Stuffed Cabbage Salad

   As September cools, I find myself gravitating to warmer dishes, even within my Summer of Salads category. I also seem to be focusing more on traditional comfort foods becoming a salad. Today, I wanted to take the classic flavours of the stuffed cabbage recipe I had growing up and make a warm salad of it (Don’t worry, my family’s stuffed cabbage recipe will be coming in a few weeks. I just want to finish up my personal salad challenge).

   In my family’s recipe, it usually had cabbage leaves rolled with a mixture of ground pork, rice, onions, paprika and salt. The stuffed cabbage was then simmered either on the backburner or in a slow cooker with tomato juice, sauerkraut, and something smoky (bacon, ham, smoked sausage, etc).

   For the salad, I wanted a warm rice salad as a base with other elements scattered over the top as accent flavours. For the rice component, I did traditional Hungarian caramelized cabbage. I used this as a finishing flavour to rice cooked with smoked sausage and caramelized onions. The result was a deep, richly flavoured rice reminiscent of a cooler September evening. The memories of summer were in the cabbage and onions, but had hints of the chills to come.

   The next component was to give an essence of sauerkraut, without needing to take months of fermentation time. The result was a quick pickled cabbage and celery slaw with fresh tomatoes.

   Finally, the rich pork component came from a savoury crispy fried pork to add dimension and a multi-textured element.

Stuffed Cabbage Salad

For the Cabbage Celery Pickle with Fresh Tomatoes:

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/4 cup water

1 Tbsp honey

1/2 cup thinly sliced green cabbage

2 Tbsp thinly sliced celery (1 medium stalk)

2 Tbsp celery leaves (or fresh lovage leaves)

6-8 cherry tomatoes, halved

   In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar, water and honey and whisk until smooth. Add the cabbage and celery. Stir to coat with the honey brine and allow to sit for an hour. Drain and fold in the celery leaves and tomato halves. (Prepare the other components while the cabbage and celery pickles).

For the Sausage and Cabbage Rice:

1 cup finely grated green cabbage

1 tsp cold pressed canola oil

1/2 tsp salt

60g/3 oz smoked garlic sausage, chopped

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup white rice

1/2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika

1 cup water

   In a small pot, heat 1/2 tsp oil over medium high heat. Add the grated cabbage and start to sauté, stirring constantly for 8-10 minutes. As the moisture content starts to release, the cabbage will begin to dry and lightly brown. Add a tablespoon or two of water and reduce the heat to medium. Continue to stir constantly and as the cabbage gains a deeper brown colour, you may need to add another tablespoon or two of water while scraping the bottom of the pot. After about 20-25 minutes, the cabbage should be deeply golden and caramelized. Remove from the pot and reserve in a bowl while cooking the rest of the rice component.

   Rinse out the pot you were using, add the other 1/2 tsp of oil and sauté the sausage over medium high heat until golden (about 3-4 minutes). Add the onions and salt and continue to stir and sauté until the onions become a deep golden brown. Again, if the bottom of the pot becomes too dry and starts to brown, add a tablespoon or two of water and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot. Add the dry rice and stir to coat the rice with the onion-sausage flavour. Add the paprika and stir to coat everything completely. Add the 1 cup of water, bring to a simmer, cover with a lid and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes or until fully cooked. Fold in the caramelized cabbage and set aside in a warm place.

For the Savoury Crispy Pork:

100g/4 oz pork sausage, crumbled

1/2 tsp cold pressed canola oil

1/4 tsp celery seeds

1/2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika

   In a medium sauté pan over medium high heat, add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the sausage and crumble the sausage meat further as it browns. When it gets to be a deeply golden colour on all sides, sprinkle in the celery seeds and paprika. Sauté for another 2-3 minutes or until the sausage meat is well coated and gets an extra crispy exterior from the toasted spices. Set aside in a warm place.

To serve:

   On three plates, divide one third of the Sausage and Cabbage Rice on each plate. Scatter one third of the prepared Cabbage and Celery Pickle with Tomatoes across the centre of the rice on each plate. Finish with a scattering of Savoury Crispy Pork over each plate. Serves 3.

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