It’s been all about the transitional meals around here lately: dishes that look like colder weather fare, but are actually perfect for the truly lovely weather we have had for the last few weeks. It’s been positively Californian, really; sunny and warm, but cool in the shade and a bit nippy at night. Only without all the Californians everywhere, obviously, which is nice.
This stuffed cabbage took advantage of several different leftovers, and the result was a lovely multicultural mashup of greens and umami. The making was absurdly simple, which only made them more enjoyable to eat. They looked like Eastern European comfort food gut bombs, but were delightfully light and springy.
It’s good to remember that there’s a reason why so many cultures have traditional recipes for stuffed cabbage: cabbage leaves make really good rolling papers for whatever filling you have on hand. You may want to recreate your Grandma’s version, but this ain’t that. This is just a reminder that you can transform leftover things of all sorts, from chick pea tagines to mashed potatoes, simply by rolling them up in blanched leaves. The fine tuning is just a matter of making the other ingredients (stock, garnish) play well with the main flavors.
First, I removed the largest leaves from a head of cabbage and steamed them until tender and rollable but not flaccid. I wanted the to offer a little resistance to a knife. The filling was some fresh cheese I made recently—raw milk curdled with rennet, curds ladled into a muslin bag to drain—mashed in a big bowl with ramp pesto and dandelion pesto (from two different meals) and the leftover whey-braised cabbage from the pork in the previous post plus the rest of said pork chopped into small pieces. That whey resulted from the making of this selfsame cheese, so there’s some poetic closure for you. I threw a little salt and pepper in there for good measure because the cheese was unseasoned.
I rolled them all up and tucked them in a baking dish, then poured some dashi over them for moisture and savory flavor. The dashi was niban-dashi (second dashi) made from kombu and bonito that had already made one batch of stock the day before. This lesser stock, still very flavorful, is traditionally used for stews and such where the clarity of the ichiban-dashi is not required. Properly made, dashi is essence of umami. It doesn’t draw attention to itself, but amplifies the flavors of everything it touches. I baked them for about half an hour, basting them once or twice with the stock.
If you want to reproduce this, make a filling of some soft cheese (cottage, feta, etc.) blended with the pesto of your choice (or just a bunch of fresh herbs or greens) and a little charcuterie or leftover meat if you have some on hand. Add an egg if you want them a little sturdier. The stock could be anything, though if you’re using feta (which would kill) then lamb stock would be a home run. Try using spiced mustard greens in the filling, with some paneer (another super-easy fresh cheese) and then use a curried coconut milk or chicken stock for the liquid. That idea sounds so good that I want to make it tonight.