Who makes the stuffed cabbage in your family? This robust dish inhabits the souls of those with roots in Eastern Europe, where cabbage dishes fuel people through harsh winters. But the aroma of this dish is so charismatic, and the taste so nurturing, that it draws people from all ethnic backgrounds.

Stuffed cabbage dishes may be alternately celebrated as traditional and despised as a food of desperation and poverty. But anyone can appreciate the endless squabbles over whose recipe is best, the possibilities as legion as the tons of cabbage grown across Europe, from Austria, Hungary, Poland and Romania, through Russia and on to Uzbekistan.

Just as Italian-Americans argue over whose rag is best, my grandmother, of Austrian heritage, argued to the end with her Russian friend about using raisins and lemon juice rather than sugar and vinegar for the sweet-and-sour balance essential to good stuffed cabbage. She was a vegetarian for awhile and used brown rice for stuffing. You can't imagine the scornful remarks this version drew from our Hungarian, pork-loving neighbors. But I came to like this light, lean version and occasionally still make it.

However, the long cooking process - blanching and separating the cabbage leaves, making the filling, tucking it into the cabbage, layering the rolls in a big pot, getting the sauce just right, then slow cooking - was not for me. I started experimenting with alternatives. Initially, I hollowed out the whole cabbage and stuffed it, as some cooks traditionally do. That was still too much work. Layering the cabbage and filling like lasagna didn't create the right texture and flavors. Finally, something between braising and stewing produced the right result. Best of all, it takes less than an hour, so I make it whenever the craving hits.

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Unstuffed Cabbage

Makes 8 servings.

  • Cooking oil spray
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 celery rib, thinly sliced
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 12 oz. lean ground turkey
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth, or water
  • 2 Tbsp. wildflower honey
  • 2 Tbsp. white vinegar
  • 1 lb. green cabbage, quartered, cored and cut in 1/4-inch strips
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

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  1. Coat bottom of large Dutch oven or pot with cooking spray. Set over medium-high heat. Saut carrot, celery, onion and turkey until lightly browned, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Mix in tomato sauce, applesauce, broth (or water), honey, vinegar and cabbage. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until cabbage is soft, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more liquid if necessary to keep mixture from burning. Stir in rice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until rice is heated through, about 5 minutes.
  3. Serve immediately. This dish can be stored, covered, in refrigerator up to 3 days. Gently reheat chilled dish before serving.

Nutritional Info Per Serving:
189 calories
4 g. total fat (1 g. saturated fat)
28 g. carbohydrate
10 g. protein
3 g. dietary fiber
293 mg. sodium


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