Granny-approved, these Eastern European-inspired stuffed cabbage rolls are comforting, satisfying, and feed a crowd.
If you’ve never made cabbage rolls before, you’re missing out. Maybe the process of prepping the cabbage leaves or the amount of time is intimidating. Or maybe you just haven’t got down with cabbage rolls before.
Either way, by the time these humble ingredients come together, come hot out of the oven, and you take a bite you will understand the comforting glory that is a cabbage roll.
For us, the best stuffed cabbage rolls recipe is rice, veggies, herbs and meat wrapped in tender cabbage leaves and baked in a savory tomato sauce.
Our cabbage rolls recipe veers off from traditional German stuffed cabbage rolls or other European varieties in a couple ways. Instead of using a mixture of ground beef and sausage, we use ground turkey to cut down on the amount of fat.
Additionally, we opt for more chopped veggies like carrots, celery and onion to add flavor and texture.
This cabbage rolls recipe is great too because you can easily make them vegan and still 100% delicious. Instead of using ground meat, use a plant-based substitute or double up on the veggies adding mushrooms.
This recipe can feed a crowd or guarantee leftovers for a few days (which is always a win).
What are cabbage rolls
Cabbage rolls are one of those foods that’s made all over the world and exist in almost every cuisine. They are especially prevalent in Eastern and Central Europe.
In China, cabbage rolls are often stuffed with shittake, tofu and seafood. The Lebanese stuff theirs with minced meat and rice, rolling them to about the size of a cigar served with a yogurt.
Jewish folks traditionally eat their version of cabbage rolls (called holishkes) baked in a tomato sauce on the holidays Simchat Torah and Sukkot. Polish communities have made their version of cabbage rolls- meat and rice in a sweet and sour tomato sauce- popular in America called gołąbki.
Indeed it seems like stuffing some combination of meat, rice and veggies into a leaf is universal.
This stuffed cabbage rolls with tomato sauce is an Eastern Europe-inspired variety and by no means claims to be traditional. Fresh dill and parsley bring freshness to the meat, vegetable, and rice mixture, blanketed in a rich tomato sauce.
What is the best way to roll cabbage rolls
First I spread some of the tomato sauce onto the bottom of the casserole dish. Then to roll the cabbage rolls, I like to work in the casserole dish in order to cut down on dirtying another dish. Take roughly ⅓ cup of the meat mixture and place it into the center of the cabbage leaf.
Fold in all the sides and roll up, placing the seam sides down. Repeat until all of the meat mixture is gone. Pour the remaining sauce over the cabbage rolls.
If some of your cabbage leaves ripped or are small, don’t throw them out. For the misfits, I will sometimes use two on top of each other to create a fully wrapped roll.
Cover with aluminum foil and then bake.
How do you remove the core from cabbage rolls
Separating and softening the cabbage leaves are a crucial step for any cabbage rolls and requires a bit of time. However, there are some easy ways to remove the leaves that will save you some time.
Traditional blanching method
This involves blanching the whole head of cabbage in a pot of boiling water. Use a pot large enough to fit the whole cabbage and enough water to cover it without boiling over.
The idea is you let it boil for a few minutes, stab it with a large serving fork, and remove from the water to cut off a few of the outer leaves. Once removed, you lower it back into the boiling water and repeat several times.
Personally, handling a giant hot cabbage back and forth from a vat of boiling water stresses me out. Plus splashes of hot water aren’t fun.
Sometimes cabbages aren’t tightly bound to the head and I can easily make a cut where the leaf meets the core and separate them this way. Once I’ve removed 10 -15 leaves, I boil them for a couple minutes to soften.
This is much easier and safer than boiling an entire cabbage head. But if your cabbage is in fact very firm and tight- have no fear. There are a couple other easy methods to use.
Microwave that cabbage
With a little bit of water, the quick-cook microwave turns into a steamer. In just 20 minutes you can have softened, easy-to-remove cabbage leaves.
Place the cabbage core side down in a microwave-safe dish with about a half a cup of water. Cover and cook on the high setting for 5 minutes.
Using tongs or a serving fork, carefully turn it cover so the core is facing up and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove, let cool enough to handle, and safely remove cabbage leaves.
The amount of microwaving time can vary depending upon how strong your microwave is.
First remove the tough outer leaves. Then rinse and core cabbage. Pat dry and place the whole head in a ziploc bag. Freeze for a few hours.
Remove and allow to defrost. At this point you can easily remove the leaves. Cabbage holds water, so when it’s frozen and then thawed, the leaves become soft.
This method is great, the only disadvantage being you have to allow for the time it takes to freeze and defrost. You can speed up the defrosting process in the microwave.
How long do cabbage rolls take to bake
Bake the cabbage rolls at 350° F for 1 – ½ hours.
What goes good with cabbage rolls
Cabbage rolls are hearty enough you can enjoy them by themselves, but lots of side dishes go great with cabbage rolls. A cool cucumber salad, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, or buttery garlic bread all go great alongside cabbage rolls.
Tips for making cabbage rolls
- Don’t skip softening the cabbage leaves, whichever method you choose. Raw cabbage leaves are too stiff to roll.
- Another crucial step in prepping the leaves- cutting a V-shaped notch removing the thick rib. This makes them easier to roll and ensures you won’t get a huge, thick bite of cabbage.
- In a hurry? Feel free to use a pre-made jarred tomato sauce.
- The ground meat and rice do not need to be pre-cooked. Since these rolls will bake for at least an hour, everything will be cooked through.
- You can assemble and store covered in the fridge for up to 8 hours. When ready to bake, allow them to come to room temperature and bake.
- I usually don’t use the entire cabbage in this recipe, so save it to make a coleslaw, use in a stir fry or char on the grill.
Cabbage Rolls Recipe
- 1 Large Pot
- 1 9 x 13 casserole dish
For tomato sauce
- (1) 15 oz can of diced tomatoes
- (1) 15 oz can of tomato puree
- ½ medium onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 tb butter
- ½ tsp sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
For cabbage rolls
- 1 medium cabbage
- 1 lb ground turkey
- 1 cup uncooked white rice
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
- 1 large carrot, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup fresh dill, chopped
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tb fresh dill, chopped (for serving)
- 1 tb fresh parsley, chopped (for serving)
For the tomato sauce
- Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion. Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomato puree, diced tomatoes, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes.
For the cabbage rolls
- While sauce is simmering, *place cabbage in a covered microwave-safe dish core side down with 1/2 cup of water. Microwave on high for 5 minutes.
- Carefully flip over cabbage and cook on high for another 10 minutes. Allow to cool, drain water.
- Carefully peel 10 – 15 leaves off one at a time, cutting where the leaf end meets the core.
- Lay leaves flat on a surface. Use small knife to cut a V-shaped notch to remove the thick part of the cabbage rib.
- Mix all ingredients together- ground turkey, rice, onion, celery, carrot, garlic, egg, dill, parsley, paprika, salt, and pepper. Add 1/2 cup of tomato sauce. Stir to combine.
- Preheat oven to 350°. Spread out 1/2 cup of tomato sauce in bottom of 9 x 13" casserole dish.
- Shape ⅓ cup of the meat mixture into a small log shape and place into center of a cabbage leaf. Bring in the sides and roll tight. Place seam side down into casserole dish.
- Repeat until all the meat mixture is gone, tightly packing in cabbage rolls. Top with remaining tomato sauce.
- Cover tightly with foil. Bake 60 – 90 minutes until cabbage is tender and meat cooked.
- Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Top with more chopped parsley and dill if desired.