When we were kids, Mom knew certain dishes would make all of us run to the table in anticipation.
Like pork chops. Fleischkuechle. Chicken and dumplings.
But when Mom made cabbage rolls, my trek to the table slowed to a defeated shuffle. Mom loved cabbage rolls — we called them “Pigs in the Blanket” — but I couldn’t stand them. I used to make Mom leave a few of the piggies “naked” (sans cabbage), and I would ruthlessly pick out any shred of the offending vegetable that accidentally landed on my plate.
At that point, I don’t think I’d even tried eating cooked cabbage. It just seemed like anything that smelled that bad could not be edible. Gently cooked, the aroma is fine. But overcooked, it smells like a combination of rotten eggs and pickled roadkill. (Years later, I learned the culprit is hydrogen sulfide, a gas that’s released when cabbage has been cooked to death.)
Indeed, the hard-headed member of the Brassicaceae has long been known as the orthopedic shoes of the food world. It isn’t the vegetable that will make you the star of the neighborhood block party. Nobody says: “Kids! Step away from the pie table! Irene brought coleslaw!”
However, anyone’s star can ascend amid a pandemic. Suddenly, you’re trading your chunky Louis Vuitton loafers for a pallet of Lysol Wipes and your sexy girlfriend for a sturdy farm girl who knows how to milk a cow.
Now, even cabbage is having its day. I just read a food blog that claimed this frumpy wallflower has become one of the hottest foods to quarantine by. After all, it is cheap, nutritious and highly versatile. Most importantly, it can last up to two months in the refrigerator.
This must be why I recently jazzed up a couple of bags of Asian-style salad with shelled edamame, red pepper strips, cilantro, toasted onions and tons of red cabbage, then covered it with a peanut-ginger dressing (recipe below).
Or why I’ve even attempted to re-create Mom’s cabbage rolls. My first effort was mushy, but after some fine-tuning and research, I created a much tastier second version. (Even better the day after, when I browned the rolls in butter and served them with sour cream.)
So now, guess what? I really like cabbage. It’s like they say. I fought the slaw, and the slaw won.
Mom’s Modified Pigs in the Blanket
12 leaves cabbage (carefully removed, so as not to tear)
1 cup undercooked white rice (recommended cooking time minus 5 minutes), drained well
1 egg, beaten
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 to 1 ½ pounds lean ground beef or turkey
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Generous splash or two of Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup tomato sauce (add more to make stickier)
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 can condensed tomato soup
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup water
½ teaspoon lemon juice
Heat a pan of salted water and bring to boil. Add the cabbage leaves in batches and cook for 2-3 minutes until the leaves have softened slightly, but are still vibrant in color. Remove and refresh in iced water. Drain.
Thoroughly mix together all filling ingredients and form about 1/3 cup of mixture into egg-shaped piggies. Place mix at stem end of each leaf; roll leaf around meat mixture, tucking in sides. Place cabbage rolls, seam side down, in ungreased baking dish.
To make sauce: Melt butter. Stir in flour until lumps dissolve. Slowly whisk in tomato soup, ½ can of water, salt, sugar and lemon juice. Cook until heated through. (If you really like sauce, you can double this and serve some on the side.)
Pour sauce over cabbage rolls; cover with foil and cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, basting occasionally with sauce. Remove foil and cook for 15-20 minutes more. It’s done when cabbage is nice and soft and piggies are at least 160 degrees.
6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
5 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons ginger root (peeled, minced)
3 garlic cloves, minced
Whisk together the ingredients. Toss with salad right before serving.
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at firstname.lastname@example.org.