I’m going to share a very special recipe with you on this fine, freezing, winter evening. My Great-Grandmother Mary taught my Mom how to make these Slavic style cabbage rolls and she, in turn, taught me.
I asked my Grandma about the history behind this recipe. She thought the recipe would have been passed down from my great-great-grandmother, Dorothy, who lived in Kostaleny, Czechoslovakia in the 1800’s. This is a picture of her (second from left) and my great-grandmother, Mary (standing in front of her mother), with her in-laws in their traditional Czech costumes.
They were farm folk living in a small village and probably had to grow most of their food. With cabbage and onions from the garden and rice to stretch the meat, this was a pretty economical meal way back then, just as it is today.
Dorothy, along with her daughter, immigrated to America through Ellis Island in 1920 to meet her husband, Mike, who had gone before her 11 years earlier. My Great-Grandmother Mary was only 4 months old when her father left Czechoslovakia.
This is my Great-Grandma Mary the way I remember her. She taught me how to make Bolshevik onion dumplings and to use butter like it’s going out of style. I’ll share that recipe another time.
Czechoslovakian Cabbage Rolls
- one large cabbage
- one onion
- 2 lb. ground beef
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 c. rice, uncooked
- 1 onion, sauteed
- 1 1/2 t. salt
- 1 t. pepper
- 1 stick butter
- 2 15 0z cans tomato sauce
- caraway seeds
Cut the stem out of the cabbage and remove old leaves. Steam just enough to soften leaves so that they release without tearing. Carefully peel individual leaves off the head of cabbage and set aside. Repeat until the leaves get too small to use as a wrap. Cut away the “backbone” of the stem for easier rolling.
Roughly chop remaining cabbage and one onion and place half of both in the bottom of a large pot. Sprinkle with caraway seeds and top with a few tablespoons of butter.
Combine meat, sauteed onion, eggs, rice, milk and salt and pepper. Place 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of beef mixture on a cabbage leaf and roll up.
Layer over chopped cabbage and onion inside the pot and repeat until the meat filling is gone.
Pour tomato sauce over rolls. Top with remaining chopped cabbage and onion. Use water or broth to completely submerge rolls. Sprinkle with more caraway seeds and additional butter if desired. Cover pot with a lid and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer for 2 1/2 hours. Serve warm.
There were literally years between this batch of cabbage rolls and the last time we had them. I was inspired to make them again after trying Lebanese cabbage rolls in a lemon olive oil sauce at a Mediterranean deli the other day.
After doing a little research, I’m intrigued by the cabbage roll and the many different ways it’s made around the world. Apparently, Swedes skip the tomato sauce and serve their rolls with potatoes, gravy, and lingonberry jam. Eastern Europe, where this recipe came from, uses the tomato-based sauce and sometimes serves them with sour cream. Asian rolls consist of seafood and mushrooms. Several regions use pickled cabbage, including Southeastern Europe.
Are cabbage rolls a traditional food from your family past? If so, how did they differ from this recipe?