Food & dining

The confident cook

Recipe: The ingredients for stuffed cabbage rolls go into this thrifty sweet-and-sour meatball soup

Sweet-and-sour meatball-cabbage soup
Sheryl Julian for The Boston Globe
Sweet-and-sour meatball-cabbage soup

If you’re familiar with the ingredients that go into traditional Eastern European stuffed cabbage rolls — the green leaves, of course, which are wrapped around ground beef and rice, then simmered in tomato sauce — you’ll have a taste for this soup. Where the cabbage rolls take quite a bit of time to prepare and then cook, this pot of meatballs with cabbage and rice simmers in a sweet-and-sour tomato-based broth in 20 minutes.

Shape meatballs from lean ground beef and a couple slices of stale bread (if you don’t have any on hand, use small dinner rolls). Saute them in a nonstick skillet while you get the vegetables going in a soup pot. Add canned tomatoes to the soup with chicken stock and rice, and brown sugar and lemon juice for the sweet-sour flavors. You may have to fiddle with the sugar and lemon to get the balance just right (tomatoes are sweet, so you’ll need more acid then sugar). Like all good old-fashioned soups, you can stretch the pot with a little water if you need to. It’s thrifty and filling and makes a hearty supper with only a little meat.SHERYL JULIAN

Sweet-and-sour
meatball-cabbage soup

Serves 6

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MEATBALLS

2slices white bread, torn up or 2 small dinner rolls, left out for 1 hour
¼cup milk
1egg
1pound lean ground beef
2tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1tablespoon grated onion
1teaspoon salt
½teaspoon black pepper

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1. In a food processor, work the bread or rolls into crumbs (you need a scant 1½ cups). Transfer to a bowl and add the milk. Stir well and set aside for 5 minutes.

2. Add the egg and stir well to mix it in. Add the beef, parsley, onion, salt, and pepper. Work with clean hands until thoroughly mixed.

3. With wet hands, form the mixture into 1½-inch balls. You should have about 28. Set them on a rimmed baking sheet.

SOUP

4tablespoons vegetable oil
1onion, chopped
2slender carrots, thinly sliced
1stalk celery, coarsely chopped
½small green cabbage, halved and very thinly sliced into short shreds (4 packed cups)
Salt and pepper, to taste
3tablespoons dark brown sugar, or more to taste
1can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes, crushed in a bowl
6tablespoons lemon juice, or more to taste
7cups chicken stock
¼cup long-grain white rice
2tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

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1. In a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. When it is hot, brown the meatballs, in batches if necessary, turning them halfway through cooking, for 8 minutes, or until they are golden on two sides; set aside. They will not be cooked through.

2. Meanwhile, in a soup pot over medium heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. When it is hot, add the onion, carrots, celery, cabbage, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for 8 minutes, or until the onion and cabbage are slightly softened.

3. Add the brown sugar and stir it into the mixture for 1 minute, or until it melts. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more.

4. Add the lemon juice and stock. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Add the rice and meatballs. When the liquid is bubbling at the edges again, lower the heat, and partially cover the pan. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the meatballs are cooked through (halve one to test it) and the rice is tender. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, brown sugar, or lemon juice, if you like.

5. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with parsley.

Sheryl Julian

Sheryl Julian can be reached at sheryl.julian@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @sheryljulian.