Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

One of my fondest memories growing up at a very young age was watching my bubba (grandmother) Olga and also my mother, Athena, make cabbage rolls or Vifki, as we call them in Macedonian. The villages from where my family came from haven’t got a written language, only spoken, so therefore we don’t know how to write it and so therefore I’ve spelt it the way we say it.

I don’t recall exactly what my bubba did but I can clearly recall my mum Athena’s version. Mum would fry up onion then add the minced meat and cook it till it was just browning, she’d then add the rice, salt and pepper . When mum wasn’t watching I’d sneak a little lump, or two of mince meat and relish in the glory of its taste and of not being caught out. Alright sometimes I’d eat a little more than that, but then who was watching! Mum would steam the cabbage and I’d watch her carefully filling and rolling the cabbage leaves up, arranging them in the saucepan and cooking them.

When dinner was ready I’d always squeeze lemon juice over mine whereas my younger brother Paul would drown his plate in tomato sauce. In fact he’d drown most foods in tomato sauce, even when we dared him to put it on his breakfast cereal and eat it, you guessed it, he did it.

Over the years and I suppose being embarrassed of my macedonian heritage, I never tried to cook vifki or any other ethnic food for that matter. I think, it wasn’t easy growing up in Australia during the 1970’s especially for europeans and their families. We just wanted to fit in, being a first generation Australian, I called myself an aussie though others saw us as wogs and therefore tormented and bullied us. It took me a long time to embrace my heritage and thank goodness I did because I wouldn’t be sharing this amazingly delicious and simple dish with you.

My version is not all that different from mums, but mine has no rice. I don’t tolerate grains very well and therefore don’t use them. I don’t miss it either. In place of rice I’ve used vegetables.

You do find yourself, as the seasons change, and it heads into the cooler months that you want something simple, yet nourishing. Comfort food that soothes the soul and warms the heart. For myself, when it’s cold outside, and I’m sitting down to a soulful, wholesome meal, it warms me from the inside out, and that puts a smile on my face. Happy wife, happy life.

This version of vifki I created at a time in my life when, for a few months I had crazy reactions to tomatoes. Do you or someone you love react to tomatoes as well? My reaction started over a course of two months in summer. Firstly it made me tired to the point that I would have to go lie down and I’d fall into a deep sleep. Then over the next week or two I would get light headed and start to slur. My heart felt like it was slowing down. Then it became crazy to the point of almost going into a state of coma where I couldn’t open my eyes or lift my arms. Where I could hear people talking to me but I couldn’t respond. It was scary. I couldn’t touch tomatoes or tomato plants yet alone eat them.

The reactions to tomatoes, this fruit , which I’d grown up on, made my own sauces with and even grew in my vegetable garden were now on my do not touch or eat list. So I started to change some of my recipes around to cater for my reactions and that is how this version of vifki was created. It’s made with a bone broth sauce which is so full of nutrients in itself and is suitable for those who can’t tolerate tomatoes and is so delicious that I now prefer it to a tomato based sauce. They are great to prepare ahead and even freeze.

In this cool weather I find myself craving comfort foods and my special version without tomatoes or rice is kind to the gut and full of flavour and goodness. Do give them a try, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I also like to make these using bottled cabbage leaves in brine, which tastes similar to sauerkraut. These are sometimes available at Aldi or some European specialty shops or delicatessens. If using the bottled kind then skip the first step. Also the bottled leaves are great for having in the pantry as a standby. Either way, they are delicious. This makes a large batch and I like to freeze extra’s when I have them for lunches. There is a little time taken with preparation but the end result is worth it. Serve it with the Lemon Caper Sauce. I also like to top with a wedge of lemon and one or two caper berries.

STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS

1 large Green Cabbage

FILLING

1 kg Minced meat (either beef, lamb, pork or pork and veal)

1 large Brown  or red Onion, peeled and diced or 2 spring onions, green part only, sliced

2 medium Carrots, grated

1 -2 medium Zucchini, grated

1 Egg

1 tablespoon Lamb Herb Mixture ( recipe below)

2 teaspoon Onion Powder (optional)

1 teaspoon Garlic Powder or 1 teaspoon Garlic Infused Olive Oil

1 teaspoon Sea Salt

1 teaspoon Black Pepper

1 cup Beef Bone Broth

1 cup Water

2 Bay Leaves

METHOD – CABBAGE

Wash Cabbage, then remove the core. Put cabbage, core end down into large saucepan or stockpot and cover with cold water.

Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and boil for 10 minutes.

Carefully drain the cabbage into a colander and rinse with cold water. Set aside to drain and cool while preparing the filling.

METHOD – FILLING

In a large bowl add mince meat, onion, carrot, zucchini, egg, lamb herb mixture, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Mix with hands till well combined. Set aside.

METHOD – ASSEMBLY

Gently remove the cabbage leaves, trying to not tear them by rolling from the top downwards. Trim off the thickness from the stem (triangle shape on outside of leaf base ) so that it’s as thick as the leaf. It can also be cut out, if you prefer. Continue until all leaves are done.

Place a couple of the outer leaves into the base of a greased, heavy based large saucepan with a tight fitting lid.

Taking a leaf, inside of leaf facing upwards and base facing you, put ¼ – ⅓ cup mincemeat mixture at the base of leaf. 

Fold over the sides of the leaf and roll up to enclose the meat into a nice parcel. Place on top of the cabbage leaves in the saucepan, seam side down and continue the same way with the remaining cabbage rolls. Place cabbage rolls tightly into the pan and stack on top of each other till you have put them all in the pot.

Pour bone broth and water into the saucepan, add bay leaves and put lid on top.

Put saucepan on stove over medium heat and bring to the boil, reduce heat to med-low and simmer gently for 40-70 minutes or until cooked through ( depends on pot size and how many layers of rolls). Make sure lid is on properly as you don’t want the liquid to boil dry during cooking. Serve with Lemon Caper sauce.

Serve

LEMON CAPER SAUCE

1 ½ cups stock drained from the cabbage rolls

Juice and Zest from 1 Lemon

2 tablespoons Capers

3 tablespoons Tapioca Starch or flour mixed into a paste with a little water

½ teaspoon Dill, dried

Salt and Pepper, to taste

METHOD – LEMON CAPER SAUCE

Into a small saucepan add the stock, lemon zest and juice and bring mixture to the boil.

Add tapioca paste and stir over med-high heat till thickened.

Stir through the capers, season with salt and pepper, if needed, and serve with the cabbage rolls.

LAMB HERB MIXTURE

3 tablespoons dried Rosemary

2 teaspoons dried Marjoram

2 teaspoons dried Thyme

2 teaspoons dried Oregano

1 teaspoon dried Mint

1 teaspoon dried Basil

METHOD

Into a jar  add the rosemary, marjoram, thyme, oregano, mint and basil. Put lid on and shake till well combined. Label and keep in pantry and use as needed.

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