Saturday, January 17, 2009

Stuffed cabbage

stuffed cabbage, before stewing

I got the camera and the crock pot both working. The camera is designed to be a point-and-shoot, which is perfect for me: I like my gadgets simple. My elderly PC took an hour or so to gingerly shake hands with it, and receive its photographic lode. The crock pot is point-and-simmer.

These cabbage rolls are the first dish I've made in this crock pot. They seemed like a safe dish to start with, because they are assembled from fully cooked ingredients. The long stewing in a crock pot allows the cooked grain to absorb flavors from the stewing liquid, the stuffing ingredients to marry, and the cabbage to become tender.

In crock pot speak, "low" is really quite low. I never saw the liquid bubble, though there was steam condensed under the glass lid. I think of this as a "feature" of the crock pot: that it will tenderly stew everything, without burning it onto the bottom or sides, for as long as it takes to render tough meat or vegetables meltingly tender. After two hours, Kevin checked the pot and decided they needed more time, making an executive decision in my absence, and finally stewed the already fully cooked cabbage rolls for four and a half hours. It seems unlikely that I'll overcook anything, at least on "low."

When I make something like this again, I will make sure to cover everything completely with liquid: cabbage at the top of the pot never got as tender as what cooked fully submerged in liquid.

To make this dish, I cored and steamed a head of cabbage: about ten minutes of steam was enough to make the leaves pliable. While the cabbage cooled, I browned two pounds of ground lamb, and sautéed some onion, combining those in a large bowl with a quart of cooked brown rice (left over from dinner the other night), more caramelized onions (that I browned the other day with the idea that I'd think of something to put them in), salt, pepper, and a little chopped parsley. Start with two teaspoons of salt for four cups of cooked grain, and adjust to taste.

I peeled the outermost leaf from the head of cabbage, which formed a shallow cup, and filled it with about a quarter cup of the lamb and rice mixture. If I didn't overstuff it, I could fold four corners of the leaf over to close the cabbage roll. It's nice if they stay together, but not the end of the world if they fall open. I used half the head of cabbage before I ran out of stuffing.

I put a quart of lamb ragù into the crock pot, and gently laid each cabbage roll into the sauce after I made it. When I was done, the pot was nearly full. Some of the rolls were above sauce level, so I added a couple of cups of duck stock (the last of it) to top things off.

crock pot full of cabbage rolls and tomato sauce, the remainder of a steamed cabbage, and a stuffed cabbage leaf

I stewed them in the crock pot on "low" for 4.5 hours, during which the cooked rice absorbed almost all of the liquid in the pot, leaving about a cup of rich tomato paste at the bottom.

stuffed cabbage, cooked
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