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~ GF Deconstructed Slow-Cooker Stuffed-Cabbage ~

IMG_4591Feel free to assume I'm not a fan of trendy deconstructed dishes.  I am, however, the first to admit there are exceptions to every rule, and, my mom's recipe for deconstructed stuffed cabbage rolls is one such exception.  Why?  Because the end justifies the means in a big, beautiful way: Every forkful of the finished "deconstructed" version is uncompromisingly just as delicious as the classic original, and, the time saved by not cooking many of the components first, then assembling them in the typical manner is marked.  All I can say is:  Where had this "deconstructed" method been all my life?  It took years for mom to teach me to make her cabbage rolls to perfection (it takes a lot of work to construct a traditional cabbage roll), then, in 2016, she showed me how she makes her deconstructed cabbage rolls -- and it made my life a lot easier.

When it comes to making cabbage rolls, like meatloaf or meatballs, most cuisines have a traditional recipe for them, and, all make use of on-hand ingredients.  For instance:  If they live in an area suited for raising sheep, lamb is in their cabbage rolls.  If they live in a climate where vegetables grow year round, you'll find veggies like bell peppers and chunky tomatoes in them.  I will, however, go out on a limb and state:  when I say "cabbage roll", you should say "Eastern European", because that is the cuisine they're hands-down most commonly associated with.

Here's my gluten-free twist on my mom's recipe:

IMG_44521 medium-sized head green cabbage (about 2 1/2 pounds)

3  pounds lean ground beef (90/10) 

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

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

1  seasoning packet from 1  box of  G.Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix  (Note:  This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture is both gluten-free and meat-free.  It was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant bouillon.  It was a well-known family secret ingredient of my grandmother's and I've keep it on-hand in my pantry specifically to duplicate her recipes without fail.  It's readily available at grocery stores and on-line.)

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2  extra-large eggs

1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 

3  32-ounce boxes + 2 cups gluten-free tomato soup tomato soup (Note:  Not all tomato soup, Campbell's for example, is gluten-free, so, be sure to check the label.)

2  additional teaspoons sea salt + 1 teaspoon additional coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_4458 IMG_4458 IMG_4458 IMG_4458 IMG_4458~Step 1.  To mix the meat and semi-form the meatballs, place the ground beef, diced onion, uncooked rice, G. Washington's seasoning, salt, pepper, eggs and Worcestershire sauce in a large bowl.  Mix thoroughly to combine -- the best and easiest way to do this is with your hands.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, form the meat mixtures into balls, dropping and dividing them equally between two plates, 24-26 on each plate.  Set aside.

IMG_4473 IMG_4473 IMG_4473 IMG_4473~Step 2.  To prep the cabbage, remove and reserve a few soft, leafy outer leaves from the head of cabbage.  Cut/remove the hard core from the center, then slice the head into two halves, then cut each half into two quarters.  Coarse-slice/1/2" shred the first two quarters, and set them aside.  Coarse-shred the second two quarters and set them aside (separate from the first two).

IMG_4483 IMG_4483 IMG_4483 IMG_4483 IMG_4483 IMG_4483 IMG_4483~Step 3.  Everybody into the crockpot. Between the palms of your hands, roll half (give-or-take) the meatballs into actual balls, placing them, side-by-side and in a single layer, in the bottom of the cabbage-leaf lined crockpot. Scatter half of the coarse-shredded cabbage atop the meatballs -- do not press down or try to compact the layers.  Between the palms of your hands, roll the remaining meatballs into actual balls, placing them, side-by-side and in a single layer atop the coarse-shredded cabbage.  Scatter the remaining half of the coarse-shredded cabbage atop the meatballs.  Add the tomato soup, giving it time to drizzle down through the cracks and crevices.  Sprinkle on the additional salt and pepper.  Do not press down or try to compact the layers.  Place the lid on the crockpot.

IMG_4500 IMG_4500 IMG_4500 IMG_4500~Step 4.  Slow-cook on high for 4 hours, then on low for 2 hours.  Lift the lid and smell the wonderfulness.  I like to serve these family style, but feel free to plate for each person.  To serve, using a large slotted spoon, transfer all the shredded cabbage to a 4-quart casserole.  Using the same spoon, transfer and arrange all the meatballs atop the cabbage.  Using a soup ladle, transfer a generous half of the sauce to the casserole.  Serve the remaining sauce at table side.

Just like grandma used to make -- (wink, wink) almost! 

IMG_4595GF Deconstructed Slow-Cooker Stuffed-Cabbage:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; cutting board; chef's knife; 6 1/2-7-quart crockpot; large slotted spoon; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4820b9d200dCook's Note: Known as holubki to me and many of you*, stuffed cabbage rolls are beloved in every Eastern European household. Everyone makes them a bit differently, with the constants being: ground meat (beef, pork and/or lamb), cooked rice, steamed green cabbage leaves and a tomato-based sauce.  Because they are labor-intensive, too often they're reserved for holidays or special occasions. That said, those of us in Eastern European inner-circles know there are other ways to bring this knife-and-fork savory comfort food to the weekday table in almost half the time. Here's ~ Five Ways to Enjoy Slovak-Style Stuffed Cabbage ~.  Give 'em a try!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)


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