavors—whether it be apples in a pie or a stir fry of many kinds of vegetables—will vary from one batch to the next. The carrots in one day's stir-fry will be far sweeter than those tossed into the same mixture next week. Your dried basil may be fresher than mine and so you will need less.

And of course there is that matter of personal taste itself; perhaps I like thyme and you do not or you avoid black pepper while I might lay it on with a heavy hand. Adjusting seasonings to your taste is what will make each recipe truly your own.

Remember--cooking is both science and art. Measurements help get the basic "science" right, but your adjustments make each dish your own work of art.

So here is today's first cabbage recipe, measured to a science and then open to your own adaptations. Enjoy!


Cabbage rolls

NOTE: I had four large cabbages from my pre-Saint Patrick Day shopping so had plenty of loose, easy to work, leaves. While you can buy a large head of cabbage and work to carefully unwrap the outer leaves, a far better way to make this dish is to take the largest leaves off each cabbage you buy over time; wash the leaves well and put in a large plastic bag in the freezer. When you have accumulated 15 to 20 leaves, just remove them from the freezer and prepare as in the recipe instructions.

Ingredients
Approximately 17 medium to large cabbage leaves
Filling
1 pound ground turkey, 85% lean
2 c chopped onion
1 c fine breadcrumbs
1/2 c diced celery—including leaves
1/2 c finely grated or chopped carrot
1/3 yellow pepper, diced (okay, so I forgot to measure this before I put it in the mixture!)
1/2 c nonfat dry milk powder
2 jumbo eggs (that was the only size I had in the house; extra large or even large could be substituted without any adjustment in total number)
Sauce
1 28 ounce can or jar spaghetti sauce, any flavor
Approximately 1 cup cooking water from cabbage (optional)

1. Prepare cabbage.
Put about three inches of water in a large Dutch oven (or deep sided 12 inch skillet) and bring the water to a boil. Meanwhile, remove and wash well the coarse outer leaves from several large cabbages, trimming off any very coarse area near the base. Place the leaves in the water and cook just until they are bright green and pliable. Remove immediately and drain. Reserve the cooking water.
2. Prepare the filling.
Combine all the filling ingredients in a large bowl and stir until well blended.
3. Make the rolls.
Spread out a cabbage leaf and spoon about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the filling mixture in the middle. Try to be sure that no part of the filling is more than 2 inches across so that all the meat will be fully cooked. The larger the leaf, the more filling you can include. Unless all your leaves are very uniform in size, don't worry about using different amounts of filling!
Roll the leaf around the filling, kind of like a burrito, tucking in the edges so that the filling is completely wrapped up.
4. Place each cabbage roll back in the pan used to boil the leaves. put the largest rolls around the outside edge. This number of rolls fit snugly in my 12 inch Dutch oven. You may need to stack a few of your rolls if your pan is not as large. If so, try to keep the center less densely packed, to be sure that you do not have an area of undercooked rolls.
5. When all the rolls have been placed in the pan, pour the spaghetti sauce over all the rolls. If this does not completely cover the rolls, add a little of the reserved cooking water.
6. Cover the pan and place in a 325 degree oven for an hour. Check after about 45 minutes; if necessary, move some of the rolls from the center to the outside edges.

These freeze well and can be quickly reheated in the microwave.

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