Before I moved to Israel, the extent of my experience with stuffed vegetables was peppers and cabbage, and it was limited even at that. Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine has opened me up to a whole world of vegetables that can be stuffed with a variety of meat or vegetarian fillings and simmered in any number of sauces. Stuffed peppers and cabbages appear, but not nearly as often as stuffed zucchini, eggplant, artichokes, and even carrots. And onions – what a revelation stuffed onions are! They’re not stuffed whole. Instead, the entire, skinned onion is simmered until tender, and the individual layers are separated and wrapped around a savory filling.
I came up with this recipe for the Jew and the Carrot to serve over Sukkot (read the original article here), but truly it’s good any time of year and for any occasion. Sweet, sour and savory flours often come together in stuffed vegetables, and so I turned to my mother-in-law’s sauce for sweet and sour meatballs as a base, to which I added tangy pomegranate molasses. A common ingredient in Syrian, Lebanese, and Persian cooking (often used with stuffed onions), I also added the thick pomegranate syrup to the filling, along with ground beef, spices, raisins and rice.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is one of my favorite recipes that I’ve ever made, let alone come up with. The flavors are pure magic. It’s bright and comforting, and makes good use of a humble staple like the onion.
- 3 large white or Spanish onions
- 1 (14-ounce) jar plain tomato sauce
- 1 (14-ounce) can jellied cranberry sauce
- ¼ cup pomegranate molasses*
- 1 pound ground beef
- ¼ cup breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup long grain rice
- ¼ cup golden raisins (soaked in hot water for 5 minutes if very dry)
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- Salt and pepper
- Chopped parsley or cilantro, for garnish
- Cut a deep slit down the side of each onion from top to root end and peel off the outer skin. Put into a large pot of water and simmer for 20 minutes, until softened. Remove and pat dry.
- Once cool enough to handle, carefully separate the onion layers and leave to dry. Roughly chop the middle section that can’t be stuffed and reserve.
- Put the tomato sauce, cranberry sauce, 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, and all but ¼ cup reserved chopped onion in a deep saucepan with a lid and heat until fully combined and just simmering.
- Thoroughly mix together the ground beef, breadcrumbs, rice, cinnamon, cumin, remaining 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses and reserved ¼ cup chopped onion. Season with salt and pepper.
- Take one onion layer and put a small amount of meat filling in the center. Roll tightly and place in the sauce, seam-side down. Repeat with remaining onion and filling. (If you have any meat leftover, form into meatballs and place in the sauce as well.)
- Cover the pot and simmer for 90 minutes, shaking occasionally (do not uncover).
- Remove from the heat and serve (or allow to cool, refrigerate, and heat up before serving – the flavors only get better). Garnish with chopped parsley or cilantro.
Can be made gluten free with gf breadcrumbs or alternative