Cabbage, Stuffed with Ground Pork, Cimmaron & Cooked in Annato
This is an unusual one for you all again :-) A totally new version of stuffed cabbage... at least I would like to think it is! Because who on Earth, other than me, would think of combining a Thai-styled stuffed cabbage with a mix of Italian and Mexican flavors ?!!? I can't imagine there are too many people out there doing anything as crazy as that!
And the strange thing is that I was 99% sure I was going to do the Thai dish... until I remembered that I have already done so on the blog... and then quickly and spontaneously thought of another of my favorite flavors to mix with pork, Annato- and was suddenly zoomed all the way from Thailand to Mexico in the blink of an eye!
Another thing that made me re-think this dish at the last minutes, was a wonderful, new (for me) herb, that I picked up from Mrs. Wong at the market hall yesterday... Cimmaron! What a wonderful new discovery! If you like cilantro, that is ;-) If you don't, then probably not! This long-leafy herb is much more robust than the feathery-light cilantro we are used to in Asian or Mexican cooking and much more intense in flavor- even after cooking! I am glad I have more of it to try out in another dish later this week!
So as you can see, I had a half of a small cabbage, a shallot, maybe 2 tablespoons of annato paste, the cimmaron and a little fresh chilli... what's not to like about that combination? I knew I loved it already :-)
The first thing that needed to be done, was for the meat to be seasoned and flavored- so in went the finely chopped shallot, about 2" of the chilli, also finely chopped, 2-3 stalks of cimmaron finely chopped, a teaspoon of fennel seeds and of course, salt and pepper.
I used 200g of ground pork to stuff half of a cabbage that was roughly the size of a honeydew melon. What do I always tell you? A little food goes a long way if you prepare it properly...
So- I mixed all of the ingredients together well, just using my hand to pinch it together. I find this to be the only way to really get the flavors equally integrated... plus... it's more fun than using a spoon! And you are going to need to use your hands for the next step anyway ;-)
To stuff the cabbage, gently pull the leaves apart, working from the outside-in, and press a little of the ground meat mixture in-between each layer. You don't have to be precise about it and you can always go back and add more if needed. When the cabbage looks like the one in the image below, squeeze it tightly back together and scrape off the excess that squeezes back out, then open it up again gently and repeat, until it is packed full and nice and firm.
After repeating the squeezing, scraping off and re-filling a couple of times, the finished result will look something like this. Don't be coy about it- just press it in wherever you consider there to be a gap- it's all good! The very nature of this dish and the shape the cabbage is cut in is going to make it look lovely at the end anyway. The final step is to make a diagonal cut through the thick stem, cutting most of it away, but leaving enough to hold it together and keep it intact. This will reduce the cooking time a lot... but don't do it before filling the cabbage with meat as it would be a shame if the cabbage was to snap and break whilst stuffing.
In a saucepan just large enough for the 2 wedges of cabbage, I filled it up to about the same height with water, added a generous pinch of salt and brought it up to the boil.
The next step is to scrape about 2 tablespoons of annato paste out of the jar and to pat some of it onto the cabbage here and there. The rest can go into the saucepan- no worries.
Bring the water up to the boil, reduce it to a steady simmer and then let it cook away for 30-40 minutes with the lid on. It is best to let the cabbage lie on its side too, as this will help the thicker, stalk end cook better.
It is a good idea to take a peek and carefully flip the wedges over after 20 minutes or so, and also to spoon some of the annato rich broth over the top... and as you can see, the cabbage will have turned from a pale green/white, to a vibrant gold! So beautiful!
This might look and sound spicy to you, but it's not- it doesn't even taste particularly exotic... it is just delicious and simple comfort food. The annato gives is a gently warm, earthy, smooth richness which is a little hard to describe... but I think that the word "smoothness" does sum it up best. The hint of chilli is there and the lovely, refreshing cimmaron, as well as the fennel which always goes so well with pork- and all of these flavors go so wonderfully with the mild and sweet cabbage that it is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser... I liked it a lot!
This would go well with a plain rice, or even with potatoes, with a couple of spoonfuls of the good annato broth over the top. If you don't eat both pieces that is ;-) I had to sacrifice myself for you this evening, just to be sure it turned out as well as it did. Next time there will be rice as well... but for tonight, I decided to watch out for my figure! It's not easy creating all of these yummy dishes for all you good people and staying slim after all!