During high school and for some time after, I worked at an assisted-living home where I tried some classic dishes for the first time, such as livers and onions and stuffed cabbage rolls. The stuffed cabbage rolls were surprisingly good, as in crave-worthy good, who knew? The chef topped the rolls with a sweet and sour tomato sauce that paired perfectly with the naturally sweet cabbage and the meat filling. It was the start of my love affair with the elusive cabbage roll – I like them but rarely do I ever eat them. Though I sometimes hanker for cabbage rolls and buy the ingredients in hopes of making them, the cabbage often sits in my fridge, and rarely, very rarely, do the ingredients turn into cabbage rolls.
So there I was one day with two heads of cabbage and lots of ground beef to spare and I planned to make cabbage rolls, but then I got a head cold and wasn’t looking forward to prepping the rolls, much less cooking of any sort, so I nixed the rolls and decided a one-pot casserole was the way to go. I begrudgingly pulled myself into the kitchen and gathered ingredients. Five minutes later, with ground beef and onions cooking away, shredded cabbage and rice at the ready and me dabbling with a sweet and sour tomato sauce, I thought that even if this didn’t taste like stuffed cabbage rolls, it sure was an easy meal to prepare. For the sauce, I erred on the side of subtle and created a slightly sweet and sour tomato sauce to enhance the beef and cabbage. With brown sugar for sweet, apple cider vinegar for sour, soy sauce for salt, Worcestershire sauce for umami, and beef bouillon for added flavor, this sauce is a powerhouse that transforms cabbage and meat from ho-hum to double yum.
I’m happy to report that the cabbage casserole tastes like its rolled brethren, which is a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that I can get my cabbage roll fix without all the prep and cabbage leaf rolling, yet I may never make traditional cabbage rolls again, which may not be a curse? To amp up the casserole feel, I top the whole shebang with Swiss and Parmesan cheese and some herb crumbs – a totally optional indulgence, yet it’s a yummy addition. The meal cooks in a Dutch oven for an easy one-pot and budget-friendly meal.