Inside out cabbage rolls are easy to make and save a bunch of preparation time over the traditional method of rolling the cabbage rolls. Cheap to make and hearty, your whole family will enjoy true, Romanian comfort food. It’s also a great option if you are cooking for a crowd.
We have previously featured, traditional cabbage rolls, cooked in a tomato sauce base, when featuring Bulgaria. But, in Transylvania, Romania, we enjoyed cabbage a la Cluj, which features cabbage and many of the other ingredients in the traditional method but without the tomato-based sauce, and not rolled up. If you like, it is deconstructed cabbage, or lazy stuffed cabbage or inside out cabbage rolls.
There is also one other major difference. Inside out cabbage rolls are cooked under the broiler (grill) in your oven. It is slow cooked so that the cabbage develops a crunchy texture, the opposite of the traditional method where the rolls sit in liquid. There are some other secret ingredients which gives this dish it’s unique taste from the traditional method.
Truth be told, most Romanian cabbage rolls are prepared in the traditional, rolled-up way. But, after tasting cabbage a la Cluj in Transylvania we were hooked, and we just had to share our inside out cabbage rolls.
A typical Romanian food, you will find traditional cabbage rolls everywhere throughout Romania. We enjoyed them numerous times in Romania and Bulgaria. It is popular for feeding a crowd at formal events such as weddings. In fact, we attended a wedding for a young couple in beautiful Sibiel, not far from stunning Sibui, Transylvania.
Romanians Love a Party
Attending the wedding in Sibiel was one of the highlights of our trip to Romania. It’s a quaint village and one of the highlights is a delightful, small museum featuring religious icons, some hundreds of years old.
I knew we were in for a good day when our bus was escorted by two horsemen on their mounts, dressed in traditional clothes as they guided us to the museum. After our museum visit, it was time for us to to prepare for the wedding. We were able to dress up in traditional clothes, the same way as everyone else from the village was dressed. What followed was one big party!
It was a glorious, sunny day and our first port of call was to visit the groom’s parents. We were greeted by happy people, traditional music, palinka, a Romanian/Hungarian spirit, wine and traditional snacks. It was a happy mood and people were starting to dance.
Again, escorted by our horsemen, and now joined by the band and wedding attendees, it was off to the godparent’s house. Here followed more drinks, music and happy times.
And then it was off to the bride’s parents house. It was more of the same. With a large back yard, most of the attendees were now dancing traditional Romanian moves. And there was a lot of laughter.
But we weren’t done yet, the actual reception was held in the local hall, with small stage for the band. A large dancing area in the middle and communal tables around the sides, all decked out for the wedding. And of course our meal featured many options including the ubiquitous Romanian cabbage rolls.
You can see a few snippets of this traditional wedding by watching the video in this article.
Traditional Romanian Clothing
One of my fondest memories of Romania is how often we observed people dressed in traditional clothing. For sure, there were people in the travel industry dressed to make an impression on foreign tourists like us.
But, in the rural areas of Romania, we also observed normal, everyday people dressed to the nines in their traditional clothing going about their business. The young ladies and the gentleman with the horse in the nearby photo, were not stage-managed at all. We were driving past when we saw this large group of people preparing for an event.
And as you can see, the embroidery on the traditional clothing is just stunning. All handmade, it leaves a very good impression of how good textiles are in Romania and the skills many Romanians possess. Some of the clothes take months of work to make. And it was very pleasing to observe young people earnestly undertaking these hobbies and not losing old skills.
Personally, I found it very heartening, that at least in some parts of the world, these wonderful skills are not being lost in the mass-produced world we now live in!
And so, onto our recipe.
Inside Out Cabbage Rolls
This is a really simple dish to prepare. There is nothing difficult about inside out cabbage rolls, apart from the shredding of the cabbage.
The secret ingredients for the dish are the bacon, the sour cream and the milk. Yes, that’s right. Not in your traditional cabbage rolls. It is also cooked under a low heat in the broiler/grill. So, it does take some time.
You separately cook the cabbage, the rice and the meat mixture, You then combine them all in an oven tray, add the remaining ingredients and cook them under the broiler/grill.
All you need to do is to stir the mixture occasionally over the 2 hours of cooking as you go about your business.
When it is finished, the texture will be a combination of some slightly crunchy parts, even caramelization, as well as softer components. Inside out cabbage rolls are a lot easier to prepare than traditional cabbage rolls, and I suspect a lot more agreeable for children and men, who will no doubt enjoy the bacon!
You can go here if you want a traditional version of cabbage rolls.
I must admit I was slightly dubious about this recipe when I made it, but inside out cabbage rolls are a treat, real comfort food.
|Servings||Prep Time||Cook Time|
- 1 cabbage, green cut in half, shredded
- 2 tsp salt, ground sea
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup water
- 4 sprigs thyme, fresh
- 1 cup long grain rice
- 1 1/2 cups water
- Meat Mixture
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lb pork, ground (minced) or ground beef
- 2 onions, brown roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp salt, ground sea
- 1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
- Inside Out Cabbage Rolls
- 4 rashers bacon smoky, diced
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tsp black pepper, ground
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup milk
- Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees f (150 c).
- Shred the cabbage, sprinkle liberally with salt. Heat 3 tbsp of the olive oil in a large pan over a moderate heat. Add the cabbage, stir occasionally and when soft add the water. Add the thyme, mix well and stir occasionally until all of the water evaporates. Reserve the cabbage.
- Meanwhile, cook the rice, using the absorption method. In a saucepan, place 1 cup of raw rice and 1 1/2 cups of water, place lid on the saucepan. Over a moderate heat bring the rice to a boil. Turn the heat down to a low simmer. Simmer for 12 minutes. Do not remove the lid during this time. Reserve the cooked rice.
- While the cabbage and rice are cooking, prepare the meat mixture. Heat the olive oil in a pan over a moderate heat and add the onions and garlic. Stir occasionally. Once the onions have softened, add the ground meat, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until all red color has disappeared from the meat. Reserve.
- Using an oven tray with walls, or large casserole dish, add the reserved cabbage, cooked rice and meat mixture, bacon, tomato paste, sour cream and milk. Stir well to combine. Place in the oven and cook for 2 hours, stirring 2 or 3 times. The cabbage mixture will develop a slight crust, which is what you want. Serve immediately.
We were fortunate to spend two weeks touring Romania as part of #ExperienceRomania. The tour was organized for members of the media by a group of passionate volunteers working to increase awareness of Romania and promote tourism in the country.
If you have any questions about things to do in Romania, please leave a comment below (no URL is required.)
These are incredibly hearty. Mom used to make em like a champion when we were kids. Cabbage is good for you too; super duper healthy. Although loved ones and those in close proximity may not appreciate the many side effects of consuming huge amounts of cabbage LOL. Either way, a rocking treat. Thanks for sharing!
Ryan, I was amazed how tasty this recipe was for something so simple. I am a fan of cabbage- it is good for you and usually inexpensive! Glad it brought back some memories!