As the weather finally starts to cool down a bit, we can look forward to spending time in the kitchen again and working on some comfort foods. This Stuffed Cabbage dish is a great project to tackle this weekend. Like Hambagu and Corn Potage, this is a Japanese homage to a classic westernized dish. It feeds a crowd, it’s tender and juicy, it’s make ahead, and it freezes beautifully; so let’s get into it!
What Makes this Japanese Stuffed Cabbage? It’s All About the Cabbage
This recipe is different from the European style stuffed cabbage that you may have had. It has a lighter feel to it, largely owing to using a more delicate green cabbage. Today we’re using Taiwanese cabbage which may be new to you. I think that one of the reasons why we Americans don’t eat more cabbage is because it’s so coarse and hard to chew. So it’s no surprise that the most common way to eat it is to slather it with a heavy creamy sauce in coleslaw, to mask some of that unpleasantness.
But Taiwanese cabbage is different, really. It looks like a flattened disk and it has leaves that are larger, sweeter, and more tender than the sturdy leaves in regular green cabbage. Raw cabbage is very popular in Japan and it’s often used in salads and as a garnish for fried foods. It’s believed that cabbage helps in the digestion of fatty foods, so you will see copious amounts of it being consumed at Ton Katsu (breaded fried pork) restaurants. You can find Taiwanese cabbage at most Asian grocery stores. Look for a large head because those leaves will make the rolling process much easier.
If you cannot find Taiwanese cabbage, you can use regular green cabbage. The best are large but light heads, which means you will not have densely packed leaves. Peeling off the leaves can be a nightmare if you have a very tight compact ball. Another option is to use napa cabbage, which will yield a slightly different, but incredibly delicious alternative.
Making the Stuffed Cabbage Filling
I start by finely mincing the veggies. It’s really important in any ground meat mixture, whether it’s meatloaf, meatballs, or stuffing, that the veggies be as small as possible. This way they incorporate more easily and fully with the meat and you don’t have chunks of veg falling out of the filling. Plus, it just has a better mouth feel where it tastes like beautifully seasoned meat, and not like a bunch of vegetables thrown in.
Now I know what you’re thinking…I’m just going to whip out the food processor and bang this out in no time. That would be a hard NO! The food processor will chop up your veggies yes, but it will also mash them and you will end up with a wet mess. So actually, now’s the time to whip out your knife and work on those knife skills! It does take a little more time, but you will be well rewarded.
Keep chopping and adding the veggies to a large bowl. Then we add some soy sauce and panko into the mix to give it a decidedly Eastern flair. Give the veggies a thorough mix before adding the meats. I like to add minced bacon because the rich and smoky flavor plus the added fat give the filling a lushness that’s so delicious.
The easiest way to mix everything together is to use your hands. Ground meat is wet and heavy so your hand is the best tool.
When all the little bits of veggies and bacon are thoroughly dispersed through the meat, put the filling aside.
Prep the Cabbage
Once you core the cabbage, pull off the leaves slowly and carefully, loosening them with your fingers first. Once you get to the center and the cabbage is the size of your fist, stop. I usually cut the remaining small head in half and tuck it into my pan with the cabbage rolls.
Stuff the Cabbage
Start by separating the cabbage leaves into two piles, larger and smaller. The meat filling will be wrapped twice, first with the smaller leaf and then with the larger leaf.
Repeat with the rest of the leaves and filling. You should have about a dozen or so rolls when you’re done. (If you have leftover filling and not enough leaves, form it into meatballs and cook along with the stuffed cabbage.) Place the rolls seam side down in a large skillet as you go.
Make the Stuffed Cabbage Sauce
All that’s left to do at this point is to whip up the sauce and cook the stuffed cabbage. This sauce is what I would call brothy. If you’ve had stuffed cabbage before, this will be lighter and probably less sweet than you’re used to tasting. You can use canned tomato puree, diced tomatoes, or whole tomatoes for the sauce-whatever you have on hand is fine.
If using whole or diced tomatoes, first puree them.
As you can see in my photo, I have an extra meatball and the leftover baby cabbage head in the pan. You too should feel free to add any leftovers to cook together.
Cooking this dish is very simple. Cover the pan and bring it to a simmer. Then lower the heat and cook for 40 minutes until the cabbage rolls are tender and the sauce slightly reduced.
This braised dish is so comforting on an autumn evening, you have to try it. Yes, it’s a bit labor intensive but the results are well worth it. Any leftovers freeze beautifully. Let me know what you think of this Japanese style Stuffed Cabbage. Leave a comment and tag us in your pics @funkyasiankitchen, we love hearing from you!
- 1 head green cabbage (preferably Taiwanese- pick a large head)
- 1 pound ground beef (bison or lamb are also great options)
- ½ large onion
- 1 carrot
- 2 ribs celery
- 3 slices bacon
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 14 ounce can tomato puree or 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 3 Tablespoons ketchup
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Ground black pepper to taste
- Peel the onion. Slice it into thin strips and then across the strips into a small dice. Chop the diced onions until they are a fine mince. Add it to a large bowl.
- Peel the carrots and celery and do the same, mincing them fine, and adding them to the bowl.
- Add the garlic, breadcrumbs, egg, soy sauce, salt, and pepper. Stir with a fork to combine.
- Cut the bacon into very fine strips and again into a fine dice. Add the bacon and the ground beef to the bowl.
- Using clean hands, combine the ingredients, making sure the veggies are evenly dispersed throughout the mixture.
- Set aside the meat filling.
- Using a small paring knife, core the center of the cabbage and discard. Gently loosen the leaves from the base and peel off the leaves until they look too small to use (If the leaves are smaller than the palm of your hand, stop peeling).
- Set up a bowl with ice water and put it next to the stove. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium high heat. Add 5-6 cabbage leaves to the pot, gently submerging them under the boiling water with tongs or a spatula.
- Boil the leaves for 2 minutes and then transfer to the ice water for a minute to cool. Remove the leaves from the ice water and drain well.
- Keep boiling and cooling the cabbage until you have cooked all of the loose leaves.
- Place the drained cabbage on a cutting board and remove the fibrous center rib by cutting a skinny upside down “V” into the bottom of the cabbage leaf .
- Sort the cabbage leaves into a pile with smaller cabbage leaves and a pile of bigger cabbage leaves.
- Scoop a generous ¼ cup (you can also use a measuring cup) of the meat filling onto one of the smaller leaves. Fold the right side of the cabbage leaf over the filling and then fold the other side over the filling, trying to cover as much of the meat filling as you can. Roll to the end of the leaf.
- Take a bigger leaf and put the wrapped package seam side down. Again fold over one side and then the other, trying to cover the package evenly. Having the entire package double wrapped is ideal.
- Place the cabbage packet in a large 12” deep skillet, seam side down, and continue making packages. You should yield 12-13.
- Combine the tomato puree with the chicken stock, ketchup, sugar, and ground black pepper. Stir to dissolve the sugar. (If using diced tomatoes, empty the can of diced tomatoes, including the juice, and blend them until smooth first). Taste the sauce (canned tomato products and purchased chicken stock can have varying levels of saltiness) and add the salt if needed, adjusting the seasonings to suit your taste.
- Pour the sauce over the cabbage packets and tuck in the bay leaf so it’s submerged.
- Put a lid over the pan and bring the contents of the pan to a simmer over high heat.
- Lower the heat to medium, crack the lid open a little, and simmer for 40 minutes.
- Transfer the stuffed cabbage to a deep platter with plenty of the sauce. Serve immediately.
*If you run out of leaves, you can make meatballs and tuck them into the pan with the cabbage packages. Likewise, the ball of cabbage you have left after pulling off the usable leaves can be cut in half or into quarters if it’s kind of big. Tuck the cabbage into the pan as well and cook together with the packets.
*This dish can be made ahead and reheated the next day. It also freezes well.
Keywords: stuffed cabbage, dinner, beef, bacon, japanese