Unstuffed cabbage

(food styling/karoline boehm goodnick; Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Rachel Travers
December 22, 2008
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Serves 6

Sweet and sour stuffed cabbage is a traditional recipe of Jewish families with Eastern European roots. My mother's was a family favorite, but a fairly labor-intensive project involving blanching a head of cabbage, separating the leaves, and making tiny packets filled with a seasoned meat and rice mixture. Then you have to roll them up and simmer them in sauce for hours. You need patience and plenty of time to make stuffed cabbage. I didn't set out to deconstruct the dish. My intention was to offer my family the familiar tastes they were looking for without making the long version of the dish. I simmered chopped cabbage in one pot and in another made a ground beef sauce with tomatoes and the classic sweet and sour seasonings - lemon juice, golden and dark raisins, brown sugar, and red wine vinegar. Then I added the tomato mixture to the cabbage with rice and kept simmering. Amazingly, I nailed "unstuffed cabbage" at the first attempt. It's far easier than the stuffed version, tastier on the second or third day, freezes well, and the flavors please everyone. You never know what you can come up with when you're short on time and long on nostalgia.

1large head green cabbage
2cups chicken stock
1tablespoon olive oil
1large onion, chopped
1clove garlic, chopped
1/2teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2teaspoon pepper, or to taste
2pounds lean ground beef
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4cup golden raisins
1/4cup dark raisins
3tablespoons dark brown sugar
1tablespoon red wine vinegar
1can (16 ounces) tomato sauce
1can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes, crushed in a bowl
1/2teaspoon ground allspice
1/2teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 cup uncooked white rice

1. Core the cabbage and chop it into 8 to 10 pieces.

2. In a large flameproof casserole, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the cabbage, lower the heat, and partially cover the pan. Simmer for 30 minutes or until cabbage is tender when pierced with a fork.

3. Meanwhile, in a large deep skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the beef to the pan, breaking it up as you stir it in. Cook, stirring often, until the meat is browned.

4. Add the lemon juice, golden and dark raisins, sugar, vinegar, tomato sauce, tomatoes, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.

5. Stir the meat mixture and rice into the cabbage. Return to a boil, lower the heat, and cover the pan. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice, or until the rice is cooked through. (Total simmering time is 50 minutes.) Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if you like.

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