Cabbage Rolls

This recipe is heavily influenced by my fabulous Greek friend Mara’s  and my Serbian friend Slavka’s wonderful cooking. Slavka passed on four years ago and left us longing for the winter gifts of pots of cabbage rolls left on our doorstep.

The Greek version is served with Avgolemono sauce and the Serbian is cooked in a light tomato sauce.

750g fine and fatty pork mince
750g long grain rice, rinse 3 times under cold running water and well drained
200g p/w red onion, very finely chopped
dried oregano
1/2 bunch continental parsley, washed, leafed and finely chopped
white pepper, freshly ground
10g Maldon sea salt
5g freshly ground cinnamon
handful cooking sea salt
1 savoy cabbage…see chef’s note
1 full rib rack of smoked pork ribs, cut into individual ribs….see chef”s note
750g Olive’s tomato sauce or similar home made chunky tomato sauce…only required for the Serbian method
1 bay leaf

for the avgolemono sauce
3 whole eggs
3 egg yolks
150g fresh strained lemon juice
500g poaching liquid

chip or pasta basket
three or four clean tea towels
slow cooker…..method one
oven…..method two

Mix together the mince, the rice, red onion, a generous amount of dried oregano, the parsley, white pepper, sea salt and cinnamon and mix well. Check the seasonings by cooking a small meatball in hot oil; adjust the seasonings and oregano as required.

the blanched and dried cabbage leaves ready to fill
the filling ready to go into the prepared cabbage rolls
ready to start rolling

Put a large pot of water on the stove and add the cooking salt. Core the cabbage and without tearing them pull off as many leaves as possible. Blanche the leaves you have managed to pull off until they are flexible and refresh them in cold water. Put the cabbage core side down into the chip basket and put it into the salted water. Using tongs, carefully pull off the leaves as they become flexible and refresh them in cold water.

Drain the leaves and set a clean tea towel on your bench and before starting to form the rolls, dry the cabbage leaves as much as possible on one of the tea towels. Put a few of the pork bones in the bottom of the slow cooker and make a layer of rolls on top. Put the bay leaf in the centre and continue making rolls and separating the layers with a couple of pork bones until all of the leaves and meat have been used. For the Greek method cover with cold water, turn the heat setting to high and set a timer for one hour. For the Serbian method add the 750g of Olive’s tomato sauce then cover with cold water.

slow cooker…. turn the heat setting to high and set a timer for one hour. When the timer goes stick a digital thermometer into the centre of the cabbage rolls it should be about 40°C and set a timer for 30 minutes. When then timer goes turn the heat to low and set a timer for two hours.

oven…..pre heat oven to 180°c
Contact cover the cabbage rolls with a cartouche and a tightly fitting lid and put them in the oven. Set a timer for 30 minutes when the timer goes turn the heat down to 160°C and set the time for another two..check once during the cooking time. Proceed to check that the rolls are cooked inside. This is the same for both methods.

When that timer goes take a roll from the centre of the pot and make a small slit in it to check that the rice has swelled and the meat is cooked. Assess if you need to cook a little longer but if you feel they are cooked turn to warm.

Drain and weigh the stock for the avgolemono sauce.

to serve….Serbian version is served straight from the pot and make sure everyone gets some bones!

to serve….Greek version
Whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks and lemon juice. Put the stock into a saucepan and place it on high heat. When the stock comes to the boil whisk in the eggs and lemon juice, BEING VERY CAREFUL return the sauce to the heat and whisking constantly cook until it thickens. remove from the heat taste and season with maldon and finely and freshly ground white pepper. Serve at the table with the sauce…and what ever you do don’t serve this with ‘accompaniments!’

from the top..cabbage leaves ready for further blanching; middle tis is a great way of doing a cartouche baking parchment and a lid from another pot that sits snugly on the top and the lid of the pot: bottom packed in a slow cooker…with slow cookers just remember they vary from brand to brand so unlike the oven method some intuition is required!

chef’s notes

  • Don’t be tempted to buy the prepared cabbage leaves because they have more of a sauerkraut taste  and are mushy after the cooking. They just don’t cut it and spoil the taste of the entire dish.
  • Smoked ribs have become increasingly hard to find and we often have to resort to any smoked bones. It does make the dish clunkier but in some instances it can’t be helped. The only reliable supplier we have found in Adelaide is San Jose Smallgoods who can be found at the Adelaide Central Market stall 5 and the Adelaide Showgrounds Market on Sundays inside the main hall on the left. Their blood sausage is also excellent.
  • If you are serving the Greek style cabbage rolls a great tip is to make your Avglemono sauce in advance and keep it in a thermos….saves all the last minute terrors of splitting the sauce.