Chou farci (stuffed cabbage)
Cabbage is hardly the sexiest ingredient. But I am finding real joy in celebrating the staples. The likes of potatoes and cabbages all deserve their time to shine and take centrestage for even a fleeting moment. Like anything, the key is in the ingredient itself. A well-grown, dense cabbage has incredible flavour – mustard notes, slight bitterness and sweetness at the same time. So in the case of a dish such as this, it is worthwhile making the effort to source a good specimen.
There is something about taking a single ingredient and honouring it as a dish in itself that I love so much in cooking. To serve this as the centrepiece for a dinner for four is a bold move – the idea of cabbage as a hero dish may hardly feel celebratory – but it is winter, so things are pretty dull anyway.
Stuffed vegetables make a great meal and we can apply this method to almost any vegetable. But at this time of year it’s the cruciferous veggies that rule. This recipe is kind of a cross between a classic chou farci and cabbage rolls, where single leaves are stuffed with filling, rolled and braised in a tomato sauce. This filling can also be adapted using ground meat or other proteins.
The peaked sugarloaf cabbage may not be the common choice for this preparation, but I find the flavour sweet and the texture strong enough to serve as a main course. The same preparation will work on any cabbage variety, with adjusted cooking times. For example, the cooking time for the drumhead is longer than the wombok.
- 1 head sugarloaf cabbage
- 150g brown rice
- 100g cracked wheat
- 1 large carrot
- 100g shiitake mushrooms
- 1 brown onion
- 50ml olive oil
- 150g walnuts
- 1 bunch thyme (leaves picked and chopped)
- 1 head garlic
- 5g cinnamon
- salt and pepper
- 500ml tomato puree (not paste)
- 80g brown sugar
- 150ml red wine vinegar
- 200ml olive oil
- Place the cabbage in a pot of salted water and bring to the boil. Cook for 20 minutes before removing and placing onto a tray to cool.
- Wash the rice and cracked wheat, then cook together as per brown rice cooking instructions. (This will overcook the wheat, but that is what forms it as a stuffing).
- Dice the carrot, mushrooms and onion, then gently sauté these in a pot with the olive oil.
- Lightly toast the walnuts in a 180ºC oven (about five minutes), then crush them and add to the pan together with the thyme.
- Cut the top off the head of garlic, then wrap it in aluminium foil. Place this in the 180ºC oven for 30 minutes, then remove from the foil.
- Combine all of the stuffing ingredients, then squeeze the garlic to extract the roasted cloves.
- Mix this all thoroughly. Remove a third of the mix and pulse in a food processor to form a loose paste. Mix this back through to bond the stuffing. If it doesn’t form completely, then pulse more of the mixture. Season with the cinnamon and salt and pepper.
- Remove the root of the cabbage while still retaining its structural integrity, then peel back each leaf gently, minimising any tears.
- Once most of the leaves are folded down and the heart remains, remove the heart and either cut it up and mix it through the stuffing or use it for another dish (it’s particularly delicious roasted in butter).
- Layer the stuffing between each leaf, then form the entire cabbage back into its original shape, but as a parcel to hold the stuffing firmly.
- Place the cabbage into a heavy shallow pot or pan. Combine the tomato puree, sugar, vinegar and oil and bring to the boil. Pour the tomato mixture over the cabbage and roast in the oven at 200ºC for 30 minutes uncovered (it should colour to a caramel brown).
- Remove the cabbage from the oven and place a weight on top to press into form while it cools.
- Either serve warm or reheat the stuffed cabbage in the oven before slicing it and presenting with the remaining sauce from the pan.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on June 12, 2021 as "Good stuff".
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