My Romanian friend Cristian promised to teach us how to make traditional Romanian Cabbage Rolls that he had learnt from his mum. We had been talking about it for years and finally, we got the opportunity of making these together and he taught me the secret skill of rolling and preparing these delicious Cabbage rolls. We used two different types of cabbage to make these rolls and whilst the process may seem a long and it was definitely a messy process when we were rolling these cabbage rolls, but the resulting taste was well worth it.
My mind was ticking non stops with the possibility of spicing up these rolls using Kebab meat or even some spicy Italian sausage, but for this first attempt, we stuck to tradition and cooked them using traditional ingredients and methods.
For the Cabbage – we used some sour cabbage and some fresh Savoy cabbage. I am told the savoy cabbage is the best to use for stuffing and rolling cabbage rolls due to their softer texture and the fact that they are a little bit more flexible to stuff and roll up. For both types of cabbage, using a small paring knife Cristian took the hard stem out leaving an empty hole in the centre of each cabbage.
This made removing the leaves individually a lot easier. He put a pot of water to boil and as soon as the water came to a boil, he seasoned the cabbage with a bit of salt in the hole that he had made by removing the stalk, and dunked it into the water and left it on a rolling boil. Cristian also added a little white vinegar to the water and this is where it started to smell like sauerkraut in the house.
The cabbage started to sink as it softened and soaked up the water and using a pair of tongs Cristian slowly started pulling individual leaves off the cabbage. The sour cabbage, he just drained the sour water that it was packed in and started taking off the individual leaves off the cabbage and staking them on a plate ready to be filled.
Whilst this was going on, Cristian started preparing the stuffing for the cabbage rolls. He sauted the onions using a little oil and added them into a big mixing bowl with raw pork mince, some raw long grain rice, salt, paprika and vegeta seasoning. I was a little surprised with the raw rice going in with raw meat for the stuffing, but he assured me the rice would be perfectly cooked and would almost disappear with the meat inside the cabbage rolls. Getting his hands right in, Cristian mixed everything really well and to my horror, even tasted the stuffing regardless of the fact that it was raw meat. I would strongly recommend not doing that though!
Once all the ingredients were prepared we started the stuffing and rolling of the cabbage and this was a little messy as the water from the cabbage whilst necessary to keep the cabbage soft and moist, made things very messy to handle. We learnt how to roll the cabbage in two different ways – one was the traditional way of rolling them up like springrolls and then making indentations on both sides of the cabbage rolls.
This was important as when we packed the cabbage rolls in the pan to cook them, they were pushed into each other to help hold them down once the water is added. Apparently, the cabbage rolls love to float in water as they cook, so these little indentations helped twine them together almost, which in turn helped them stay down a bit. The other method was the ‘cone’ shaped cabbage roll and I personally found this one easier to do whilst Cristian’s wife, Chrest found these the harder ones to put together.
Our team work helped us put these together fairly quickly and painlessly but I can imagine it would take a lot longer if it was just one person putting these together.
The cabbage rolls were then tightly put together into a large pot, but before these were lined in the pot, Cristian had made a little bed of tomatoes and leftover cabbage bits on the bottom of the pan as it prevents the cabbage rolls from sticking to the bottom. Once they were tightly fitted into the pan, he sprinkled some more vegeta seasoning on the top, spread some tomato paste on the top and filled the pot with water to the top. Then using a heavy teacup saucer turned upside down on top of this pot, Cristian put the put to boil on medium high heat. He kept an eye on it until the water reached a boil, then reducing the heat and covering the pot with a lid on top of the saucer, we left it to cook for a good 45 minutes to an hour. You could smell the vinegary cabbagey smell all over the house and we couldn’t wait to taste the end result, which was absolutely amazing.
We enjoyed these cabbage rolls with some fresh sour cream. I no longer fear making cabbage rolls on my own and I will definitely be making these again. Perhaps some Chorizo and chicken ones? A big THANK YOU to Cristian and Chrest for this little cooking lesson. We went home with lots of leftovers to enjoy the next day.
ROMANIAN CABBAGE ROLLS
1 sour cabbage
1 savoy cabbage
2 lbs minced meat (we used pork but can use beef, chicken – any type of meat)
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tbsp Vegeta seasoning
2 tbsp paprika
2 cups rice – long grain
1 large onion – finely chopped
2 tbsp oil to saute the onion