asian cabbage rolls with spicy lentils
When I saw Faith Durand’s recipe for Asian Cabbage Rolls with Spicy Pork, I immediately decided that I had to make it, but with lentils in lieu of pork. Lentils work very well with garlic and ginger in Indian food, so I expected them to do just as well with the same base flavors augmented by the quintessentially Asian combination of sesame, soy, green onion, and cilantro. And they did.
These spicy lentil-stuffed cabbage rolls were so packed with flavor (not to mention nutrients and other healthful qualities) and so satisfying that I craved them for a few days afterwards. Needless to say, I was glad I had not halved the recipe, as it made for some wonderful weekday lunches.
What the lentils didn’t do was bind to each other, so I would nix the egg next time because (1) the egg clearly didn’t do its job and (2) why not make this recipe vegan? I also would skip a step that called for tossing the chopped cabbage in salt to allow it to drain, as a negligible amount of water drained out of my cabbage after doing this (plus, the rolls were not overly saucy by any means at the end of the cooking process). Finally, I decreased the time in the recipe below so that the cabbage rolls don’t brown quite so much, although this in no way affected my ability to scarf down nothing short of 3 rolls.
Side note: If you’re short on time or want to avoid turning on the oven, these would also be delicious with the lentil-veggies filling heated up in the microwave and eaten from a raw cup of cabbage or lettuce.
Asian Cabbage Rolls with Spicy Lentils (adapted from Faith Durand’s recipe in Not Your Mother’s Casseroles)
Serves 4 to 6
1 large head of cabbage (green, Napa, radiccio, whatever!)
1/4 lb. mushrooms, finely chopped
2 c. cooked French green lentils
1 c. cooked brown rice
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2- to 1-inch ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, grated
4 green onions (scallions), chopped
1 c. cilantro, chopped
2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
Asian Sauce (recipe below
Preheat oven to 400F.
Remove 12 large outer leaves from the heads of cabbage. Remove the core, and chop remaining cabbage leaves very finely.
In a large bowl, mix the chopped cabbage, mushrooms, lentils, rice, sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, a generous sprinkling of black pepper, scallions, and cilantro.
Lay a cabbage leaf down with the cup side up and stem side closest to you. Scoop enough of the lentil-veggies mixture into the stem end of the cabbage leaf, filling the cabbage cup about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. If you can, fold the sides in, roll up the leaf, and place the roll (seam side down) in a large baking dish (Using regular green cabbage, and not the napa cabbage, I wasn’t able to do this as neatly and successfully as Ms. Durand, but it worked out fine). Repeat with remaining cabbage leaves and lentil-veggies mixture, placing approximately 2 rows (containing 6 rolls each) in the dish. Tuck leftover mixture (if any) between the cabbage rolls to bake with them, or reserve for mixing with some lettuce (or eating as a salad on its own).
Pour Asian Sauce evenly over the rolls. Do ahead: Rolls can be prepared up to this point, then covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours. If you prefer to freeze this dish, place it in the freezer before adding the Asian Sauce to allow rolls to freeze completely; then remove from dish, and stack in freezer bag. To bake, thaw the frozen rolls in the refrigerator overnight, transfer to a baking dish, pour the sauce over them, and bake as directed below.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Serve hot, with any pan drippings drizzled over the rolls.
This was definitely enough sauce to flavor the rolls. However, there was not much left in the way of “pan juices,” so if you happen to want pan juices to drizzle over the rolls, double the recipe below.
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
1/3 c. broth (veggie, bean, chicken, or water)
1 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. hot Asian chili sauce (sriracha or sambal oelek)
Whisk all ingredients in small bowl until sugar has dissolved completely.