Saturday, November 5, 2011

A New Take On Cabbage Rolls

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had been developing some vegan entrée recipes to go in an article for Delicious Living Magazine. Typically, the entrée (a term I've personally rejected) centers around some form of protein, so I included this in each recipe--being careful not to disappoint anyone.

As I began imagining various options, a classic northeastern European dish came to mind: cabbage leaves stuffed with kasha, or buckwheat. This seemed a good starting point for one of the recipes, since buckwheat is a whole protein, and cabbage is pretty widely known to promote health in a number of ways. An immediate problem with this idea was the amount of time cabbage rolls take to cook, because the assignment stipulated that my recipes needed to take a maximum of 30 minutes to prepare.

Not wanting to give up on a good thing, I let the idea roll around in the background as I designed a few other "quick & easy" dishes. Then a possible solution popped up: switch out the cabbage with radicchio--which is a member of the same family  as cabbage (the cruciferae), but cooks up in much less time. The challenge would be radicchio's characteristic bitter taste (which I love, but many people do not). I figured that baking the rolls in a tomato-based sauce would compensate for the bitterness to some extent, but just to be sure, I added a generous amount of currants in the filling. It worked.

First, I separated the outer leaves from the center of the radicchio, collecting eight of the largest. The inner leaves I diced finely and set aside to add to the filling. I blanched the large leaves very briefly in boiling water and laid them out on a towel to dry a bit.

The old Russian method for preparing kasha is to beat an egg into the raw groats and then cook them in a dry pan, stirring constantly, until they dry and separate. Then water or broth is added, and the groats are boiled until tender. This keeps the groats from getting mushy and sticking together in clods. My method is actually much easier, requires no egg, and takes only a few minutes. All I do is drop the buckwheat groats into roughly five times their volume of vegetable broth, boil them like pasta for about 7 minutes, until tender, and drain them. Easy. I save the broth, which will have thickened considerably, for another use.

While the buckwheat was cooking, I sautéed some onion and garlic in a little EVOO until lightly colored, and then added the diced radicchio. I continued stirring until the vegetables were tender--just a few minutes--adding salt, pepper, and allspice about halfway through. Off the heat, I stirred in the cooked buckwheat, a little maple syrup (again, just to mollify the bitter-averse), some currants, and a hefty amount of chopped fresh mint. This became the filling.

After filling and rolling up the leaves, I made a quick sauce. I heated just a bit of EVOO in a pan and  added some tomato paste, stirring to spread it out and get it bubbling. then I added some of the liquid left over from cooking the buckwheat, forming a sort of brothy tomato sauce. I poured a small amount of this into a large sauté pan and placed the radicchio rolls on top, fitting them in snugly, with the seam side down. Then I poured the remaining sauce over the rolls, covered the pan, and set it over medium-high heat for about four minutes. The radicchio leaves were just tender.

I served two rolls per person, with the sauce spooned over them and garnished with sliced Italian parsley. They definitely did not have the same flavor as the old familiar cabbage rolls, but they passed my wife's scrutiny, and I personally loved them.

So there you have it: a bold, new take on cabbage rolls.


  1. Hmmmnn... Vegan 'cabbage' rolls huh? I guess I could go out on a limb and try them, just to be able to say I have.