Stuffed Cabbage

Stuffed cabbage, or holishkes, are a traditional Succot food. At this festival, it is common custom to eat stuffed or wrapped foods, symbolic of both the bounty of harvest-time, and, on a much deeper level, God’s clouds of glory, which enshrouded and protected the Children of Israel as they wandered through the wilderness. Holishkes are nostalgic and filled with old world charm, but there is no way around the fact that they are labour intensive, so allow yourself half a day from start to finish to get this done or a couple of hours over two days. Though labour intensive, it isn’t difficult, and the result is simply gorgeous.

  • 1 large cabbage or 2 medium ones

For filling:

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and very finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • 100g (½ cup) basmati rice
  • 700g (1½ lb) minced (ground) beef

For sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 large onions, peeled and finely sliced
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3x 400g (14oz) tins (cans) chopped tomatoes in sauce
  • 480ml (2 cups) chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 cups leftover cabbage trimmings
  • 85g (¼ cup) honey
  • Juice of one lemon

For separating and softening cabbage leaves:

Method #1, BOILING: With a sharp knife cut around the stem of the cabbage, inserting the knife close to the stem and piercing downwards a couple of inches but no more. Do not pull out the core. Place the whole cabbage in a large pot with enough water to cover and bring to the boil. As the cabbage boils, use two long forks to gently lift leaves away from the core — you may need to stop after every couple of leaves in order to allow the newly exposed leaves to boil and then pry them away from the center.

Method #2, FREEZING: Place whole cabbage in the freezer for 2-3 days, defrost overnight. Once completely thawed, use a sharp knife to cut the leaves away from the stem, carefully separating one leaf at a time.

Once the leaves have been separated, rinse well and check for insects.

To prepare the cabbage leaves for rolling, turn the cabbage leaf with the outside facing up and use a sharp knife to shave off some of the hard stem but do not cut through the leaf.

Reserve 4 cups’ worth of cabbage trimmings.

To prepare rolls:

  1. Prepare between 24-30 cabbage leaves as directed above.
  2. Heat a medium saute pan over medium heat, then add the vegetable oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the finely chopped onion and saute until very soft, stirring often. Once soft, about 5 minutes, add the garlic, paprika, ground coriander, salt and pepper and saute for a further 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the rice and saute for a further minute just so the rice starts turning translucent and is well combined with the seasoned onions. Remove from heat and cool completely.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine minced (ground) beef, rice and onion mixture and one beaten egg. Once well-mixed, start stuffing the cabbage leaves.
  4. To stuff the cabbage leaves, place about a tablespoon of filling on the base/rib of the leaf. Fold the base over filling and roll once, fold the sides towards the center to enclose. Continue rolling until complete and place seam-side down on a platter, repeat with remaining leaves and filling.

To make sauce:

  1. Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil and once the oil is shimmering add the onions and pinch of salt and saute until soft and golden brown, about 8 minutes.
  2. Add the 3 tins (cans) of chopped tomatoes and their juices to the pot with the cooked onions, use the chicken stock to ‘rinse’ out the cans and add the chicken stock from the cans to the pot as well. Season with salt and pepper and bring to the boil. Add half the cabbage trimmings to the pot.
  3. Gently place cabbage rolls seam side down in the pot , the rolls will pile up in layers. Sauce will come up ¾ of the way over the cabbage rolls but will not cover them. Top with remaining cabbage trimmings. Lower the heat to a steadily very very slow boil, cover the pot tightly and cook for two hours, checking occasionally to make sure the heat is steady. If the liquid has reduced to less than half-way up the cabbage rolls, top with additional tomato juice.
  4. Remove some of the cabbage rolls from the pot, just until you reach the sauce. In a small bowl, combine the honey and lemon juice and pour into the sauce. Return the cabbage rolls to the pot and continue cooking for an additional 15 minutes.
  5. Stuffed cabbage can be served immediately, refrigerated for up to 3 days and frozen for up to 3 months.