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Get creative with venison cabbage rolls

From the January/February 2017 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine
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Cabbage rolls are the European cousin of American chili in that every recipe is different. The choice of protein—or whether to even have any—the sauce, the condiments, the ingredients, the grains, the cooking method, even the name—vary uniquely by region. 

Venison cabbage rolls are pure, delicious comfort food | Iowa Outdoors magazineIn Poland, golabki is made with pork, beef and rice or barley. In neighboring Czech Republic and Slovakia, holubky is similar, set apart by the preferred sauce. In Ukraine, holubtsi is stuffed with buckwheat groat, fried onions and pork cracklings. On special occasions, minced meat is added.

Russians incorporate sour cream into their sauce for golubsty, as do other nationalities. In Sweden, Nov. 30 is the day of the cabbage roll. Lingonberry jam adds sweetness. In Bulgaria, chopped mint, sweet paprika and yogurt are served with the sarmi. In Romania, sarmale is the traditional dish at Christmas, New Year’s Eve, weddings, baptisms and other celebrations. Sarma, stuffed with smoked ground pork, is a Croatian Christmas favorite. 

While a tomato-based sauce reigns in most countries, beef, vegetable  or miso broth can be used. Pickled cabbage—sauerkraut—is also used. Some like it savory, some like it sweet. As for filler, rice is the go-to, but don’t look past barley, corn grits, buckwheat groats or grated potato. Don’t like cabbage? Try fresh beet or grape leaves. 

Although the direct lineage of cabbage rolls cannot be certain, they can be traced back to Jewish cooking some 2,000 years ago. Regardless, cabbage rolls are pure comfort food. Savory meat, grain and seasonings wrapped in a slightly sweet, slightly bitter cabbage leaf that absorbs other flavors well—baked, simmered, slow cooked or fried—nestled in a sweet, savory, tangy or creamy sauce. 
So pull out some ground venison, and try out this traditional cabbage roll recipe. Or explore the countless recipe versions on the internet. Either way, cabbage rolls will make a cold winter evening much more palatable. 

Venison Cabbage Rolls
1 pound ground venison
¼ pound Italian sausage
2 cups chopped onion, divided
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup cooked rice
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup ketchup
1 ½ teaspoons salt, divided
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
2 cans Italian stewed tomatoes
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium size cabbage

In large pot or Dutch oven, cook cabbage in boiling water for 10 minutes or until outer leaves are tender. Drain and rinse in cold water. Remove 8 to 10 outer leaves. Refrigerate cabbage for another use. In a large saucepan, sauté 1 cup onion in butter until tender. Add tomatoes, garlic, brown sugar and ½ teaspoon salt. Simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. In a large bowl, combine rice, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, nutmeg, pepper and remaining onion and salt. Crumble in venison and sausage and mix well.  Remove thick vein of cabbage leaves for easier rolling. Place about one cup of mixture on each leaf. Fold starting with the removed vein end, fold in sides then roll. Place seam-side down in baking dish. Top with sauce. Bake at 350° for an hour or until meat reaches 160° and cabbage is tender. Add a little tomato juice if it dries out. 

For more, check out our Outdoor and Wild Recipes and Iowa Outdoors Magazine boards on Pinterest.

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