Grandma’s Secret Is Out or Cabbage Roll Soup Meets the Alaska Bush

The tang of tomatoes, the zip of lemon, and the hint of sweetness from a bit brown sugar all mixed in with cabbage and some of Alaska’s best game meat – moose. Grandma’s secret is out!

My strongest memories of my grandmother are connected with food. She lived in Queens. Meanwhile my family was bouncing around from Brooklyn out to New Mexico and back to Albany before finally ending up in California, and so we only got to see her once in a while. When we did, I remember heartily enjoying all of her culinary creations – Jewish staples like kugel, brisket, blintzes, and of course, stuffed cabbages. I don’t know if she intended to keep her recipes secret. Maybe she thought I was too young to understand them. Maybe she thought – well, I don’t know. I could only guess. Unfortunately she passed away when I was still only in my 20s. Over the years, I have tried to make a few of her standards, producing what I think have been successes. I was particularly pleased with a crock pot recipe for cabbage rolls that I came across many years ago which I thought tasted just like hers. The problem with that recipe was that it took For Ever.

Fast forward to now. Jack and I have entered a favorite time of year. It’s the time when we look in our freezers and pantry and try to use up whatever we have on hand a la the show Chopped. With bunches of carrots, heads of cabbage, a few pounds of ground moose, and way too many onions, I thought of stuffed cabbage. It’s really a perfect recipe for the bush. We lucked into a healthy amount of moose this year. (Half a moose was flown into our village from a hunting camp earlier this year…another story.) Cabbages, carrots, and onions ship reliably through the postal service from Anchorage. Even if they get stalled at our mail hub in King Salmon for days in a row, which happens regularly, these items arrive relatively unmarred. The best stuffed cabbage is made with big, beautiful leaves. That wasn’t what I had. And time. I didn’t have that, either.

I started to think about what made my grandmother’s stuffed cabbages so good. I liked the rolls. But what I especially liked the flavor, and I liked what was left on the bottom on the pot when the cabbages fell apart. Why not make just that? Turns out, this recipe has the exact flavor of my grandma’s “secret recipe” but the time and effort is cut down – way down. With a few minutes of prep, and 45 minutes of “simmer time,” this recipe is a keeper!

Stuffed Cabbage Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. moose meat (substitute lean ground beef)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, like Walla Walla, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 cups beef bouillon (we like Penzeys beef soup base)
  • 12 ounces tomato paste reconstituted with 2 cups hot water
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 cup uncooked long grain brown rice
  • 5 cups green cabbage, chopped large
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

Directions

  1. Use a large soup pot. Place olive oil and meat in the pot.
  2. Add onions.
  3. Sauté until meat is browned.
  4. Add garlic and stir.
  5. Add broth, reconstituted tomato paste, brown sugar, salt, oregano, pepper and rice. Mix well.
  6. Add cabbage and carrots. Stir to mix.
  7. Place bay leaves in pot.
  8. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cover the pot. Cook until rice is tender, about 45 minutes.
  9. Remove pot from heat and stir in lemon juice.
  10. Let soup rest for a few minutes before serving.