Tuesday 26 February 2013

Cabbage? Who Eats Cabbage?

The universal cry when you talk to the great biltong hunters of this world. Biltong, the cured, dried meat delicacy of South Africa. Hunters on a hunting trip. They don't eat veggies, let alone cabbage. And the closest they come to sea food is the mutton chops they barbecue on the beach.

But that is another story.

This post is about cabbage. I cannot remember the last time I ate cooked cabbage. Coleslaw and variations thereof, yes. Sauerkraut, yes. But cooked cabbage? Not on your life. Until recently, when I was inspired to look into my country's rich heritage of food. And, of course, there cabbage features quite prominently.

So I decided on baby steps. Let's have cabbage wrapped meatballs. Easy to make and not too much cabbage. I may use the rest of the head to make a variation of sauerkraut, perchance. The weather here in the Strand area is certainly supportive of that idea at present.

I appears from my research on the internet that this dish is known all over the world, not only in the South African platteland. Lots of variations in procedure and lots of variation in the ingredients, some more elaborate than others. The Greeks have one version, the Russians another. All very tasty from what I read.

I decided to stick to the simple method: Make a ground beef mixture as for normal meatballs, then wrap this in blanched cabbage leaves before cooking SLOWLY in the oven, or, as in my case, on the hob. I used a cast iron buffet casserole from le Creuset.

The meat mixture is pretty standard, using ground beef, chopped onion, some Worcestershire sauce, two eggs, some oatmeal instead of bread crumbs, salt and pepper. I also added my usual chilli, this time chopped after removing the pips. Simple.

Regard these directions as broad indications and experiment to your heart's content.

I find the chilli brings out the flavours. I was told by a chef friend that the capsicum oil opens up the pores on your tongue, therefore all flavours are enhanced. Reportedly that is why you don't drink a heavy red wine with spicy food. The wine will overpower the other flavours because of the enlarged pores.

Make a sauce by chopping four or five tomatoes and frying them in a little butter or duck fat. Add some fresh spring onions and rosemary, coarsely chopped. Thicken the sauce with some beef stock.

Carefully remove eight leaves from the head of cabbage and blanche them. Remove them from the heat and cool them by rinsing in cold water. Ladle a liberal helping of meat into each leaf, wrap and put this in the sauce with the folds downwards to keep them folded. I got seven meatballs out of 250grams of meat mix with all the additions.

These were all neatly tucked into the casserole, the lid put on and simmered for 40 minutes. Garnish with some thyme, basil and oregano. Perhaps a dollop of soy sauce for the flavour and salt. Check every now and then that the wraps don't stick to the bottom of the casserole.

This is a very traditional South African version, if simplified. It therefore goes very well with steamed garden peas and asparagus, mashed potatoes and sweet cinnamon butternut squash.

I got very hungry, so I forgot about the grated Parmesan cheese garnish at the end. I think I shall have it on the leftovers.

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2013-02-26


  1. Dit klink heerlik. Ons het juis sulke klein kooltjies in ons groente tuin.

    1. Ja Zirkie,
      Hierdie werk nogal goed om sappigheid en grontegeur by die frikkadelle te kry, maar jy gaan miskien groterige koolkoppe benodig.

  2. Great recipe, this is similar to a dish I use to fix the kids. They even like cabbage cooked in butter, most kids would have ran.

    1. Thanks Shawna! I shall also try the cabbage in butter, haven't done it before.