By Cassie Johnston
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One of the interesting things about being married (or really being in any long-term relationship—platonic, romantic, whatever!) is discovering all the familial traditions and quirks that come along with the other person. It never really hit me until college that not every family was exactly like mine. Not every family ate biscuits and gravy for Sunday morning breakfast. Not every family went to the movies on Christmas day. Not every family threw an obnoxiously large 4th of July party every year.
Over the years, my darling husband has mentioned “cabbage rolls” a few times in my presence. I had never had cabbage rolls. I had never seen a cabbage roll. I had no idea what cabbage rolls were. In fact, if anything, I thought they were maybe something like a Chinese lettuce wrap—and this girl doesn’t do Chinese food.
Whatever they were, these cabbage rolls were part of Craig’s childhood. So when we started to get giant cabbage after giant cabbage in our CSA each week, I figured maybe it was time to dive into the world of cabbage rolls. If worst came to worst, I could eat a bowl of cereal for dinner.
Turns out, the cabbage rolls Craig talked about are not only not Chinese food (although, I’m sure there is something similar in Chinese cuisine), but they are also really a pretty prevalent dish in North American households. Apparently they’re a “thing”. Who knew?
Oh yeah, that’s right, everyone but me.
Cabbage rolls are cabbage leaves (duh) stuffed with a flavorful filling—usually beef, sausage, rice and aromatics—and then baked under a blanket of tomato sauce until everything is yummy and delicious. Guess what? I like cabbage rolls!
I wanted to go vegetarian with this dish, so my version of these guys is minus the meat and plus a boatload of whole grains thanks my heavy handed use of wheat berries. If you’ve never worked with wheat berries before, you can find them in most of your natural foods stores (we get them in our CSA every now and again) and they are the entire kernel of the wheat plant. Which means, the only processing they’ve gone through is to remove the inedible hull around the berry. You can’t get more whole wheat than this!
I love wheatberries because they retain a really nice chew to them, even when cooked for long periods of time. Some folks might be turned off by the chew, so if you prefer less of a jaw workout, you can sub in farro, brown rice or freekeh. I also think lentils would make for an excellent, protein-packed substitute.
One word of caution about cabbage rolls—these suckers are definitely not a weeknight meal. They require quite a few steps and upwards of two hours from start to finish. Save this dish for a Sunday super when you feel like trying something new. Thankfully, the recipe makes enough that you can stash them in the fridge for leftovers all week long—they reheat beautifully.
These wheatberry cabbage rolls are a hearty weekend meal.
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I grew up eating cabbage rolls as well! My very polish grandmother makes these. They’re called galumpkis and she fills them with a trio of ground beef, pork and lamb. You’ve never seen someone so excited about extra large cabbages in the grocery as my dear, sweet Gramma. Enjoy!
My very Polish grandma made them as well; we called them gwumpkies. I hated them growing up but I have a feeling I’d probably like them now. :)
They are called “golabki” in Poland (pigeons in english – no idea where this name came from). Usually they are braised in thin tomato sauce, made basically from chicken stock and tomato puree.
I must try baked version – it looks easier, without the risk of burning cabbage in a pot.
Galumpkis and lazy galumpkis were a staple in my house–even though in my very Polish town we were one of the few NON-Pole families! I love these with a hefty dollop of ketchup.
My mom was from Thunder Bay too. We grew up eating cabbage rolls and pierogie. My mother-in-law isn’t much of a cook so my husband has really enjoyed adopting my family traditions, yummmmm!
I’m with you, Cassie, I’ve never heard of cabbage rolls but they sound AWESOME! I eat cabbage once a year for St. Patrick’s Day and am always struck by how amazingly delicious it is (cabbage usually gets a bad rap, doesn’t it?) so this sounds like a great way to incorporate more of it in my life. Before I met my SO I had NO idea what gulash or S.O.S. (two things he grew up on) were. And I kinda wish I still didn’t know, ha ha.
We get giant heads of cabbage in our CSA during the summer and I’m always looking for more cabbage recipes. One can only eat so much coleslaw.
I just saw this one today from Vegetarian Times: http://www.vegetariantimes.com/recipe/middle-eastern-stuffed-cabbage-rolls/
It looks like it might need some tweaking, but could be good if you’re looking for a different spin. At the very least it does say you can freeze cabbage rolls. :)
This looks amazing! I’ll definitely have to try it. Cabbage is so awesomely versatile — I love how the texture changes when it’s steamed or cooked. Haha, why so against Chinese food, though? Or is that specifically fast food/buffet-type Chinese food?
I just don’t like a lot of flavors used in Chinese food. I don’t really like soy sauce, sesame, ginger, etc. I’m sure there are some Chinese dishes out there that I’d like, but I haven’t met them yet. :)
These look sooo good! I might want to try my meatloaf recipe (ground turkey with pork sausage and all the other meatloaf ingredients) in the cabbage leaves.
Yay cabbage rolls! In my Hungarian family these are a staple, like a eat-at-every-family-party kind of thing. I will definitely have to try this recipe, maybe add in some ground turkey for my carnivore father haha.
One question, does the wheatberries contain gluten like the grain when it’s ground into flour?
How do you make preparing cabbage rolls look so mess-free! :D My only attempts at making them have been near disastrous, lol! Lovely recipe!
These look great, and make a great alternative for those of us feeding mixed tables. I make my cabbage rolls in the slow cooker with great results.
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