Kålruletter: a fresh start for spring

With a few tweaks, this Norwegian classic makes a satisfying gluten- and dairy-free meal

Photo: Christy Olsen Field
Savoy cabbage adds a texture to these rolls, but regular or Napa cabbage will also work.
Below: Before baking, brown the rolls in a sauté pan.

Christy Olsen Field
Edmonds, Wash.

Spring is coming! Though the air still has a chill to it, signs of the upcoming season pop up everywhere: New melodies from migrating birds headed back north, green buds on the trees, fresh sprouts from the bulbs I planted last fall.

Though I’m a fan of root vegetables and hearty dishes of winter, I am counting down the weeks until the farmer’s market opens (only 10 to go!). I discovered a traditional Norwegian dish that bridges the seasons: kålruletter, or Norwegian cabbage rolls.

In my research, I found most kålruletter recipes call for milk or potato starch to hold the meatballs together, and quite a bit of butter. Many people deal with allergies to dairy and gluten, and with a few easy swaps, this Norwegian classic can be enjoyed by everyone around your table.

Here’s my take on this good traditional recipe that delivers on flavor and satisfaction and is naturally gluten- and dairy-free. Don’t be dismayed by the number of steps: the whole dish comes together in about 45 minutes, start to finish (and half of that is hands-off time in the oven).

Happy Spring!

Photo: Christy Olsen Field
Bridging the time between winter and spring, cabbage rolls have a hint of leafy green things to come yet are hearty enough to satisfy the winter palette.

Norwegian Cabbage Rolls
Norske kålruletter

1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 lb. ground beef
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 egg
1 head cabbage (I used savoy cabbage because of its lovely curly texture, but you can use regular cabbage or Napa cabbage here)
1/4 cup water
Three strips of bacon (optional)

Photo: Christy Olsen Field

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a medium pan, sauté sliced onion with some olive oil and a big pinch of salt until softened and golden brown, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a food processor or a large bowl with your hands, mix together sautéed onions, beef, spices, salt, and egg until well combined (about 15-20 seconds in the food processor).

Meanwhile, prepare to blanch your cabbage leaves. This is crucial to the success of the recipe: Blanching the cabbage ensures that it will keep its spring green color and texture, but will make the leaves pliable for wrapping.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and set up a big bowl of ice water close by. Add a healthy amount of salt to both.

Carefully separate the cabbage leaves; you will need about 12 to 16 leaves. Once water is boiling, put two or three cabbage leaves into the water for one minute to blanch. Remove and immediately put in the bowl of ice water to shock the vegetables and cool for a couple minutes. Once all the leaves are blanched and shocked, drain the cabbage leaves and pat dry.

Now you’re ready for assembly. Take a cabbage leaf and cut out the bottom third of the thick stem, if needed. Fill with 2 or 3 tbsps. of meat mixture. Roll the cabbage leaf around the meat. Use a toothpick to hold it together.

In the sauté pan, add some olive oil and heat to medium high. Brown the cabbage rolls in batches, starting seam-side down. Nestle them in an 8 x 8 pan so they are nice and cozy. For extra flavor, layer three strips of bacon on top (you won’t regret it). Add 1/4 cup water to ensure the cabbage rolls don’t dry out in the oven.

Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, or until nicely browned on top. Serve with a tart berry jam (lingonberry, perhaps?), a couple spoonfuls of pan juices, and boiled new potatoes.

Serves 4.

Christy Olsen Field was on the editorial staff of the Norwegian American Weekly from 2008 to 2012, and the Taste of Norway page was her favorite section. Today, she is a freelance grantwriter for small to mid-size nonprofits with her business, Christy Ink. Learn more at www.christy.ink.

This article originally appeared in the March 10, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.