Friday, 25 October 2013

Stuffed cabbage with Middle Eastern twist

Stuffed cabbage. Just hearing the word takes my thoughts right back to my Nan's. And the school cafeteria. There is something so profoundly untrendy about them. They are well known dish in both Nordic and Eastern European cuisine, but because of their Torah scroll-like shape they are also a popular food during the Jewish celebration of Simchat Torah, which marks the completion of the annual reading cycle of Torah. 

With a little imagination these traditional treats, too, can be tweaked to a whole new glory. Today the inspiration came from Middle Eastern aromas I love so much. The earthy warmth of cumin and coriander seeds. Lamb, cardamom and cinnamon. You can use ready-made spice blends - for instance ras el hanout that I used for those Moroccan köftes would work well with these too.  If you don't like lamb or can't get hold of it, feel free to use any mince you want.

Instead of barley or rice that is normally used for stuffed cabbage I used bulghur to keep with the theme. Dark syrup glaze that usually accompanies these in Finland got substituted with pomegranate molasses that you've already encountered in Syrian chicken livers and fig and Serrano ham salad. I also sprinkled pomegranate seeds on top of the cabbage rolls - they're in season now and so juicy!

Since cabbage rolls are such a sturdy feast, I served them with tzatziki and Israeli salad, on which more tomorrow! 

I like my rolls with a generous amount of stuffing, so this recipe yields 16 rolls. With a little less stuffing this is enough for 20 stuffed cabbage rolls. 

1 large cabbage

1 dl bulghur

500 g lamb mince
1 onion
2 garlic cloves
generous 1,5 tsp cumin
generous 1,5 ttsp coriander seeds
generous  3/4 tsp cinnamon
generous 3/4 tsp cardamom
generous 1/2 tsp ground cloves
salt, pepper

For glazing: 

1/3 dl water
2 tbsp (pomegranate) syrup
a couple of knobs of butter or margarine

To serve:

pomegranate seeds

Cook the bulghur according to the instructions of the packet. Drain and let cool.

Heat some oil in a pan and sauté the onions until soft and translucent. Then add spices and toss the mixture in the pan until everything is well combined (add some oil/ water if needed).  Cook for a little while longer to really get the aromas going. Let the mixture cool and then combine with bulghur and mince to a smooth mixture. Season well and let it rest in the fridge while you prepare the cabbage leaves.

Scoop out the hard core from the cabbage and carefully remove the leaves you need for these (16-20 pieces). Trim the hard stalk running in the middle of the leaf at the core end of the leaf. You want it thin and pliable. Cook the leaves in a big pot of salted boiling water until soft. Drain.

Place the drained leaves in front of you with the core end towards you. Spoon the desired amount of filling on the centre of the leaf, at the edge closest to you, fold the sides on top of it and then roll into a tight parcel. Place into an oiled baking dish the seam side down. Mix the glaze and brush the parcels with it. 

Bake at 200° for about an hour. Keep glazing the parcels with the syrup-mixture collecting at the bottom of the dish.

And the rest of the cabbage? Of course it didn't go to waste - stay tuned for the next edition of Soup Sunday!




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