I’ve been thinking a lot about tradition. With Halloween approaching and the cozy return of fall, fond memories are rushing in. Memories of hurrying home from school to carve pumpkins or roasting up some deliciously addictive pumpkin seeds and tossing them with a dash of some tangy Tabasco. My mom would have a big pot of chili blipping away filling the house with garlicky goodness. We’d hunker over steaming bowls before trekking out into the frigid night stuffed into snow suits with princess and pirates costumes bulging over top.

Halloween used to be waaaay colder, didn’t it?

Four years ago when Johnny and I bought our house we went from down town Halloweens (boozed-up crazies pissing in alleyways), to young families mingling in driveways. We bought too much chocolate and candy in and effort to be the cool house on the block, dipping back out twice to make sure we were well stocked.

Everything came together just in time – except dinner.

In an effort to avoid bags of candy becoming our dinner, I zipped up the street to the corner deli. Living in a Polish neighbourhood has lots of advantages – you’re never far from stuffed peppers, schnitzel and pierogies made by expert and authentic hands… and pickles, glorious pickles. I bagged some cabbage rolls and got home in time for the parade of rosy faces to begin.

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Our then-doggy, George, was ecstatic nuzzling the kiddies with tail-a-wagging at every new visitor. Unbeknownst to us, we had started our own tradition: carving a goofy pumpkin, roasting spicy/salty pumpkin seeds, popping open a hearty bottle of red, watching spooky old movies and making a bubbling tray of comforting cabbage rolls.

Four years later the thought of rushing to the door every two minutes has lost its charm, but eventually those strung out little ghosts and goblins wander home. I look forward to turning off the porch lights and crashing on the couch, the dog finally settling into snooze-land and remembering the year our house became a home.

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MAKE AHEAD VEG PACKED CABBAGE ROLLS

serves 6 – 8

Cabbage rolls aren’t tough to get the hang of. I like green cabbage for its more pungent taste, but savoy cabbage is by far easier to work with. I usually use meat with a lot of veg mixed in, but you can make this entirely vegetarian by upping the rice and veg amounts. For an even healthier option you could use barley or quinoa in place of rice.

This is a great make ahead option. I do up a big tray for the two of us and have them on hand for a satiating lunch or a last minute dinner. I mentioned in my Cannelloni with Mushroom and Red Pepper post that I often make extra sauce to have for serving. Here, your cabbage rolls steam in the sauce and soften up, coming together into a gorgeous little bundle. I find when it’s all said and done that I still like more to drizzle over top or pool underneath.

Try changing up your veg selections – root vegetables like celeriac, parship and turnip work well and are a great in season option. As are zucchini, peppers and hearty greens.

 

1 head cabbage, green or savoy

1 tbsp olive oil

2 cups diced mushrooms, packed

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup diced celery

1 diced onion

2 minced cloves of garlic

450 grams ground beef, pork, chicken or turkey (or a mix)

2 cups cooked rice

1 egg

2 tsp thyme

1 tsp smoked or sweet paprika

1/2 tsp each cumin and cinnamon

a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce

a few pinches of chili flakes

Sauce:

28 oz can, diced tomatoes

28 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 bay leaf

2 tsp thyme

1 tsp each smoked or sweet paprika, oregano, salt and sugar

1/2 tsp each cumin and cinnamon

1 tbsp cider vinegar

 

Fill a large pot with cold water and generously salt, bringing to boil.

To make the filling:  Place a sautée pan on medium high heat. Add oil, swirl to coat. Toss in your mushrooms, carrots, celery and onion and season with salt. Soften your veg for a about 5 minutes, reducing heat if they brown too quickly. Add the garlic and cook a minute or so more. Remove from heat to cool.

In a bowl combine the rest of your filling ingredients with the cooled veg and mix until everything is incorporated. This can be done up to a day ahead and kept in the fridge.

To make sauce: Combine all the ingredients in a large pot. Swirl the empty crushed tomato can with water – about a cup and a half – and add to the sauce. Simmer and allow to cook away while you assemble the rest.

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To assemble: Get out a large baking dish or roasting pan and scoop a few cups of sauce into the bottom until it is well covered. Set aside.

Core your head of cabbage and gently slide into the your pot of water. Boil until outer leaves begin to soften, 5 – 8 minutes. Carefully remove from water and peel away the outer leaves starting at the base. Remove as many as you can, laying on a towel to dry. Return the rest of the cabbage to boiling water for another 5 minutes. Repeat until you have removed as much as you can. When you get to the very centre where the cabbage looks brain-like, chop some up and add about a cup to the filling and mix.

Cut out the course centre vein on each leaf making a V-like shape. Scoop 1/3 cup of the filling near the bottom fold the ends over top. Fold in the sides and continue to roll until everything is enclosed. Place seam side down in your baking dish.

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Continue until you run out of filling. If your rolls don’t all fit laying flat you can make a 2nd layer. Scoop over the rest of the sauce, reserving about a cup, until rolls are half-submerged – if there isn’t enough sauce, then fill the rest of the way with water.

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If you have any leftover cabbage leaves, lay them over top. Cover with foil and bake in the oven at 350F for about an hour and a half.

These can be baked ahead and stored in the fridge for a few days or cooled completely, tightly wrapped and frozen for up to 2 weeks.

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

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