Pigs in Blanket are a labor of love, yet worth every step. Most European cultures have a version of cabbage rolls, and many recipes were passed down through the generations. This one is no different, passed down from my Austrian great-grandmother.
This is a dish I learned to appreciate from a very young age. You could say it sparked my interest in comfort food, and has remained one of my fondest cooking with family memories.
I throughly enjoyed watching my great gran cook. In her tiny basement kitchen, with its barely there warm amber overhead light, talking me through each step and ingredient as I sat next to her on the countertop. She used the same cast iron pan for nearly all dishes, and kept things simple.
As most grandmothers, she never measured or used a recipe. She knew this one by heart, and made it for me often. It was by far my favorite, and I am fairly certain she called it Pigs in a Blanket for her grandchildren’s benefits.
The flavors are simple and comforting, and completely rush me back to that kitchen.
I specifically remember her knobby elderly fingers, scraping off the rib of each par-boiled cabbage leaf, and rolling up the blankets with care.
Her rough yet soothing voice guiding me through each step, my legs swinging off the edge of the counter, my pigtails bopping with anticipation, and counting down the seconds and building scents, until the warm piggies would be pulled out of the oven.
I close my eyes and I am there all over again. It’s amazing how vivid memories can be, and it’s these experiences that make for truly great meals. Because that labor of love becomes just that, love in a dish.
I kept true to great grandma’s recipe, in her honor, with a few minor adjustments. The technique is the same, because it lends to the success of the dish. The ingredients are very similar, with some added savory elements to amp up the flavor.
After having numerous family members taste test, they all assure me these are as close to hers as they can remember. And I can think of no greater compliment.
- 2 small heads green cabbage
- 3 tablespoons butter or ghee
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 medium carrots, finely diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- 1 pound ground beef
- ½ pound ground pork
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
- 1½ teaspoons dry mustard powder
- 1½ teaspoons dry dill
- 2 cups white rice, cooked and cooled (or Cauliflower rice for Grain free)
- 15 ounce can tomato sauce
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil while you prep your cabbage. Using a pairing knife carefully remove the bottom core, while leaving the head in tact, and remove any damaged outer leaves, then set aside. When water is boiling, add both heads and press down with a wooden spoon. If the cabbage will not stay submerged, weigh down with a your wooden spoon or a heat-safe pot lid.
- Boil heads until the outer layers of leaves soften, about 5 minutes. You'll know the leaves are ready when they are bright green and easily pull away from the center. Remove heads with two spoons and place in a colander. Using the two spoons, peel off softened outer layers of leaves, then return to the boiling water. Repeat this process until ¾ of the head is softened and removed. Alternatively, you can peel all leaves before par-boiling, however I find the leaves tear easier. Handle with caution.
- Layer cooked leaves on a paper towel lined platter to dry and cool.
- In a large high-sided skillet, heat butter or ghee over medium heat, and cook onions and carrots until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another 1 minute, stirring constantly.
- Add ground meat, salt, pepper, mustard and dill, and mix with onion and carrot mixture. Brown meat throughout, breaking up pieces as they cook. Remove from heat and stir in cooked rice, mixing until well combined. Let cool slightly.
- While your meat is cooking, and when the cabbage leaves are cool enough to handle, flip individual leaves upside down on a cutting board. Using a small pairing knife, scrape off any tough portions of the spine at the base of the leaves. Flip leaves back over in preparation for filling.
- Preheat oven to 325, and prepare a large baking dish by spreading a few tablespoons of tomato sauce in the bottom.
- When the meat mixture is cool enough to handle, use a large spoon to scoop mixture into the bottom ⅓ of the cabbage leaf, near the base. Use 1 large spoonful for smaller leaves and 2 for larger leaves.
- Using your pointer and middle fingers to stabilize the leaf, then fold in the sides using your thumbs. Roll the leaf upwards, tucking in the sides as you go, much like a cigar or sushi roll. Place roll in the prepared baking dish, and continue until all meat mixture is used. Nestle the rolls together but don't overcrowd them, you should have 16-20 total. Bake in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes, until heated through and sauce is bubbling. Remove from oven and let rest a few minutes before serving.
**To make this dish Vegetarian, replace meat with mushrooms, or simply leave out this item altogether. Plenty of cultures enjoy these rolls with rice only.
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