Eric Akis: Cabbage rolls with all the frills

Eric Akis

Cabbage and barley are nutritious, humble, budget-friendly ingredients that work well together. To make this flavourful, hearty, vegetarian entrée, frilly savoy cabbage leaves are blanched, stuffed with a barley mixture, rolled and baked with a tomatoey sauce.

The recipe yields 12 medium-to-large cabbage rolls. If you’re going to take the time to make cabbage rolls, you might as well make a few of them. You can always freeze what you don’t eat, as I have noted in Eric’s options below.

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I used pearl barley because, unlike pot barley, it becomes almost sticky, like risotto, when cooked inside the cabbage rolls. That allows the barley filling, which also contains mushrooms, vegetables and almonds, to nicely hold together, somewhat like a meat/rice filling would, when you slice into the cabbage roll.

To help you make the cabbage rolls, I have included step-by-step photos that show how to form them. Two cabbage rolls will make a nice serving — or even one, if served with other foods, such as cucumber salad, pickled beets and rye bread.

Savoy Cabbage Rolls with Barley, Mushrooms and Almonds

There are a few steps required to make these, but the reward is filling and flavourful vegetarian cabbage rolls that could be served as an entrée.

Preparation time: 75 minutes

Cooking time: About two hours

Makes: 12 medium to large cabbage rolls

For the barley

1 1/3 cups pearl barley (about 275 grams)

2 1/2 cups vegetable broth or stock

2 1/2 cups water

Place the barley, broth (or stock) and water in a medium pot. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat until the liquid is gently simmering. Simmer barley until just tender, but still a little chewy to the bite, about 20 minutes (the barley will further cook inside the cabbage rolls).

Drain the barley well, then cool with ice-cold water. Now place barley into a large sieve and let drain 10 minutes. Place drained barley in a large mixing bowl and use as directed in the next step.

For the filling

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1/2 cup finely diced leek (white and pale green parts only)

1/2 lb. small to medium brown mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper

1/2 cup grated carrot

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted (see Note 1)

1 Tbsp horseradish

1 large egg, beaten

3 Tbsp chopped fresh dill

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place oil in a large skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. When hot, add leek, mushrooms, peppers, carrot and garlic. Cook and stir until the mushrooms are very tender and the moisture seeping out of them has evaporated, about six to seven minutes. Remove skillet from the heat and cool mixture to room temperature.

When cooled, add the vegetable and mushroom mixture to the barley. Add the almonds, horseradish, egg, dill, salt and pepper, and mix well to combine. Use this filling as directed below.

For the sauce

1 1/2 cups vegetable broth or stock

1 (680 mL) jar passata di pomodoro (see Note 2)

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can diced tomatoes

2 Tbsp brown sugar

• salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients in a medium pot, set over medium, medium-high heat, and bring to a simmer. Simmer sauce five minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside until needed below.

For the rolls and to finish

1 (about 1.2-kilogram, seven- to eight-inch wide) savoy cabbage, any tough outer leaves removed and discarded

1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill

Bring a very large pot of water to a boil. Cut out the centre core of the cabbage. Now carefully pull off 12 cabbage leaves (each will be about five- to seven-inches wide and four- to six-inches tall; save the remaining cabbage for another use.)

Add cabbage leaves to the boiling water and cook until just tender, about five minutes. Drain the cabbage well, then fill the pot with ice-cold water. When cabbage leaves are cold, lift out of the water, drain well, then dry each leaf on a kitchen towel.

Trim off the tough, outside, lower part of the vein running through the centre of each leaf and discard. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Set the cabbage leaves, curved-side-down, on a work surface. Spoon an equal amount (about 1/2 to 2/3 cup) of the barley mixture into the centre of each leaf. Tightly fold the sides of each cabbage leaf over the filling. Now tightly roll up each leaf to create a cabbage roll.

Spoon and spread one cup of the sauce in a large casserole or baking pan (mine was 12 inches wide and 16 inches long). Set in the cabbage rolls, seam side down. Top the cabbage rolls with the remaining sauce. Cover and bake the cabbage rolls 75 minutes, or until bubbling and tender.

Rest cabbage rolls a few minutes, then sprinkle with the 1 Tbsp dill and serve.

Note 1: To toast almonds, place them in a non-stick skillet and set over medium heat. Heat, swirling the pan from time to time, until lightly toasted, about three to four minutes.

Note 2: Passata di pomodoro, also called strained tomatoes, is a type of very smooth tomato sauce. It’s sold in the canned-tomato aisle of most supermarkets.

Eric’s options: These cabbage rolls freeze well. After cooking, eat what you can, then cool and divide the rest among suitably sized containers, wrap, date and freeze. You can reheat them in the microwave after thawing.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

How to form savoy cabbage rolls

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Step 1: Cut out the core of the cabbage, then carefully pull off the 12 leaves you need for the recipe. Save remaining cabbage for another use.
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Step 2: Blanch and soften the cabbage leaves in boiling water, then cool, drain and pat dry. Set cabbage leaves, curved-side-down, on a work surface. Set 1/2 cup or so of the barley filling in the centre of each leaf.
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Step 3: Tightly fold the sides of the cabbage leaf over the filling.
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Step 4: Roll the cabbage leaves into fairly tight cylinders. Spoon and spread 1 cup of the sauce for the cabbage rolls in a large casserole or baking pan. Set in the cabbage rolls. They are now ready to be topped with the remaining sauce, covered and baked.

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