Stuffed Cabbage

Ron Smotek of Independence makes a delicious stuffed cabbage. So do a lot of people.

Sure, Smotek’s father, a Czech, passed along a recipe with a flavorful combination, the garlic powder adding a nice zing. But honestly, when you wrap the stuffing in cabbage and bake it in tomato soup, any combination of rice and ground meat tastes good.

What ruins the dish, though, is when the cabbage comes unrolled, and you end up with a gloppy mess of meat, sauce and leaves. Still tasty, but you can’t serve it to company. That never happens to Smotek, who cooks dinner every Wednesday night at Karlin Hall in Slavic Village. When he’s done rolling, there’s no chance of the tidy package accidentally unwrapping.

“You could throw it like a baseball,” he says. “It doesn’t fall apart.”

Too busy to cook?

For family-size gatherings, Smotek recommends the stuffed cabbage at Peter’s Market in Cleveland (4617 Turney Road, 216-341-5910). He and his family run Bonnie’s Catering (216-581-4362) if you need to feed a larger group, and Smotek cooks authentic fare at Karlin Hall (5304 Fleet Ave., 216-341-9867) from 5:30 to 7 p.m. every Wednesday.

Smotek’s Stuffed Cabbage
[makes about 30 stuffed cabbages]
3 heads of cabbage [ 1 ]
3 pounds ground beef
4 eggs
1/2 cup minced onion
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup breadcrumbs
3 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 teaspoons garlic powder
Sprinkle of parsley
Tomato soup to cover cabbage
Garlic powder to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients from beef through parsley. Mix thoroughly.

Place cabbage head [ 2 ] in a large pan with water. Cover, and allow water to boil. After about 5 minutes, begin removing leaves as they are ready.

Trim the center vein of the leaf. Put about a handful of meat (shaped into an oblong ball) at the bottom of the leaf. Roll the cabbage.[ 3 ]

Place in layers in a baking dish. Cover with tomato soup and any leftover pieces of trimmed cabbage. Season with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and bake for 1/2 hour longer.

Secrets of the Family Recipe
[ 1 ] When selecting the cabbage, look for a heavy, solid head. Such cabbages are likely to have more good leaves for rolling and fewer of the thick white leaves that don’t roll well. You should get 10 to 15 good leaves per head.) Thump it. It should not have a hollow sound. The best cabbages are in early spring.
[ 2 ] Before boiling the cabbage, cut a cone-shaped piece about 3 inches in diameter around the core of the cabbage. Doing so will allow outer leaves to be pulled off easily while the rest of the head still cooks, meaning that each leaf is cooked perfectly and rolls well. A leaf is ready when it easily comes off with a pair of tongs.
[ 3 ] When rolling the cabbage, don’t just tuck each side in or use toothpicks. The way to keep a cabbage tucked in is to place the meat, roll about halfway up, and then trim the sides of the leaf to about 1 1/2 inches from the edge of the meat. Then fold one side over and finish rolling. The edges of the remaining side are then simply pushed into the meat. Believe me, they stay.
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