Tender red cabbage and golden sautéed onions make a savory bed for meatballs drizzled with tahini sauce in this Shabbat dinner dish that mixes Jewish culinary traditions.
Cabbage has been cultivated since ancient times. Several of today’s most popular varieties (including red cabbage) were developed in medieval Germany. Hearty, plentiful and inexpensive, cabbage became a mainstay of Eastern European Jewish foodways and a component of other Jewish cuisines.
I’ve added Sephardic and Mizrahi touches to add flavor and depth to this Ashkenazi staple, plus tahini sauce to add an earthy creaminess. I like to use half lamb and half beef for the meatballs.
Red Cabbage and Onions with Meatballs
Serves 4 to 5
- Tahini Sauce (see below)
- 1 lb. ground lamb or beef (or combination)
- 1 tsp. salt, divided
- ½ tsp. ground black pepper, divided
- ½ tsp. paprika, divided
- ¾ tsp. ground cumin, divided
- ¼ tsp. dried oregano
- ¼ tsp. garlic powder
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 3 Tbs. tomato paste, divided
- ¼ cup oil, approximate, divided
- 2 cups thinly sliced onion halves
- 1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh garlic
- 1 small red cabbage cut into ¼-inch shreds or slices (see Notes)
- About 3 cups water or as needed
- ½ tsp. sugar, divided
- ¼ tsp. dried mint
- ¼ tsp. ground sumac, or 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
- ⅛ tsp. crushed red pepper, or as desired
- 3 Tbs. chopped fresh dill, mint, or parsley
Prepare tahini sauce (see below) and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix lamb, ¼ tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. pepper, ¼ tsp. paprika, ¼ tsp. cumin, oregano and garlic powder. Stir in egg and 1 Tbs. tomato paste. Mix well. Form into compact 1-inch balls. Set aside.
In a large, deep 12-inch skillet, heat 2 Tbs. oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, ¼ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. black pepper. Sauté until onions are soft and golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove to a large bowl. Do not wipe out the pan.
Add 1 Tbs. oil, if needed, to skillet. Fry meatballs over medium-high heat until browned and just cooked through (about 5 to 6 minutes per batch); meatballs should be firm but springy and have no pink inside when cut. Remove meatballs to bowl with onions.
Reheat pan, adding 1 Tbs. oil if needed. Sauté garlic 1 to 2 minutes until golden over medium-high heat. Add cabbage and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until cabbage begins to wilt (about 12 to 15 minutes). Stir in ½ cup water, 1 Tbs. tomato paste and ¼ tsp. cumin. Cover and steam cabbage until very soft (about 15 to 20 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add water by the ½ cup as needed.
Stir in ¼ tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. sugar, dried mint, sumac, red pepper, ¼ tsp. paprika, ¼ tsp. ground cumin and 1 Tbs. tomato paste and ¼ cup water. Cook uncovered until pan is dry. Taste. Add more salt and/or pepper as desired, and the remaining ¼ tsp. sugar (or to taste) if cabbage is bitter. Stir in ½ cup water. Once the water is simmering, add onions and meatballs. Stir well. Cover and cook for 5 to 6 minutes until meatballs are warmed and liquid has thickened. Serve immediately drizzled with tahini sauce and garnished with dill.
Tahini sauce: In a medium bowl, stir together 1 tsp. minced garlic, ¼ tsp. salt, 1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. lemon juice and ¼ cup cold water. Stir in ½ cup tahini paste. Mixture will seize, but keep stirring, adding cold water by the teaspoon until sauce is the consistency of a smooth, loose frosting. Taste. Add salt, tahini and/or lemon juice as needed.
Notes: A small red cabbage is 1 to 1½ lbs. Or use half of a medium-large (2 to 2½ lbs.) cabbage. Make up to 3 days ahead (without sauce and dill). Reheat, covered, in 350-degree oven.