Cabbage’s big day

Julie Falsetti

Every dog has his day. I guess the same thing is true for vegetables.

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, supermarkets are stocked with big bins of cabbage. This is in preparation for the “traditional” March 17 dinner of corned beef and cabbage.

Aside from the fact that I don’t know anyone who actually likes corned beef, there is nothing Irish about it at all. For reasons of price and availability, pork, especially smoked pork, was the meat of choice in Ireland.

Cabbage, on the other hand, was a staple. Nutritious and easy to grow, it saved the lives of many Irish during the potato famine.

In the United States, cabbage makes brief appearances on the table in the form of cole slaw. The idea of cooking cabbage seems foreign to Americans.

Eastern Europeans have many ways of turning this humble vegetable into a savory treat. Stuffed cabbage with tomato sauce is one of my favorites.

The recipe below was given to me by my husband’s secretary in 1975. Her note at the beginning still makes me smile: “This recipe is totally time consuming, and one has to wake up in a creative mood.”

Preparation does take about 45 minutes. The creative mood can be enhanced with a glass of wine and some good music.

Stuffed Cabbage

1/2 cup long grain rice

21/2 teaspoons salt, divided

1 medium head cabbage

1 pound ground beef

1 small onion, minced

1 egg

Freshly ground pepper

1 28-ounce can tomato sauce

2 tablespoons lemon juice

4 tablespoons brown sugar (increase or decrease the sugar to taste)

Place the rice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and one cup water into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook covered for 20 minutes. Set aside.

With a paring knife, cut around the core of the cabbage. Carefully remove 12 cabbage leaves. Put them in a large pot with 2 cups of water. Save any tough outer leaves to line the baking dish. Cover and steam until the leaves are pliable, about 15 minutes. Remove the leaves with tongs, and reserve remaining cooking water.

In a medium-size bowl, lightly mix the ground beef, cooked rice, minced onion, egg, a few grindings of pepper and 1 teaspoon salt. Form the meat mixture into 12 fat cylinders.

Assemble the cabbage rolls in the following manner. Place the meat cylinder in the bottom third of the cabbage leaf. Fold up the bottom of the leaf, then each side, and finally roll toward the top, envelope style.

In the pot where you steamed the cabbage leaves, add the tomato sauce, lemon juice, brown sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer covered for 5 minutes.

Place the cabbage rolls seam-side down in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour the tomato mixture on top. Cover with foil and cook for one hour at 350 degrees.

Remove the foil, baste the rolls with some sauce, and cook for 15 minutes more.

Allow to sit 10 minutes before serving.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.