The Cabbage Rolls You've Been Looking For

Cabbage rolls have been around a long time, to say the least. According to Pearson, these rolls appear to have originated in the ancient Middle East and worked their way up through Eastern Europe as trade routes developed and people migrated. Some nations just prefer to keep the names simple, referring to them as "stuffed cabbage leaves" or "cabbage casserole". In Provence, France, they're sou fassum, while the Polish often call their version golumpki. No matter what you call them though, most cabbage rolls are close to the same basic recipe, consisting of cooked cabbage leaves rolled up with ground meat, rice, and spices, all topped off with a tomato sauce and then baked.

Some recipes call for dill, others minced meat. Some use sauerkraut, others add pine nuts, and a few even have a mushroom sauce. Though we were tempted to make every single version because they all sounded delicious, chef Tara Rylie of RylieCakes walks you through a more traditional version known to Eastern Europe. These rolls are easy to make and serve as a hearty comfort food dish with a good dose of healthy cabbage, so be prepared for your friends and family to fall in love!

Gather ingredients for cabbage rolls

For your cabbage roll ingredients, gather up 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 medium onion, finely diced, 6 large garlic cloves, minced, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons salt, 1¼ teaspoon black pepper, 2 teaspoons oregano, 2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes, 1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce, 1 large green cabbage head (or 2 medium heads), 1 pound ground beef, ½ pound ground pork, 1 cup cooked rice, ¾ teaspoons paprika, 1/3 cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped, and 1 large egg.

Though you want a flavorful tomato sauce, don't go overboard, as the flavor of the cabbage and filling should take center stage. The sauce should pull it all together but not be the star of the show. That being said, we make a very simple tomato sauce from scratch for this recipe. However, if you'd like to pick up a jar of basic spaghetti sauce at the store, feel free to do so!

To make the sauce, warm up olive oil in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add half of the diced onions to the saucepan and turn heat up to medium and sauté until they grow fragrant and translucent. Add half of the minced garlic, white wine vinegar, brown sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper, and oregano to the onions. Sauté for approximately two minutes until the mixture is extremely fragrant and onions are golden brown. Then, add both cans of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Stir and let simmer until ready to use.

How to prepare your cabbage for rolls

When cold, cabbage leaves aren't so flexible. This means that they will just tear when you try to remove them from the head, making them difficult to handle and roll. The easiest way to fix this is to fill a large stockpot with water, bring it to a boil, and add your whole head of cabbage. You'll cook your cabbage for only two to three minutes until the leaves appear soft.

You can also peel your leaves first and then boil them so they're pliable enough to roll, but we found this is actually more laborious. Another method is to freeze your cabbage head overnight and then peel off its leaves. We chose not to use this method as the texture of the cabbage leaves changes when freezing, often leaving them overly limp once they've thawed.

So, we really recommend the boiling method. After you've boiled your cabbage head, carefully remove it from the boiling hot water. Let your cabbage cool slightly until it's comfortable to work with. Then you can start peeling your leaves off the cabbage. Once you've got twelve leaves — ideally all close to the same size — cut an upside-down "V" shape out of the cabbage rib (the part that connects to the core). Then lay the leaves on top of a clean kitchen towel and let them dry while you prepare your filling.

Cabbage roll filling made easy

The filling for these cabbage rolls is as easy as can be. You simply combine your ground beef and pork, cooked rice, the other half of the onion, 1½ teaspoons salt, ¾ teaspoon black pepper, paprika, parsley, and egg in a large mixing bowl. Then use a large spoon or spatula to fold it all together. Truth be told, we just like to use our hands here to combine it all! So long as you remember to wash your hands afterward, it's a perfectly reasonable way to make sure everything's thoroughly mixed together.

You can add a little more paprika for some extra heat or even try smoked paprika for a little smoky flavor. Pine nuts can be added for a crunch or golden raisins for a bit of sweetness. Like we mentioned before, there are so many variations of this filling out there for you to try, but we find we like the classic version best, at least for your first time making cabbage rolls.

The best way to roll up your cabbage

Filling your cabbage leaves and rolling them is quite like making a small burrito. First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and coat a casserole dish with a layer of cooking spray. Then, spread a layer of half of your tomato sauce in the bottom of the casserole dish. Then, form a handful of your meat mixture (approximately 3 ounces per leaf) into a log-shaped roll and place it right above the upside-down "V". 

Then roll the cabbage leaf over the meat, closing the shape of the "V". Fold in both sides of the leaf towards the center and finish rolling. Place your cabbage roll seam side down in your prepared pan over the tomato sauce and then repeat this process for the remaining eleven rolls.

Bake your cabbage rolls

Finally, pour the rest of your tomato sauce over your cabbage rolls and bake for an hour. Remove them from the oven and let the rolls cool slightly before serving. Top them with chopped fresh parsley if desired. If you happen to have any cabbage rolls left behind after mealtime, you can store the leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to seven days.

As you can see, these rolls really aren't finicky at all, so you can be certain that they'll be done after an hour. After removing them from the oven, simply let them cool slightly before topping with fresh parsley and serving. Though we've heard of folks serving their cabbage rolls with mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, rice, or side salads, we like to eat our cabbage rolls as the main (and only) dish — they're just that good!

The Cabbage Rolls You've Been Looking For
5 from 33 ratings
These cabbage rolls are easy to make and serve as a hearty comfort food dish. Be prepared for your friends and family to fall in love with this delicious recipe
Prep Time
40
minutes
Cook Time
1
hour
Servings
6
servings
serving of cabbage rolls on white plate
Ready in 1.67 hours
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced + divided
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced + divided
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1¼ teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 2 (14 oz) cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
  • 1 large green cabbage head or 2 medium
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • ½ pound ground pork
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • ¾ teaspoons paprika
  • ⅓ cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped + extra for topping
  • 1 large egg
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish with cooking spray.
  2. Begin tomato sauce by warming up olive oil in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add half of the diced onions to the saucepan and turn the heat up to medium, sauté until translucent.
  3. Add half of the minced garlic, white wine vinegar, brown sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon black pepper, and oregano to onions. Sauté for approximately two minutes until the mixture is extremely fragrant and onions are golden brown.
  4. Add both cans of diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Stir and let simmer until ready to use.
  5. While sauce is simmering, fill a large stockpot with water and bring it to a boil. Place cabbage heads in the water and cook for two to three minutes. Rotate cabbage if not fully submerged.
  6. Remove cabbage from boiling water carefully and let cool down until it's comfortable to work with. Gently peel twelve leaves off cabbage or six leaves off each of the medium cabbage. At the base of each leaf, cut an upside-down "V" shape out of the cabbage rib (the part that connects to the core). Lay leaves on top of a clean kitchen towel and let dry.
  7. While leaves are drying, make the filling. Combine ground beef and pork, the other half of the onion, cooked rice, 1½ teaspoons salt, ¾ teaspoon black pepper, paprika, parsley, and egg in a large mixing bowl. Fold with a spatula (or hands) to combine. Set aside.
  8. Take the sauce off the heat and pour half into the base of a casserole dish lightly coated with cooking spray.
  9. Fill cabbage leaves by forming a handful of meat mixture (approximately 3 ounces per leaf) into a log-shaped roll. Place meat roll right above the upside-down "V" and then roll the cabbage leaf over the meat, closing the shape of the "V". Then fold in both sides of the leaf towards the center and finish rolling. Place cabbage roll seam side down in the prepared pan over the sauce. You want two rows with six cabbage rolls each. Repeat for the remaining eleven rolls.
  10. Pour remaining sauce over cabbage rolls and bake for one hour.
  11. Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving. Top with chopped fresh parsley if desired. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to seven days.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 493
Total Fat 29.4 g
Saturated Fat 9.8 g
Trans Fat 0.9 g
Cholesterol 111.9 mg
Total Carbohydrates 33.7 g
Dietary Fiber 9.8 g
Total Sugars 15.0 g
Sodium 1,249.3 mg
Protein 26.4 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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