I love cabbage rolls. My mother-in-law Elsa made them for me the first time in the early 80’s. She mixed beef and pork together with onions and rice, placed them in cabbage leaves and tied them with thread. She called this peasant-food. Her son John and I called it heaven. The first time I tried making cabbage rolls I was surprised just how bad I was at getting the leaves separated from the head in one piece. I kept saying, “It can’t be that hard!” Yet I was terrible at it. This surprised me as I feel pretty confident in the kitchen; I just couldn’t get the technique down. I would either tear the leaves or end up with mush.
The other day when I was dusting my study, I picked up Elsa’s picture and said, “I sure do miss your cabbage rolls.” I decided to get out of the box and approach it differently. Why not turn it into a casserole I thought? It would be less time-consuming and we could enjoy it more often. While I was getting out of the box, I decided to use ground lamb, different spices and feta for a different take on it completely.
Doing the cabbage “rolls” as a casserole allowed me to follow my own whimsy. I could shake it up a bit with non-traditional spices and be able to enjoy more cabbage in the process.
Cabbage and Lamb Casserole
- 1 medium head green cabbage (about 2 lbs), remove core, half and slice in 1/2 inch sections
- 1 lb ground organic lamb
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 large farm-fresh egg
- 4 oz (1 cup) crumbled feta
- 1/2 cup short-grain rice, such as Arborio
- 1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh oregano (1 1/2 tsp dried)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley
- 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes (I used our own canned tomatoes)
- 1 cup chicken broth (I also used homemade)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 13×9 inch casserole dish with butter.
- Cut cabbage in half, core, then slice in 1/2 inch wedges. Place the wedges in casserole dish so that they overlap each other in two rows.
- In a large bowl, use your hands to combine the lamb, onion, egg, rice, parsley, oregano, lemon juice, cumin, fennel, salt and pepper. Place on top of cabbage, leaving a 1 inch space around the sides of casserole so that cabbage shows through.
- Combine the tomatoes and chicken broth in a medium bowl, then pour the mixture over the meat. Cover with foil (shiny side down).
- Bake covered for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 30 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes.
“A smiling face is half the meal.” –Latvian quote