Stuffing and rolling something like a tortilla is one thing, but the extra step of boiling an entire head of cabbage just to get the outer leaves doesn't rate very high on my to-do list. In fact, it rates so low that I've never actually made cabbage rolls by this method. Instead of boiling a huge pot of water I tried a hassle-free freezer method. Freezing and then thawing the leaves makes them soft enough for rolling. (Please note I'm resisting the urge to explain the science principles at work here. You're welcome.)
Speaking of freezing unlikely ingredients, a few of you may remember some of my first posts on experimenting with frozen tofu. I almost used that technique again in Ashley's tasty Italian sausage recipe, but remembered I like the simplicity and texture of TVP better than tofu (as I explained via these Unsloppy Joe Bowls). If you're still scared of TVP, I understand. However, this filling would be a great place to start; what it lacks in looks it more than makes up for in taste. Fennel, basil, oregano, sage and smoked paprika provide the flavors of a meaty sausage. A hefty splash of red wine seals the deal on this multi-purpose stuffing. I'm definitely impressed with the flavors Ashley put together to achieve just the right sausage flavor.
As for the frozen cabbage technique it was certainly easier than submerging a whole head of cabbage in a huge pot of boiling water. Unfortunately, I didn't bake my cabbage rolls long enough and the leaves were still on the rubbery side. I don't think this was related to the freezing technique itself, but I won't know for sure until I try it again. I'll give you an update next time I try it, which should be pretty soon considering how quickly I'm gobbling these up.
filling inspired by Edible Perspective
10 large cabbage leaves
7 ounces boiling water
1 cup dry TVP
1 tsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 large stalks celery, sliced
1 green or red bell pepper, diced (I like 1/2 of each color, but use whatever you have on hand)
1 cup chopped button mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 tsp whole fennel seed
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried (rubbed) sage
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/3 cup red wine
* Wash cabbage leaves and freeze at least 12 hours. Thaw in the refrigerator or in warm water.
*Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 9-inch or larger baking dish. In a small bowl pour boiling water over TVP. Stir and let stand 10 minutes; fluff with a fork.
* Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add onions and celery and saute until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add bell pepper, mushrooms and garlic and saute 5 minutes more or until mushrooms release most of their liquid. Stir in fennel seed, basil, oregano, sage, smoked paprika, salt and pepper; saute 1-2 minutes longer. Add prepared TVP and red wine. Cook, stirring frequently, until liquid has evaporated and mixture reaches desired texture, about 3 minutes.
* Lay out cabbage leaves on work surface and evenly divide filling among leaves (roughly 1/3 cup per leaf). Tuck and roll leaves around filling and place rolls, seam sides down, in prepared baking dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake 45-60** minutes or until cabbage is tender.
**Note: I baked these for 45 minutes, but didn't realize how tough they were until after I'd taken pictures. At that point it was too late to put them back in the oven. My best guess is 60 minutes or you could try 45 minutes at 375 degrees. I'll add an update next time I make these.
Food for Thought: "People are very open-minded about new things- as long as they're exactly like the old ones." -Charles Kettering