My family loves Asian food, and one of our favorites is Chinese-inspired egg rolls. Pork, chicken, or shrimp, yes please! More times than I can count, I’d come home and my mom and I would spend a whole night rolling egg rolls. Looking back, we’d end up eating almost as many as we’d roll, but hey, memories right? Hehe!
One day we ran out of wrappers, and while trying to figure out something to do with the leftover cabbage and filling, it hit me! Let’s make cabbage rolls, inspired by Eastern European traditions, but with an Asian twist! Best idea ever! The Napa cabbage makes the dish feel lighter, and it’s perfect for those that aren’t the biggest fans of the sulfur-ish flavor of standard green cabbage.
BTW, this recipe freezes very well, and you can also reheat it in an air fryer if you store it in smaller batches.
For the cabbage:
- 1 medium napa cabbage (Go slightly larger than you think to make sure to have enough leaves to wrap your filling.)
- Water and 2 tablespoons salt, for boiling
For the sauce:
- 1/2 teaspoon flavorless cooking oil
- 1/4 tablespoon grated ginger
- 1/4 tablespoon grated garlic
- 1 cup diced canned tomatoes with juice
- 1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon salt, to your personal taste
For the filling:
- 1/2 lb ground pork, beef, chicken and/or turkey ("not meat" meat works too, for a vegan option.)
- 1 1/4 tablespoon grated ginger (this makes a total of 1 1/2 tablespoons for the whole recipe.)
- 1 1/4 tablespoon grated garlic (this makes a total of 1 1/2 tablespoons for the whole recipe.)
- 1/2 cup diced onion (white, red and/or yellow would be fine.)
- 1/4 cup diced carrot
- 1 tablespoon toasted rice powder (Available at an Asian market, or, to make yourself, toast uncooked rice in dry pan until golden brown, then grind to a powder in a mortar and pestle.)
- 1 tablespoon toasted bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce (Swap with sake or Shaoxing wine if you wish to make vegan.)
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce (Low sodium light soy sauce works too.)
- 1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder (or 13 spice powder.)
- 1 large egg, beaten well (reserve until ready to assemble the cabbage rolls.)
Preheat oven to 375 F (190.5 C.)
To prepare the cabbage:
- Carefully cut off about a 1/4 inch off the bottom of the cabbage, and separate the leaves.
- Place the cabbage leaves into the water and blanch until the stem is bendable, but still firm and not mushy. (About 5-7 minutes should do it, depending on heat.)
- Once pliable, place cabbage leaves on a clean dry kitchen towel or sheet pan with a rack, to remove the excess water.
To prepare the sauce:
- Heat a medium sauce pan to medium high.
- Add 1/2 teaspoon of cooking oil, and then add 1/4 tablespoon of the grated ginger, along with 1/4 tablespoon of the grated garlic.
- Set aside the remainder of the ginger and garlic for the filling.
- Sauté until the garlic begins to brown slightly.
- Add the 5 spice powder and stir for 30 seconds.
- Add the diced tomatoes with the desired amount of salt, and bring to a light simmer.
- Turn off the heat, and allow the sauce to come to room temperature.
To prepare the filling:
- Add all the filling ingredients to a large bowl, except the beaten egg. Note: please do not add the egg until you are ready to assemble the rolls, and until the sauce has cooled to room temperature. (The heat from the sauce could make your egg start to scramble and increases the chance for bacteria growth.)
- Mix the filling ingredients completely using your impeccably clean hands.
To assemble and bake the cabbage rolls:
- In a small/medium baking dish, add 2 tablespoons of the cooled sauce and spread evenly over the bottom of the dish.
- On a flat surface, place one of the cabbage leaves in front of you with the stem end pointing towards you. Place about 1/4 cup, or 2 oz, of the filling into your palm and roll into a ball. Place the ball of filling onto the base of the cabbage stem closest to you. Place your thumb under the stem and roll towards the top of the leaf. Place each cabbage roll into your baking dish.
- Once your baking dish is filled, press down gently on the top of each roll to give them a consistent thickness.
- Cover with the remaining sauce, and bake on 375 F (190.5 C) until the internal temperature of the largest rolls reach 160 F (71 C) for chicken/turkey based fillings or 145 F (62.8 C) for pork/beef based fillings.
- Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes to make serving slightly easier. (Or completely cool to room temperature if you plan to package them for freezing.)
While this dish can freeze very well either cooked or uncooked, I typically advise that it be frozen after it has been cooked to reduce the chance of bacteria growth during the defrost process.