Oftentimes, when I’m writing these headnotes I know exactly where a recipe idea came from. In this case, however, I find myself scratching my head because I just can’t recall.
Maybe it was from a work potluck where a colleague brought in a ‘stuffed pepper soup’, and I started thinking about what other baked dishes could be besouped.
Maybe it was from a conversation with a friend about the conflict between the glories of stuffed cabbage rolls and our shared laziness when it comes to finicky prep.
Or maybe from another friend’s birthday party, where his boyfriend made some spectacular cabbage rolls in a slow cooker, and toward the end of the party we kept coming back to the pan and scooping out the little bits of meat and cabbage that had fallen away into the tomato sauce.
Honestly, I don’t know — I’ve slept too many times and made too many batches of this soup to recall. But that in itself should tell you something: I’ve made this at least three times in the last month! Sure, I sometimes remake dishes to test them before I post them, but in general I rarely make the same thing twice. This stuffed cabbage soup, though? It’s been promoted into my regular rotation, which is a very big gold star.
And why? Because it’s so easy, but has great outcomes. Here’s the deal: I love stuffed cabbage (or golumpki, or cabbage rolls, or holubky, or holishkes, or whatever you call them where you’re from). But there’s just no way I’m going to come home from work, blanch cabbage leaves, and then wrap up little parcels of meat. Maybe on a weekend, but it ain’t happenin’ on a weeknight. This soup, however, hits the same spot (for me at least), and I can chop cabbage and onions on autopilot. And as long as I remember to grab a cabbage and a pound of meat on the way home, I can have a hearty dinner on the table an hour after walking in the door. Sold!
Stuffed cabbage soup
This soup is, in essence, a deconstructed cabbage roll: same great flavor, way lazier prep. The spicing below is very simple, and suits my tastes. If your family or upbringing uses a different flavor profile, however, it should be very easy to adapt: just add the same kinds of flavorings you’d use in a baked dish and let it bubble away.
1 Tbsp vegetable oil (opt.)
1 lb. ground turkey, beef, or pork
1 med. white or yellow onion, diced
3-6 cl. garlic, minced (depending on your love of garlic)
6 c stock
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/2 c raw white rice
1 small head cabbage, cored and chopped (about 8 c)
2 Tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt (omit/adjust if you use a salted stock)
2 tsp black pepper
Sour cream, for serving
Begin browning the ground meat, using the optional oil if the meat is very lean. When there is only a bit of pink remaining, add the onion and garlic. Continue cooking until the onions have softened and turned translucent.
Add all the remaining ingredients except sour cream. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the cabbage is very soft.
Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot, with a big dollop of sour cream.
Note on leftovers
The rice will continue absorbing liquid as the soup sits in the refrigerator, so you may want to add a splash of water when reheating, just to loosen it up.
This makes a very thick soup, almost a stew. If you’d like a thinner soup, just add more stock. You may need to adjust the salt, sugar, and vinegar in that case.
If you’d like to diversify the vegetables in the soup, dice some carrots and celery ribs (about 2 of each) and add along with the onion and garlic.
Not traditional to this style, but still delicious: add something spicy, either in the cooking or when serving. Hot sauce, chile paste… you get the idea.
More traditionally, the seasoning here is very simple, but you could jazz it up with any of the following if you like: marjoram, thyme, dill, caraway, celery seed, nutmeg, mace. Just don’t add them all: I can attest, from a version of this soup where I went a little overboard, that you’ll end up with musty, funky, overspiced mess.