Until I lived in Vietnam, I had never thought of cabbage rolls as a Vietnamese dish. I also had never thought of them as very appetizing. I can only remember a few times when I had eaten them, and they always seemed like death warmed over. In recent years golubsi, the Slavic version of cabbage rolls, have become one of the staples at school potlucks, and while I have had some pretty good ones, they pale in comparison to the Vietnamese version.
This recipe uses pork as the main ingredient for the filling, but in Vietnam we often had a vegetarian version with tofu. Di Nguyet, one of the aunts in the house we lived in, was a devout Buddhist and maintained a vegetarian diet. The rest of the family, however, only followed a vegetarian diet two days a month. As much as I like the cabbage rolls with pork, I enjoyed the vegetarian version just as much. I'll post a recipe for that sometime soon.
This is what I would describe as Vietnamese comfort food. I have never seen it on a menu either here or in Vietnam, but it was a dish regularly enjoyed by the family we lived with. It's a perfect dish for these cool fall evenings. This recipe is adapted from Nicole Routhier's The Foods of Vietnam.
Vietnamese Cabbage Rolls--Su Nhoi Thit Heo
1 head of cabbage
1 pound of ground pork
6 dried shitakes, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes, chopped
1 bundle of cellophane noodles, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes, cut in two-inch lengths
5 shallots, peeled and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 TBS fish sauce
1 tsp or more of freshly ground pepper
20 flowering chives or garlic chives, blanched 30 seconds, rinsed in cold water, drained
1 28 oz can of whole plum tomatoes, no salt added, or 6 fresh plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 TBS vegetable oil
4 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
2 TBS fish sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 cup chicken broth or water
Place the head of cabbage in a pot of boiling salted water for about 5 minutes. Remove and place in an ice bath. Drain and peel the leaves from the cabbage. As you get towards the interior, you may have to repeat the process. Boiling the cabbage makes the leaves pliable and easy to roll.
In a food processor, pulse the shallots, garlic, and mushrooms until they are finely chopped. (You can do all the chopping by hand, but this is one of those times when a food processor comes in handy.) Add the cellophane noodles and pulse several times before adding the ground pork. Add fish sauce, ground pepper, and sugar, processing briefly to get a fairly homogenous mixture.
Place several tablespoons of the pork mixture on a cabbage leaf. Roll the leaf as if making a burrito or a spring roll. Tie a chive around the roll. Repeat with the remaining pork mixture and cabbage leaves. You should get around 16 bundles.
Heat a 12-inch saute pan with high sides over medium-high heat. Fry the garlic and shallots in the oil until fragrant. Stir in the canned tomatoes, broth or water, fish sauce, and sugar. Using a wooden spoon or a spatula, break up the tomatoes into smaller pieces. Add the cabbage rolls, submerging them as much as possible in the sauce. Simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes. If you are unable to submerge all the rolls, rotate the submerged ones with those on top about half way through.
Serve with rice.
I'm submitting this post for Delicious Vietnam # 19, hosted this month by Ginger of Ginger and Scotch (which happen to be two items I have an almost insatiable appetite for). Delicious Vietnam is a monthly food blogging event open to any Vietnamese food lover. The aim is to promote and explore the diversity of Vietnamese cuisine.
The idea behind this event came about several years ago by Anh of A food lovers’ journey. Hooking up with Hong and Kim from Ravenous Couple, the idea finally came to fruition. To learn more about Delicious Vietnam and how you can participate, click on this link.