Stuffed cabbage rolls, stuffed peppers, stuffed grape leaves – with so many things to stuff how do you decide on what to put in each one and does it really matter? I grew up with stuffed cabbage leaves, the fermented cabbage leaves to be precise, and the result called “sarma” is a bit of a staple, tradition and highlight of the Serbian and other Balkan cuisines.
The most common stuffing ingredient is a mix of rice and meat, with some onions and carrots, all sautéed together. There’s also a tradition to make vegan versions during the weeks of lent that precede both Christmas and Easter. Most vegan versions either skip the meat or replace it with chopped walnuts.
The key to perfect stuffed cabbage rolls is to have nice, large cabbage leaves that are soft and pliable. Traditional recipe uses fermented cabbage leaves that fit these requirements well, but if you don’t have a barrel-full of fermented cabbage heads don’t worry. There’s a way to go around this problem.
The best way to do this is to pick a cabbage with softer leaves to begin with. I recommend savoy but Napa would work.
No. 2: discard 2-3 leaves that are right on the surface as they can be tougher, and then gently peel off 8-10 large leaves without ripping them.
No. 3: bring a large pot of water to boil and blanch the leaves unto softened then rinse under cold water to prevent them from getting too soggy.
Once you have your leaves ready, it’s time to fill them up, and roll them into tight little packages. My stuffing here is simple – I mixed some store-bought ground beef substitute (Trader Joe’s in this case but you can use any kind you like or make your own), and mixed it with some tomato paste to make a stuffing that sticks together.
Place your leaf on a flat surface, spread it out, place about one to two tablespoons of stuffing at the base of the leaf, fold one side over, roll it up, tuck the other side in, and you are done (see pictures below).
Finish rolling the rest, then place your rolled cabbage into a simple tomato sauce – you can find the recipe for my go to tomato sauce below, but you can also use a jar or two of pre-made marinara sauce as well. Let everything simmer for some time, then enjoy!
Stuffed Savoy Cabbage Rolls
What you’ll need:
10-12 leaves (1 large head) Savoy cabbage
24 oz. (680 g) ground beef substitute (homemade or store-bought)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes, chunky style
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup parsley, flat leaf, chopped
What you’ll do:
Starting from a large head of Savoy cabbage, remove 2-3 outermost leaves and discard, then carefully remove the next 10-12 leaves. Wash the leaves a pat dry.
Bring 8-12 cups of water to boil in a large pot. Once the water is boiling, submerge the cabbage leaves and boil for 3 minutes or so.
Place the softened yet still not fully cooked leaves into a strainer and quickly rinse with cold water. Leave in a strainer to continue to drain.
In a large mixing bowl, mix the ground beef substitute with the tomato paste.
Taking one leaf at a time, place them on a flat surface, add 1-2 tablespoons of the stuffing, fold one side over, roll into a tight roll, then tuck the other side in to form the tightly packaged roll. Set aside and continue to roll until all the cabbage and stuffing are used up.
Place a large Dutch oven or a heavier pot over the medium high heat. Add olive oil and sliced garlic. Sauté for 1 minute, which should be enough for garlic to start releasing its aroma without burning.
Add tomato sauce, stir well and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
Gently place your cabbage rolls into the tomato sauce. Spread them into a single layer and Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer, cover and let everything cook for 15-20 minutes.
Sprinkle in fresh parsley and serve. Some complementary sides are freshly baked bread, basmati or cauliflower rice, or classic mashed potatoes. Enjoy!
Let’s cut to the chase and be honest here – although we can pretend otherwise, we are all as obsessed with lasagnas as Garfield is! The layers of soft noodles, amazing sauce, fresh herbs, and most commonly lots and lots of ground meat and soft cheese. All this means that lasagnas are not the healthiest thing on the menu. Having said that, there is no reason to ban lasagnas from your plate; you just need to learn how to keep it healthy and plant-based, and I think I can help you to troubleshoot both of those problems.
Keeping lasagnas meat-free seems to be the problem many have tackled, usually by overloading lasagna with cheese, cheese and eggs, or cheese and a selection of vegetables, like mushrooms, and increasing the amount of tomato sauce and making it chunkier. But, really the most prominent ingredient in majority of meatless lasagna recipes is the cheese. When I was developing this lasagna recipe I did not want to give up on idea of “meat”, so what I came up with is a hearty, meaty, and flavorful walnut and brown lentil “meat” ragù base. My thinking was inspired by my previous, wildly successful Meatless Shepherd’s Pie, which I served for Easter this year as a substitute for a more traditional, lamb-based dish. In that recipe, lentils, mixed with ground mushrooms and cooked with rosemary and thyme, made for an amazing feast.
Here, I wanted to recreate the traditional meat ragù and went for a combination of chopped walnuts and dark lentils. The trick is too cook the lentils separately and add them to the rest of the ragù when they are fully cooked. Also, chop your walnuts into pieces that are about the size of what ground meat pieces may look like. I chopped the walnuts by hand, just by going over walnut pieces with a knife few times, back and forth. You can buy whole walnuts, or walnut halves in store and start from there, but for this a bag of walnut pieces will make your life easier and make the dish cheaper. Walnuts work really well in this lasagna, because they add some of their natural crunchy texture, protein, and a bit of fattiness to the otherwise very lean recipe. Worried about this extra fat? Walnuts are known for having a lot of unsaturated fat, which is the good kind, so don’t skip it! The meatiness of the ragù is further enhanced by a good amount of tomato paste and crushed tomatoes and letting the ragù simmer for a while.
The preparation of any lasagna happens in several stages and this one is no different. In order to make the process more efficient I recommend that you start roasting the zucchini at the same time you start making the ragù, and then start boiling the lasagna noodles when zucchini is just about done. In that way you don’t even need to turn the oven off, you can just lower the temperature from roasting to baking and be ready for lasagna to go in immediately. Please note that I don’t use zucchini as a complete lasagna noodle replacement. I suppose you could, but then you’ll end up in a more of a Zucchini Mousaka territory than lasagna paradise. If you are concerned about gluten, there are now many gluten-free lasagna noodle options for you to choose from and most of them work perfectly.
The final touch on this lasagna is the Béchamel sauce (besciamella), which is a white sauce traditionally made with milk, butter and flour. In this case, the quick white sauce I put together requires only a blender, some soft, silken tofu, a squeeze of a lemon, and a bit of nutritional yeast. It is very much the blend-and-pour type of sauce, so you can do it a in a blink of an eye. The sauce adds a nice, slightly cheesy flavor to this very rich lasagna, and makes for a nice, almost golden glaze.
Zucchini Lasagna with Walnut and Brown Lentil Ragù
What you’ll need (for 9 x 13 in (23 x 33 cm) baking dish):
8-10 lasagna noodles, gluten-free if preferred
1 lbs (450 g) brown lentils
3 zucchinis, cut lengthwise into long strips
2 large carrots, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 cup raw walnut pieces, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 can (28 oz, 800 g) crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
3 tablespoons fresh Italian (flat leaf) parsley
1 lbs (450 g) silken tofu
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
Cooking oil spray
What you’ll do:
Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C).
Prepare the lentils according to the instructions on the bag. Basically, bring 4 cups of water to boil and add the lentils that have been washed and picked over to remove any impurities that may have made their way to the lentils. Bring the lentils back to boil than lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and cook for 20 minutes or so, until lentils are completely cooked. Drain the lentils from excess water and set aside to cool.
While the oven is preheating, and lentils are cooking, prep your veggies. Peel, wash, and dice the onions and carrots, and wash and dice the celery. Wash the zucchini well, remove the ends, then cut into long, thin strips. You can use a mandolin slicer for this, but cutting by hand also works. The zucchini slices should be as close to the thickness of the lasagna noodles as possible, but you don’t need to go crazy here – just keep in mind that a bit thinner is better.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, place the zucchini slices on and spray with cooking spray. You may need to use two baking sheets, since you may discover that you can’t manage to have all your zucchini slices arranged in a single layer. Don’t pile the zucchini on top of each other and do roast in batches if needed. Place the zucchini “lasagna noodles” into the oven to roast. The roasting will take anywhere between 15 and 25 minutes and will depend on the thickness of your zucchini. Keep an eye on the oven and if you are roasting two pans of the zucchini at the same time do rotate the pans mid way through the roasting. You will know that the zucchini is done when the edges are slightly brown and the middle is golden. Once you take the zucchini out, decrease the oven temperature to 350 F (175 C).
While the zucchini is roasting, start your the ragù. Spray the bottom of a Dutch oven, or another type of heavy pan, with cooking spray and heat up over the medium to medium high heat. Add carrots, onions and celery and let them brown for 10 minutes. Add chopped walnuts and let them pan roast for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, and basil, and let the flavors develop for a minute. Next comes tomato paste – add it to the pan, mix well and let brown just slightly. This takes about 2 minutes or so. Add the cooked lentils and the crushed tomatoes, and mix well. Let the ragù simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the heat off, add the fresh parsley and mix well to combine.
Once the ragù is simmering, it’s time to start cooking your lasagna noodles. Most varieties ask for a large pot of boiling water and about 10 minutes of boiling time. The noodles don’t need to be cooked all the way through as they will continue to cook in the oven but they do need to soften quite a bit, so 8 to 10 minutes should be enough to achieve that. Drain the noodles and use immediately.
Combine tofu, lemon juice and nutritional yeast in a blender and blend until smooth. Set the besciamella to the side.
Spray the bottom and sides of your 9 x 13 in (23 x 33 cm) pan with some cooking spray. Cover the bottom liberally with the ragù (use about a half of the amount you made), layer the first set of noodles (for me that came to about 5 noodles per layer), then layer the zucchini in a single layer, pour the rest of the ragù, and top with the remaining noodles. Pour the besciamella over and cover with foil.
Place the covered lasagna into the 350 F (175 C) oven and let bake for 30 minutes covered and then about 10 minutes uncovered. Let the lasagna sit for about 10 minutes before serving. I like to add some freshly ground black pepper or a mix of black pepper and red pepper flakes to my lasagna just before enjoying, but you can also sprinkle some fresh parsley, or fresh basil. Have fun!
Without a doubt ground beef is one of the staples of American cuisine. And it is also something that many meat substitutes are trying to recreate. This means that you can now go to most supermarkets and get a meatless ground beef product off the shelf. Some are tried are really good, like the Trader Joe’s one or the Beyond Burger, but it’s the price tag that is a bit troublesome plus I am a bit of a control freak and like to know exactly what goes on my plate.
So, I have been making my own meatless beef. I’ve been fairly happy with my burger experiment, and I’ve been also happy with a tofu based ground beef substitute that was created by Glow Kitchen. That ground beef substitute was very influential in my early days of vegan cooking that I recently included it in my list of 5 Must-Try Recipes for Beginner Vegans. It worked really well in applications like stuffed peppers but I wanted to explore ground mushroom and TVP (textured vegetable protein) based versions. I had such an amazing result when I used ground mushrooms, in combination with lentils, as a filling for Shepherd’s Pie, that I just have to figure out a way to fold them into a ground beef substitute.
As a general rule, if you want to recreate a meat dish without using any meat, stick with spices, texture and consistency that evokes the appearance that you are aiming for. Grounding mushrooms was definitely a breakthrough for me, as well as using TVP without pre-soaking! Plus, adding spices like cumin and paprika, as well as coconut aminos or a dash of soy sauce brings out that meat-like flavor. My final touch is just a little bit of tomato paste, for color as well as flavor. When all the components are in, and well mixed, I let the mixture just rest for at least an hour. Thus helps flavors merge and combine and TVP soften.
At the end, what you have after all this mixing, grinding and resting is a mix that looks very much like ground beef yet tastes so much better and richer. You can use the mix to stuff your peppers, in a sauce like Bolognese, or sautée as us and use in tacos, on pizza, or for any other purpose you can think of. You can definitely make meatballs out of it, or even hamburgers. This homemade ground beef substitute is versatile and very budget friendly so you can definitely afford to make batch after batch especially if you get your TVP from jet.com, the cheapest source of this ingredient I could find.
Homemade Ground Beef Substitute
What you’ll need:
10 oz (283 g) white mushrooms
1 1/3 cups TVP (textured vegetable protein)
1 tablespoon liquid smoke
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon liquid coconut aminos
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray (if the idea is to sautée the mix; for other applications just follow the procedure you would normally follow)
What you’ll do:
Wipe the mushrooms with a paper towel to remove any bits of dirt. Put in the food processor and grind to a fine grind. Pour out into a large mixing bowl.
Add the rest of the ingredients, except cooking spay, mix well and let the mixture rest for at least 1 hour.
Once the mix has rested it is ready to use. The mix browns well and makes for a great taco filling or nacho topping. It can also be used to stuff peppers and to make hamburgers or meatless meatballs, in which case you don’t to brown the mix but ma need to form patties and leave them in the fridge to firm up before cooking.
It is May 5th, which in this part of the world means it’s time for Cinco de Mayo, a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. Big part of any culture is the food, and Mexican food has been one of my favorites for years. So I could not sit this one out!!!
My Cinco de Mayo tribute recipe is this Mexican Stuffed Mushrooms, that starts with large stuffing mushrooms and uses a stuffing with layers of flavors, all very evocative of what you might expect to find in pub nachos or a tortilla.
These large, plump mushrooms are a perfect vehicle for the rich stuffing and what I like to do is roast the mushroom caps by themselves first, to get rid of extra moisture. And while the mushrooms are roasting, I focus on putting the stuffing together.
As I mentioned previously, I don’t like vasting lovely bits of mushrooms – stems: I’m talking about you! – as there is lots of great flavor in them. So, this stuffing uses all the mushroom stems finely chopped, and mixes them with just a bit of vegan ground beef substitute to maximize the umami flavor.
Now in terms of getting a bit of Mexican flavors going, I applied a shortcut and went for a jar of store bought chunky salsa. You can definitely make your own, or go with any salsa flavor and heat level you enjoy. In case you are wondering, I used mild.
My final touch was to cut up some soft corn tortillas and add them to the stuffing. This adds a bit of texture and brings the flavors much closer to what you’d expect from a Mexican cuisine inspired dish. For the last stage of baking I topped each mushroom with some grated vegan cheese and let it melt for few minutes. Finally, I sprinkled some fresh cilantro on top. If you can’t stand cilantro, you can use flat leaf parsley or fresh basil. Although it would make it less of a Mexican flavor and aroma experience, it will still make these mushrooms yummy!
1 teaspoon Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning (or adjust the amount of sea salt, black pepper, mustard seeds, chili pepper, coriander, onion garlic paprika to taste)
3 corn tortillas, cut into small chunks
1/2 cup salsa, divided
1/2 cup shredded cheese, divided
Fresh cilantro, finely chopped
What you’ll do:
Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C).
Wipe the mushrooms of any visible bits of dirt using a damp paper towel. Remove the stems carefully so that you don’t break the caps. Save the stems for later.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the mushroom caps on, their hole side up. Put them into the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
Spray a large frying pan with cooking spray and place over medium heat. Add chopped onions and chopped chives. Let them brown for about 5 minutes.
While the mushroom caps are roasting, and onions and chives are sautéing, chop the stems to small pieces and add them to the pan.
Sauté for another 5 minutes then add the beefless ground beef and the seasoning. If you don’t have this specific seasoning mix, you can use store bought taco seasoning, or similar, or just add your own mix of chili powder, paprika, black paper and coriander to taste. Mix everything well together and sauté for another 5 minutes.
Turn the heat off and mix in the chopped corn tortillas. Let stand for about 5 to 10 minutes. This will help the tortillas soak up some of the excess liquid mushrooms may have released as well as soak up then flavors.
Take the mushroom caps out of the oven, and bring the heat down to 350 F (180 C). Using a pair of kitchen tongs, or similar, gently invert the mushroom caps so that the liquid that collected in them drains out. Place the dry mushroom caps into a deep baking dish. Spoon the stuffing into the mushrooms. I like to spoon the stuffing high and if your baking dish is deep enough you don’t have to worry about the stuffing spilling over as there will be a dish to catch it all.
Place one teaspoon of salsa on each stuffed mushroom, and then heap the shredded cheese on top. Spray the tops with some cooking spray and place the dish into the oven. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese starts to melt and the mushrooms are completely cooked.
Take it out of the oven and cool only slightly. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro, or another herb of your choice, just before serving and enjoy as an appetizer or a part of your main course.