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~ Mom's Crockpot Casserole Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ~

IMG_3304If you grew up in an Eastern European family, you grew up eating stuffed cabbage rolls -- known as "holupki" to me and "golumpki" to many of you.  From weeknight family-style dinners to holidays or special occasions, this beloved meal is a staple on the table.  Everyone makes them a bit differently, with the constants being: ground meat (beef, pork and/or lamb), rice or grain, green cabbage leaves and a tomato-based sauce.  If you grew up in an Eastern European family and you currently write a blog, you proclaim your family's stuffed cabbage to be the best.  I fall into the latter category and I am no exception.  My mom's stuffed cabbage rolls are the best.

A bit about Crockpot's Casserole Crocks:

IMG_2900 2Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vessel for cooking cabbage rolls, side-by-side and in a single layer, to cook evenly, in comfort -- spa-style.

IMG_2899 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3923c31200dI bought two. At about $45.00 each, it wasn't that big of an investment.  The crocks are the shape of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole, with the inside bottom dimensions of the crock being approximately 11" x 7" x 3". My rational: These are going to be awesome for making a slow-cooker version of my mom's holupki. I couldn't wait to plug 'em in.

Making Stuffed Cabbage in Crockpot's Casserole Crocks:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08f1f655970d1  large, firm head green cabbage without splits or tears (about 4 pounds)  (Note:  1 large head of cabbage will yield:  20-24 large-to-medium-sized stuffed cabbage rolls requiring 1/2-1/3 cup filling each.)

3  pounds lean ground beef (85/15)

2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1  cup uncooked long-grain white rice, not "Minute rice" (8 ounces)

2  medium-sized yellow onions, about 6-ounces each, finely diced (about 2 cups)

1  seasoning packet from 1  box of G.Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix (1/2 teaspoon salt may be substituted)  (Note:  This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a well-known family secret of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand in my pantry so I can duplicate her recipes without fail.  It's readily available to me at my local grocery store and on-line as well.)

2  large eggs, beaten 

For the sauce mixture:

4  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (2 cans per casserole crock)

4  cups water (2 cups per casserole crock)

all the water reserved from steaming the cabbage leaves (about 3/4 cup, divided between the two casserole crocks)

3 teaspoons each:  salt  and coarsely-ground black pepper (1 1/2 teaspoons in each casserole crock)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole crocks

IMG_5795 IMG_5795 IMG_5795 IMG_5795 IMG_5809 IMG_5809 IMG_5809 IMG_5809 IMG_5816 IMG_5816 IMG_5816 IMG_5816~Step 1.  Mixing the meat.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly over the top.  Using a large spoon or your hands, mix to combine. Measure and sprinkle the rice over the top, then, give that a thorough mix too.  Finely dice the onion, add it along with the G.Washinton's seasoning packet and mix again.  In a small bowl, using a fork, beat the eggs, add them, and, you guessed it, give the whole thing one last very thorough mix.

IMG_3043 2 IMG_3043 2~ Step 2.  Coring the cabbage.  The core is what holds the cabbage leaves to the head.  In order for the leaves to separate easily during and after the steaming process, it is necessary to remove the core.  With a short-bladed coring knife, cut around the core to a depth of about 1 1/2"-2", or enough to start a separation of the outer leaves.

IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174~Step 3.  Microwave-steaming the cabbage leaves.  Place the cored head of cabbage, cored-side down, in a large mixing bowl.  Add 1 1/2 cups water to the bowl.  Do not cover.  Microwave on high for 12 minutes.  Remove from microwave.  With the aid of a fork and your fingertips, remove the loose outer leaves (3-4) from the the head.  Return to the microwave, on high, for 4 more minutes.  Remove from microwave and remove more loose outer leaves (4-5).  Continue this process of microwaving and removing leaves, 3-4 more times, until the size of the leaves become too small to affectively stuff and roll.  Reserve the core of the cabbage, along with the cabbage (acidulated) water too.  The entire steaming process typically takes about 28-34 minutes.

Tip from Mel:  About halfway through the process, use a pair of kitchen shears to trim and remove more of the core, which is now soft.  This will make removing the inner leaves easier.

IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3245~Step 4.  Filling and rolling the cabbage leaves.  Generously spray the inside of both casserole crocks with no-stick cooking spray.  On a flat plate or work surface, place one cabbage leaf, convex side down, and using a paring knife, trim the thick core vein from the center of it. Depending upon the size and thickness of each cabbage leaf, this core vein can/will be large or quite small, but be sure to do it as it makes the rolling process easier and the finished product prettier.  Flip the cabbage leaf over, concave (cup) side up.  Using a 1/2 cup measure, scoop filling in the center of the leaf.  Lift side of the leaf closet to you up and over the filling, then lift and fold left and right sides of the leaf up and over the meat filling.  Continue to roll the filled leaf over until it sits seam side down.  Arrange the cabbage rolls, side-by-side, seam-sides-down in the prepared crocks as you work -- one dozen will fit in the bottom of each casserole crock.

Note:  It goes without saying that not all cabbages or cabbage leave are created equal.  My measurements today are for a large head with large outer and medium inner leaves.  Smaller heads yield smaller leaves, so the amount of filling must be downsized too -- 1/3 cup filling for medium leaves and 1/4 cup for small leaves -- sounds silly, but the leaves will let you know.

IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260~Step 5.  Saucing and slow-cooking the cabbage rolls.  Pour 2 cups of water over the tops of the cabbage rolls in each casserole, then divide and add the reserved cabbage water to each crock casserole too.  Spoon and spread the contents from 2 cans tomato soup over the tops of the cabbage rolls, then sprinkle 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 1/2 teaspoon pepper over the top of the soup in each one.  Cut the remaining core into eight wedges and arrange 4 wedges atop both casseroles.  Place the lids on the crocks and cook on high for 2 hours, low for 3 hours, then on warm for 1-2 hours, to allow the cabbage to soften a bit more and all the flavors to marry.

IMG_3277 IMG_3277 IMG_3277~Step 6.  Immediately after placing casseroles on warm setting, remove the cabbage wedges and set them aside.  Trust me, the cabbage-wedge lovers are going to like the texture of the wedges removed sooner than later.

My mom's crockpot-cooked stuffed cabbage rolls:

IMG_3309A forkful of slow-cooked childhood comfort food:

IMG_3317Coming soon to a freezer or lunchbox near you:

IMG_3209Mom's Crockpot Casserole Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:  Recipe yields approximately 24 cabbage rolls and 8-12 servings at 2-3 per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; short-bladed coring knife; large microwave-safe bowl; long-handled fork; kitchen shears; 2 crock casseroles

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1d82c2f970cCook's Note:  Mom's stuffed cabbage rolls were always cooked on the stovetop -- crockpots hadn't been invented yet.  That said, when she did buy a crockpot in the 1970's, her ~ Unstuffed: Deconstructed Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ~ were just as popular with our family, and, they took her a lot less time to make.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)


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