I liked it. I said, “Ok.”
Traditionally filled with rice and a ground meat blend, I could fill the stuffed cabbage rolls with a rice-and-lentils mix instead.
He suggested it a couple of weeks ago, which was good. I could look ahead and see the right afternoon with lots of free hours…because it’s a time commitment, as it often is with layered or stuffed dishes. Minimal ingredients, lots of time.
I don’t often have all four burners going, but I did on this one. I had a pot of boiling water for the cabbage. I had a pan simmering with sauce. I had lentils cooking in one pot and rice in another.
Of course, there are great shortcuts for something like this, which can get you to the filling-the-cabbage-leaves part that much more quickly. A favorite jarred sauce. Frozen rice. The packages of prepared lentils that can be found in grocery-store produce sections. All at your disposal when you’re craving stuffed cabbage rolls, and just can’t get them into the oven fast enough!
But the slow-cooking afternoon-into-evening was what I’d allowed for, so I was up for leisurely.
I opened a favorite pale ale and got to work.
First, the parts.
- 1 medium head of cabbage, cored
- olive oil (I had extra virgin at hand, so used that)
- 1/4 cup diced onion
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 28-oz. can diced or crushed tomatoes
- 1 or 2 bay leaves
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
- 1/2 cup diced onion
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 5 cups cooked lentils (2 cups uncooked gave me 5 cups cooked)
- 4 cups cooked basmati rice (1 cup uncooked gave me 4 cups cooked)
- 1 cup chopped parsley
- salt and pepper
This is how I put it together.
While I was bringing a large pot of water to a boil for the cabbage, I made the sauce, so that it could simmer while the other ingredients cooked. Next, I got rice started. And then the lentils. If doing from scratch, just follow package directions. I’ve indicated above how much is needed in dry measurement to get the cooked amounts.
Cabbage. Added salt to the pot of boiling water. Added the cabbage, whole. I had a strainer over a bowl on the counter next to the pot, and also a dish towel spread out on the table. As the head of cabbage simmered in the water, the outer leaves began to come loose. I used tongs to peel the leaves away into the strainer. Gathered a few leaves there, then transferred to the dish towel. And continued until done.
Sauce. Heated a pan over medium heat, and lightly coated with oil. To that I added the diced onion and minced garlic, allowing to soften. Then I added the can of diced tomatoes. I usually use crushed tomatoes. Because I had a can of diced tomatoes in the cabinet, I used that instead, and then brought out the immersion blender to puree a little, leaving a few tomato chunks. Added the bay leaves, and salt and pepper to taste. Oh, and since I was sipping on a beer, poured a nice amount of that in, too! Covered the pot, brought to a boil, then lowered the heat to a simmer.
Filling. Heated oil in a large skillet. Into that, I added the diced onion and minced garlic, allowing to soften. Then I added the rice and lentils, adding plenty of salt and pepper, testing as I went to get the seasonings where I like them. Warmed it all through, then tossed in the parsley.
Assembling. Brought all the parts to the table, including a large paella pan to cook the cabbage rolls in. I turned the oven on to 350°. Cabbage rolls can also be cooked on the stove top, the rolls neatly piled into a sturdy pot and simmered two or three hours over low heat, which allows juices and flavors to combine and deepen that way. I decided to go the oven route.
I spread a thin layer of sauce over the bottom of the pan, then generously filled each of the varying-sized leaves, leaving enough leaf edges to fold over the filling, and placing them seam-side down onto the pan. I spread a thin layer of sauce over them, made a second layer with the rest of the cabbage rolls, and drizzled the rest of the sauce over.
Covered with foil, they cooked for an hour, and then another 15 minutes without foil to brown a little. My husband and I were hungry by then, and were happy to call them done. They were tender, they tasted good, but…the flavors were still separate, not that slumped-togetherness where flavors have all slipped into each other.
So I put the rest back into the oven for another hour, with foil on. When I pulled them out this time, they looked liked I’d wanted them to look the first time: more sunk, settled in, and browning. I let them cool, put them in the fridge, and the next day we microwaved a few for lunch…so good!
One change for the next time: I would add something to bind or moisten the rice and lentils together. Maybe a little of the cabbage water that had sat aside in the pot, maybe a little oil, and maybe even use a potato masher or my hands to mash them into each other more, so that when you eat a forkful, it’s a beautifully contained bite, rather than loose kernels falling out onto the plate.
Of course, very tasty loose kernels.