Stuffed cabbage leaves have always been part of my life. When I was young, the stuffing was a lamb and rice one, a la my Armenian heritage, and they were called cabbage sarmas. Later on, I leapt to a variation for my Pig-by-the-Tail Charcuterie, exchanging the lamb and rice for pork sausage and the individual leaf packets for a whole head, which I called a cabbage turban and sauced with a tomato caper sauce. These days, I have returned to the individual packets but changed the stuffing to a vegetarian one with brown rice, walnuts, and dandelion greens. The dandelion greens are the surprise. No matter how young and tender you pick them, they retain a decidedly bitter pucker. But tucked into brown rice, they cease to affront and instead demur to lending their healthful, herbal kick to the dish. The on-the-spur-of-the-moment tomato caper sauce adds the acid element that brings it all together, and it has the advantage that it is equally good in summer with fresh tomatoes or in winter with canned ones. The recipe is adapted from my most recent cookbook, Sausage: Making and Cooking with Homemade Sausage. Here, I offer three cooking methods both to accommodate different kitchen set ups and to proselytize the pressure cooker and microwave as energy-saving appliances that perform as well as more conventional ways for this dish.
1 cup brown rice, preferably organic
1 large head green cabbage (about 2 1/2 pounds)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup chopped tender dandelion greens
1/2 cup walnut pieces or halves, lightly toasted and finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Tomato Caper Sauce, for serving, see the sidebar
1. Rinse the rice, place it in a small saucepan, and add two cups filtered water. Bring to a boil over high heat, decrease the heat to low, and cover. Cook until the water is absorbed and the rice is plump, 40 to 45 minutes. Set aside off the heat with the lid still on and let steam dry for 10 minutes, longer is okay.
2. To prepare the stuffing, bring a small pot of water to boil over high heat. Add the onion and dandelion and blanch until the onion is translucent, 2 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add the rice, walnuts, oregano, parsley, tomato paste, salt, and pepper and knead with your hands until thoroughly blended. Set aside at room temperature.
3. To prepare the cabbage leaves, bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Leaving the head whole, cut out the core down to about 1 1/2 inches. Add the cabbage, cover, and cook until the outer leaves are thoroughly wilted and beginning to shrink, 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a colander and set aside until cool enough to handle.
4. One by one, gently pull off the cabbage leaves down to the core leaves. Set the core leaves aside for another dish. With the insides of the leaves up, place about 1/4 cup of the stuffing in the center of each leaf. Roll up the leaf to make a tightly wrapped packet. Arrange the packets “seam” side down and side by side in a tight layer in a large saucepan, pressure cooker, or microwave dish. Pour 1/3 cup water into the container around, not over, the packets. To cook:
On the stovetop: bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and cook until the leaves are very tender, about 25 minutes.
In a pressure cooker, lock on the lid, bring to pressure over high heat, decrease the heat to medium-high and cook for 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and let rest for 5 minutes, then gently release any remaining pressure.
In a microwave, cover and microwave on high for 20 minutes, until the cabbage leaves are tender.
5. To serve, arrange the cabbage packets on a platter and dollop the sauce across the top.