Aunt Gay’s Stuffed Cabbage

Boiled cabbage and black-eyed peas are traditionally served on New Year’s Day in the South for luck and prosperity. My dear Cajun neighbor always fixed these dishes for us. To honor her memory, I’m cooking cabbage. But this year I’m preparing Aunt Gay’s Stuffed Cabbage. It is a traditional recipe for the new year.Gays Stuffed Cabbage - IMG_2709Aunt Gay is my husband’s aunt and she is a wonderful cook. In the 1970’s she operated “Gay’s Kitchen” preparing and selling Weight Watcher’s meals to customers. Over the years Aunt Gay has shared some of her recipes with me via my mother-in-law; the recipes are always delicious. I’ll file the recipes–often on scraps of paper or an E-mail–in the front of my recipe box. This recipe was typed on some very old paper–apparently I’ve had it for years. I assumed it was a family recipe.

I contacted Aunt Gay, who is 83-years-old, to ask her about the recipe’s origin. And how do you contact Aunt Gay? By Facebook Instant Messenger, of course! Just shows that 83 years is the new young!  Longevity is in this family’s genes. Grandpa Franklin lived to 95 years-of-age; he lead an active live–fast walking and swimming daily. I’m sure it is a combination of genes and lifestyle. This was always a healthy family.Aunt Gay - IMG_0474

Aunt Gay said that the Stuffed Cabbage recipe is German; it is not a family recipe. The dish was adapted from one served at Alfred’s Deli in Houston. Alfred Julius Kahn moved to Houston from Germany and opened a restaurant with several branches after serving in the Pacific during WW2. The delicatessen and restaurant prepared great German food. I loved the corn beef sandwiches, my husband liked the borsch soup and everyone liked the fresh baked Challah. The last of the restaurants closed quietly several years after Alfred passed away in 1995. I do miss this restaurant!

Growing Cabbage in a Louisiana Garden?

Cabbage is a cool weather crop and is plentiful at this time of year. I’ve tried to grow it in my garden (along with Brussels sprouts) without much success. Cabbage is inexpensive in grocery stores–it makes sense just to purchase the cabbages and keep growing something else such as Bok choy at which I’m successfu.Two Cabbages - _1795

Aunt Gay’s Recipe

My mother-in-law came to visit and helped me make Aunt Gay’s Stuffed Cabbage. The cabbage leaves are boiled to soften them. Then the leaves are are stuffed with ground beef and/or veal and baked in a sweet and sour tomato sauce for an hour and 45 minutes. The flavors blend together and the end result is a delicious preparation.

First, boil the cabbage to wilt the leaves. These are Aunt Gay’s instructions: “Cut enough stem out of the cabbage head to loosen the outer leaves.”Coring cabbage - IMG_6578_1

“Continue to cut the stem as you go along until you have enough whole leaves. If you make a multiple recipe of meat, you will need more than one cabbage in order to have enough large leaves. Drop leaves in hot water and cook a few minutes until the leaves are limp enough to roll, but not soft. I always cut away some of the thickness of the outer leaves.” Chop left-over leaves and place in the bottom of the baking dish.Ground meat stuffing ingredients - 2 - IMG_6574_1Mix the stuffing ingredients together. These are ground beef (not too lean), uncooked rice, flour, chopped onion and bell pepper and seasonings of salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce.Ground meat stuffing ingredients - IMG_6575_1

Wrap 1/4 cup portions of filling in the cabbage leaves and place in the baking dish. Cut away thick center portion of leaves, if needed.Rolling ground beef stuffing in leaves - IMG_6581_1 For this recipe, I used a large baking dish (9″ x 13″) that was 2 1/2″ deep. The recipe makes a large batch and the cabbage rolls should be covered with covered with water. A lasagna baking pan worked well.Rolled Cabbage leaves ready for sauce - IMG_2573

Mix the sauce ingredients together. The sweet and sour sauce uses citric acid for the sour component. I’d never used this ingredient; but found a food grade powdered form in a small container at a grocery store. Vinegar or lemon juice can be substituted for the citric acid if needed. Aunt Gay says that if you don’t want such a sweet sauce; then cut down on the sugar but keep it balanced with the citric acid.Sauce ingredients and citric acid - IMG_6572_1

Citric acid is a weak acid and has a variety of commercial and food uses. The acid is found naturally in fruits such as lemons and oranges. It is used in canning and preserving vegetables and fruits, home brewing, often is added to fruit juices and is used in making sour candy.

Cover the stuffed cabbage leaves with the sauce; add water to cover the rolls and bake in a 325 degree oven. Aunt Gay says you really can’t overcook this recipe and often the stuffed cabbage leaves taste better the next day. This cabbage recipe doesn’t last long at our house! Stuffed Cabbage Casserole - IMG_2632

Aunt Gay's Stuffed Cabbage

  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients for cabbage and ground beef stuffing:

    • 1 very head large cabbage (you will need 16 leaves)
    • 1 1/2 lb ground beef (not too lean)
    • 1/3 green bell pepper, diced
    • 1/3 whole onion, chopped
    • 4 Tbsp (1/4 cup) uncooked rice
    • 1 1/2 Tbsp flour
    • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • black pepper to taste

Ingredients for sweet and sour sauce:

    • 16 oz can tomato sauce
    • 2/3 cup sugar*
    • 2 tsp citric acid**
    • 1/8 tsp black pepper

Method and Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly oil large, deep baking dish (9″ x 13″ x 2 1/2″) and set aside.
  2. Mix all the ingredients for the ground beef stuffing (except the cabbage) and set aside.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove. Cut away as much of the core of the cabbage as possible, loosening the outer leaves as you go. Continue to cut stem as you go along until you have enough whole leaves. You will need 16 leaves.
  4. Drop the leaves in boiling water and cook just a few minutes until the leaves are limp enough to roll, but not soft. Cut out some of the thickness of the outer leaves if needed. Cut out the hard stem which runs down the center of each leaf.
  5. Wrap individual portions of filling (about 1/4 cup) in softened cabbage leaves.
  6. Chop remaining cabbage and place in the bottom of a baking dish. Place cabbage rolls on top of the chopped cabbage.
  7. Mix the sweet and sour sauce ingredients together in medium bowl (tomato sauce, sugar, citric acid and black pepper).
  8. Pour the sauce over the cabbage rolls; add enough water so the rolls are partially covered with the liquid.
  9. Cover tightly (I use aluminum foil) and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Baste the cabbage rolls a couple of times and uncover during the last 20 minutes.

*The sugar in the recipe may be reduced to 1/3 cup with good results.

**Vinegar or lemon juice can be substituted for the citric acid. You almost need to use the minimum amount and taste, adding whatever flavor is needed. (I used 2 Tbsp lemon juice.)

You really can’t overcook the cabbage rolls and they are often better the next day.

NOTE: If you really like tomato sauce, the sauce ingredients can be doubled. Makes a much thicker sauce. You still need to add water to the bottom of the pan; but not to the top of the cabbage.

Gay's Stuffed Cabbage - IMG_2638

Boiled cabbage is the traditional way to serve cabbage on New Year and I have learned to like it prepared this way. But stuffed cabbage is delicious, too. Have a healthy and safe 2016!

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