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November 3, 2012

don't deny what's inside | barley stuffed cabbage leaves

You've got to spare a thought for plain, green cabbage. The shy underachiever of the cabbage family, but one of the easiest vegetables to grow (just ask my grandad), and perhaps, one of the most versatile. Sliced raw into winter slaws, fermented in sauerkraut or kimchi, or simply fried in sesame oil with a little garlic, poor cabbage forms the basis of many recipes. I say "poor" because you really have to feel sorry for the vegetable named cabbage. Not a lovely name that rolls off the tongue like aubergine, arugula, or cavolo nero; not one that sounds crisp and brisk like radish or asparagus, but cabbage. Sounds like garage said with a New Zealand accent (gar-ridge).

I like to think of it as winter's summer vegetable - when it's too cold and frosty for lettuces you can guarantee there'll always be cabbage. In the middle of winter, when you're a little tired of soups and stews, I like to make a red winter slaw with chopped purple cabbage, raw beetroot and carrot shavings, walnuts, parsley, and a simple dressing of sesame oil, lemon juice and a little fresh ginger. Deep red, purple, green and orange, with a dressing to keep the winter colds away... who said the vegetable named the un-pretty name of cabbage couldn't be attractive?

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the ever-present in our kitchen (not really) genius, doesn't let a name like cabbage put him off such a versatile vegetable: instead he uses them to wrap up parcels of grains and bakes them. What comes out of the oven, nutty and tomato-y and smelling like a vegetarian lasagne, is nothing short of amazing.

Fun fact - I'd turned past this page of his cookbook veg everyday numerous times, each time thinking the picture was of some kind of mexican dish with beans and no less than 10 poached eggs on top. J had independently thought the same thing. It turns out that it's a good idea to properly read these recipes that you flick by - the poached eggs were actually dollops of sour cream. Upon realising this, my eagerness to attempt the recipe at least quadrupled - I should've known Hugh would never overdose on the poached eggs in such a way!

hugh's baked barley stuffed cabbage leaves

This one takes a bit of time to prepare - not one for the busy weeknight. I made this on a Sunday afternoon and even with the loveliest L as my sous-chef (which really meant washer of dishes and tidier of the benches, sorry!) it still took a good couple of hours to prepare. Although some of that time was spent making and drinking tea, and generally pottering. It would be easier if you cooked the grains in advance - for example, we used a mixture of barley, and rice that was already cooked from the night before's dinner.

12 cabbage leaves
plain unsweetened yoghurt or sour cream
cumin seeds/ground cumin
cheese (optional)

for the filling:
3 cups grains; cooked. We used a mixture of pearled barley and rice.
2 eggs
1 white onion, diced
1/4 cup of hazelnuts, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic
a few sprigs of thyme
a few sprigs of aromatic fennel (or follow Hugh and use dill)
2 tsp tamari (or dark soy sauce)
2 dried chili peppers, chopped
1 good spoonful spicy fruit chutney (preferably one that's not too sweet - this is optional)

for the sauce:
1 white onion, diced
1 clove garlic, sliced
2 bay leaves
a little thyme
canned tomatoes - whole & peeled or chopped

Firstly, cook your grains if they are not cooked. I used a mixture of pearled barley and spelt, which took about 40 minutes of boiling to cook - I think it might have been less if I had soaked them! I mixed this with some short grain white rice which had been cooked the night before. Alternatively, you could use use bulghur wheat, quinoa or even couscous. When the grains are cooked, drain and set aside in a bowl.

Gently cook the onion and garlic in a pan. They will only need five minutes at a low heat. When they are done, add them to the cooked grains. Add the egg, tamari, chili, and herbs. Aromatic fennel is much darker than its counterpart and you don't eat the bulb of this type. Hugh's recipe says dill, so if you've got dill you could use that instead. Season with a little sea salt and cracked pepper. At this stage I felt like it needed a little more spice so I added a spoonful of spicy apple chutney, homemade earlier in the year by J.

Prepare the tomato sauce. Gently sweat the onions with the cumin in a little butter or oil. Add the garlic, tomatoes and herbs, bruising the bay leaves and chopping the thyme. Reduce over a medium-low heat while you make the rest of the meal, until you have a thick sauce.

Prepare the cabbage leaves by shaving any thick centre stems with a vegetable peeler. Blanche the leaves a few at a time in a big pot of boiling water. After a couple of minutes, fish them out and refresh them under cold water. Pat dry with a clean tea towel. 

To assemble, place a couple of spoonfuls of grains on the cabbage leaf. Fold the sides in and then roll up. Place in a single layer in an oven-proof dish with the seam down. They will look like pretty, green filo packages. You will probably get quite a variety of sizes as the leaves decrease in size towards the centre of the cabbage, but I found that the majority of the mixture fit easily into the 12 leaves I used. 

Take the thickened tomato sauce and spoon over the cabbage leaves. Judging from the picture in Hugh's book, you were meant to have quite a lot more tomato sauce than I did, but it was just fine as it was. Mix the ground cumin (or cumin seeds ground in a mortar and pestle) with the plain yoghurt, add a little salt, and spoon that over too. Bake for half an hour at 200ÂșC. At this stage they're ready to serve, or if you like you can sprinkle a little grated cheese over the top and bake for a further 10 minutes.

These are warming, a little spicy and quite delicious. The cabbage is transformed by the flavours around it. You could leave out the yoghurt and replace the egg with oil if you wanted to make this recipe vegan, but the creamy tartness of the yoghurt is quite delicious. This recipe made enough to feed five hungry people, with enough left over for lunches the next day. 

Hope your weekend has been lovely - here it has involved catching up with visiting friends, a little bit of dancing, a funny but almost absurd italian film, late night hot chocolates, lemon and honey drinks and quiet mornings at home. There's been sunshine and also a little hail - all around a typically good spring weekend.


title from wilco - on and on and on


  1. I agree with the cabbage sentiment - looks amazing!

  2. lovely blog, thanks for your comment on mine.

    also digging your music choices


  3. those look absolutely delicious. Love wilco too. x ashley

  4. I think I've found a new friend! Stuffed cabbage and a Wilco reference. Happy to have found your blog. xo