Cabbage rolls filled with ground meat, rice and seasonings, then cooked in a tomato-based sauce, are an Eastern European delicacy. They're also practically a one-dish meal, containing protein, starch and vegetables all in one neatly wrapped package. A little extra on the plate, however, can make a meal feel more festive and provide a welcome contrast in both color and taste.
Contrast the soft cooked character of cabbage rolls with a crisp, raw green salad. Load it up with whatever crispy, crunchy ingredients you like -- carrots, celery, nuts. A sweet contrast such as a handful of currants would be welcome as well. Or keep it simple with just lettuce and a vinaigrette.
Shredded Vegetable Salad
For a more regionally compatible side, try a shredded vegetable salad. Such salads are quite common in Eastern European cuisines and thus a good match for cabbage rolls as a main dish. Try a simple grated carrot salad or a shredded beet salad. A more unusual offering might consist of a grated radish salad or a grated apple salad.
Cucumbers in Sour Cream
Sliced cucumbers dressed in sour cream or yogurt is another salad offering found throughout Eastern Europe, and it makes a great accompaniment for stuffed cabbage rolls. The cool dairy component complements the warm main dish. Some recipes add dill to the dish, others use some form of onion, thinly sliced or diced.
Roasted Root Vegetables
Cabbage rolls paired with roasted root vegetables makes for a hearty winter meal. You can use a variety of root vegetables, diced and tossed with olive oil or other cooking oil, or you can stick to one variety. Options include sweet potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, carrots and parsnips. Season simply with salt and pepper and perhaps an herb such as rosemary or, alternatively, a garnish of fresh parsley.
You can serve potatoes in one of many forms alongside cabbage rolls and let the starchy vegetable soak up the delicious tomato-y sauce. Mashed potatoes might be best for such a purpose, but you can also try hash browns, potato pancakes, rosti, oven-roasted potatoes or even simple boiled or baked potatoes.
Pierogi, of Polish origin, are small filled dumplings usually prepared by boiling or pan-frying in butter. Their mild, starchy character meshes well with the strong flavors of the cabbage rolls. Serve pierogies that are filled with mild white cheese or potatoes and let them mop up the accompanying sauce.
Kasha varnishkes is a traditional Jewish dish consisting of the grain kasha plus bowtie noodles and onions, all mixed together in a pilaf-like saute. It sops up the tomato sauce that cabbage rolls are cooked in, making it a good choice for a side dish.
For the most minimalist presentation, serve cabbage rolls with a simple side of bread and butter. Rye bread would be the most traditional choice, and it's certainly a tasty one. Another possibility is a beer bread -- the yeasty, malty, slightly sweet bread marries well with the strong vegetal flavors of the cabbage and its filling.
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