Back to life, back to reality. That’s how the old saying goes, isn’t it? I didn’t go anywhere over the break, but a lot of other people did, so things seemed to move a little slower, work was a little more relaxed, and therefore, so was I. It’ll probably take a week or two to pick up and get everyone moving at the same pace that we were before December, but thankfully, I can avoid all of that because Kramer and I head to Shanghai, then Phuket (in Thailand), a week from today! I’m so excited I could burst. We haven’t had a break since summer, so we’re ready to disconnect and chill for a while. My brother lives in Shanghai, and we haven’t seen him since he moved this past May (I think it was May, anyhow), so I’m extra pumped to see him and have him show us around his new city. I want to eat soup dumplings the size of my head, drink lots of Tsingtao, and find myself surrounded by Peking duck. My parents and other brother, who lives in Baltimore, are going too, so it’ll be fun to have the whole family together for the first time in over two years. My dad has been to China more times that he can probably count, so I’m sure he’ll want to show Kramer and I (the only people in our family who have never been) all around. I’ve got my visa and my passport ready – now we just have to wait. I also need to load up on good books and podcasts. Any suggestions other than Serial?
As you can see above, I ate a lot during the holidays. Chinese food, Korean food, cookies, pancakes, pizza – you name it, I ate it. Now it’s time to put away the carbs before our vacation. A week probably isn’t enough time to go on a serious diet, but it’s enough time to me to pretend to, so that’s what I’m doing. We’re cutting back on carbs and not drinking any beer, which is really all that I can do as far as dieting goes, so these cabbage rolls are a part of that. There’s a place near our apartment called Masha and the Bear, where they make really delicious cabbage rolls, but of course, they are stuffed with both meat and rice. Seeing as how rice is a no-no right now, I made up for it in these with eggplant and mushrooms. This is one of Kramer’s favorite things to eat, and seeing as how it’s relatively good for you, I’m happy to make it. I’ve tried this recipe a few different ways, one of which was to not bother cooking the tomato sauce beforehand, but I really think cooking it and letting it simmer for a bit before adding it to the dish is really important, as it draws some of the water out and gives it a richer flavor. If you don’t cook the sauce first, it’ll be really watery when you’re done – sorry, guys! I promise it’s worth a little extra effort, and hey, you can stuff these guys with just about anything, from spinach to kale to zucchini to whatever. If you’re vegetarian, do a mixture of mushrooms, eggplant, and tofu. No matter what you do with this, you’ll be eating happily and healthily in 2016!
Pour the rest of your sauce over the top and bake.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 large head of cabbage
- 1½ pounds ground beef
- 1 small eggplant (or ½ a large eggplant), diced into ½-inch cubes
- 1 cup button mushrooms, quartered
- 1 egg
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
- First, get your tomato sauce started. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium-sized pot over medium heat, and add in your diced onion. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until softened and translucent, stirring often, then add in your garlic and cook for 1 minute, until fragrant. Add in your crushed tomatoes, salt, and red pepper flakes, stir to combine, and allow to cook for another 15-20 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and set aside.
- While your sauce cooks, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium-high and add in your whole head of cabbage (it's okay if not all of it is covered by the water) and cook for 5 minutes or so.
- Use tongs or a large, heavy spoon to remove the head of cabbage and place it on a cutting board lined with paper towels. Remove the outer leaves, place them on a plate lined with paper towel to drain, and then put the cabbage back in the water once you've peeled off all of the cooked, tender leaves. Continue doing this until you've peeled off all of the usable layers of leaves. I've found that this is the easiest way to cook the leaves for cabbage rolls - don't worry about getting the leaves bone dry, either, it's fine if there is a little water when you're rolling them up later.
- At this point, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. In one more bowl, add your ground meat, eggplant, mushrooms, egg, garlic, salt, paprika, and pepper. Use a spoon or your hands to mix everything together. Butter a 9x13-inch casserole dish, spread about 1 cup of the tomato sauce over the bottom of the dish, and set it next to your work station.
- Take one cooked cabbage leaf, place about 2-3 tablespoons of meat mixture in the leaf, and roll it up like a tiny burrito and place it seam-side down in your dish. Continue doing this until you've gone through all of your leaves. You can really squeeze them in there, as this dish isn't necessarily meant to be super aesthetically pleasing, anyway. I squeezed in about 15 rolls. If you have any extra meat, you can make meatballs, add it to a sauce, or freeze it to use later.
- Cover the rolls in the rest of your tomato sauce, then place in your cabbage rolls in the oven for 45 minutes or so, until cooked through and the sauce is slightly caramelized on top. Serve hot, maybe with a little sour cream on the side. These will keep well in an airtight container for up to 4 days - they make great work lunches!