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Cabbage Rolls

I don’t know how popular cabbage rolls are but I’m looking for some ideas. My grandmother used to make them for special occasions, and I’d like to give it a try.

I just bought the cabbage and I have a pretty well stocked pantry and fridge.


Filling – do you use beef, or a mix? I want to put rice in the filling (because my Grandmother did) but aside from that, what other things would keep the filling moist and add some awesome flavor?

Sauce – My grandmother actually never served it with a sauce (at least I don’t recall one) but I think I would really like one. The ones I’ve seen appear to be tomato based, so what is a really good recipe?

There are a few recipes out there (Googled), but they vary greatly. I didn't find any on this site.

If you’ve got some recipes and techniques on how you do them, I’d love to hear them. Thanks!

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  1. I am polish and my husband is romanian so there is a rich heritage of "golabki" and "sarmale" recipes around our house. So this is how we do it - not to say it's the only way - just to say it's how we do it.

    I use a mix of beef, pork and veal. I cook some long grained rice in tomato juice instead of water and add some fresh dill. I fry some onions until golden brown. You mix all these things together. My husband's side adds small chunks of smoked pork or bacon ti give the cabbage roll a smoky flavour.

    You need the soften the cabbage leaves before you make these - the easiest way I've found is to cut the leaves off and put them in boiling water for about 5 minutes. My mother used to boil the whole head, but that's tricky and you risk splashing yourself with boiling water.

    Use decent amount of filling for each.

    For the sauce I use a mix of tomato passata, consomme and water. I also add a lot of dill to this. Cook as long as you want- the longer the better.

    4 Replies
    1. re: maisonbistro

      Thank you. My Grandmother was from the Ukraine. My knowledge is sketchy on that though.

      I have ground beef and pork, but not veal. Sounds good though. What do you cook them in? Do you steam, boil, bake? How long, what temp?

      Sorry these are remedial questions, I know, but I've never attempted these before. Also, as an aside, why do you suppose my Grandmother did not use a sauce? Just curious, because the more I think about it, the more I think there was not one.

      1. re: Rocky Road

        You can put them in a covered casserole (in a 350F oven), slow cooker or Dutch oven (stovetop or 350F oven) and lit them simmer in the sauce. Almost impossible to imagine overcooking (just keep heat low).

        Couple of other suggestions: trim the stem part of the cabbage leaf (it will be tough); add an egg to your stuffing mixture to help bind it together; make lots, since they only get better (especially yummy is on the second or third night, saute in butter and fried onions).

        For some reason, I remember the babis in my Slovak family had several sauces for serving. One was a thin sweet-sour tomato-based sauce (this was what the cabbage rolls were cooked in). The others, served with the leftovers, were a dill-sour cream sauce (sim. to svickova) and a paprika-tomato-cream sauce (referred to as omacka). Sadly, these recipes went to their graves.

        1. re: Rocky Road

          I have made mine both on the stovetop in a big pot uncovered, or in the oven, in the same pot, covered, at 300. Now this might sound excessive but I honestly believe that these little babies get better with time, so I have been known to cook them for 6 hours. Never had any complaints!!

          Good luck

          1. re: Rocky Road

            My grandmother was from somewhere in Russia and not so long ago I went hunting for a recipe for stuffed cabbage that I thought might resemble hers. She cooked her cabbage rolls in a sweet & sour sauce, and that's what I had hoped to find. I did find a recipe that came really close. I substituted rice for the raisins in this recipe and I was very happy with the end result. http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20...

        2. Tip from an excellent "Canadian Living" recipe for Cabbage Rolls:

          "To soften leaves, you can also microwave cabbage: Core and place 1 cabbage in 12-cup (3 L) casserole with 2 tbsp (25 mL) water, cover and microwave at High for 12 to 14 minutes or until leaves are softened."


          1. Some tipe re the cabbage: Before cooking the cabbage, peel off and set aside the tough outer leaves - use these to line the Dutch oven or whatever pot you are cooking the rools in. That way, if there's any scorching on the bottom, it will protect the rolls.

            You can boil the whole head for moments at a time, removing it to peel off the softened outer leaves, then resubmerging it to soften more leaves, repeating until you have the number you need. You can also freeze the entire head, then thaw it. The leaves will be soft and you won't need to boil or microwave.

            Martha Stewart's ancestry is Polish and she has demonstrated stuffed cabbage on her shows. I'm sure she has recipes in her books and I recall that her mother worked on a cookbook of the recipes she demonstrated on-camera with her daughter. Mom's name was Martha Kostyra.

            1. My husbands Polish family always used a mix of pork and beef. They also always put a strip of bacon on top of each cabbage roll and would cook it at a real low temperature (I want to say 200 or something) for a couple of hours, then they would add sauce.

              I recently made Tyler Florence's cabbage rolls and really liked them :)


              1. Hi!

                I'm of middle eastern descent, so my answer may be completely off the mark and, if it is, I apologize.

                My Mom made cabbage rolls that were smaller and thinner that the ones I've seen made in the eastern European tradition. Mom made two version of her cabbage rolls. The first, the tomato version was filled with a mixture of ground lamb, rice, tomato sauce, cinnamon, salt and pepper. She also made a lemon version which had the same filling minus the tomato sauce. Her lemon version was very similar to rolled grape leaves.

                First, she cut out the hard core on the cabbage and pulled off and discarded the tough outside leaves. Then she boil the whole head and pulled off the leaves as they soften. Then she rolled the leaves with the filling.

                She made them on the stove top and,as someone suggested already, she lined the pot with cabbage leaves to prevent scourcing. In both versions, the rolled cabbage are packed tightly into a large saucepan and water is added to cover. Mom also used small plates to cover the top to keep the rolls from coming undone. After cooking for awhile, diced tomatos are added to the tomato version and lemon juice is added to the other.

                I've only made cabbage rolls a coupkle of times since Mom died, because it's such a labor intensive undertaking. But, they're very tasty. I should really make them more often.

                Hope this helps-


                1 Reply
                1. re: MEH

                  My mother makes hers like that too!
                  Sometimes we mix our cabbage rolls with other stuffed veggies in our house (Iraqi style)

                  Either way it's good!!

                2. Thanks for all the tips, recipes, and encouragement. I have an impromptu meeting in LA Wed, which was the day I was going to do this, so I'm going to make them on Friday.

                  To be honest, I'm probably going to take bits and pieces of a lot of suggestions here. I always try to be prepared, but I always cook with what I have. I have most everything, so my own adjustments will be minor.

                  The sauce is really going to be my wild card. Like I said, I don't recall a sauce on my Grandmother's, so that will be something I've learned here, with the ingredients I have, coupled with my own likes.

                  I look forward to making them and will report back how they came out.

                  Thanks again!

                  1. I read all of the answers you got and didn't see any mention of garlic in the filling mix. I'll bet that's standard for most eastern Europe folks.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: yayadave

                      Not for this polish/romanian chef.

                      The only thing I didn't mention, and that is because I'm not sure how widely available this is, but the romanian faction makes their "sarmale" with pickled/brined cabbage (which I must tell you is a dream to work with, but oh so stinky). It adds a note of sourness to the roll that is great.

                      1. re: maisonbistro

                        Stinky? I've heard of it and was tempted to buy the jars available at super markets (I'm sure home made is better but I don't have the expertise)

                        Do I just air them out before using?

                    2. My Cajun grandmother's cabbage rolls are a huge part of my memory and growing up. Damn, I loved them. I have before me, which I have never shared, her handwritten little recipe cards. Chowhound, I figure, is the best place to go public.

                      Just FYI: She used ground chuck. When I make them, I go half chuck and half pork. I use Hunt's Tomato Sauce but you could certainly use a simple homemade sauce. (Patricia Well's tomato sauce if by far the best I have ever tried.) And sauce is DEFINITELY the way to go :) So whatever you try, Make Them With Sauce. And go for broke on the seasonings. I know she did, too.

                      This is exactly as written.

                      1 1/2 lb ground chuck
                      1 1/2 tsp salt
                      1 pinch garlic powder
                      Cayenne to taste
                      1/2 tsp chili powder
                      1 1/2 cup rice
                      1 onion chopped

                      Mix meat, rice, onions, salt, garlic, cayenne with 1 can of tomato sauce. Mix well.

                      Core the bottom of a large cabbage and boil or steam 5-10 minutes until the leaves are soft enough to remove. The top leaves will be done before the middle - so I remove the top ones to cool and finish blanching the rest of the cabbage.

                      Mix about large tablespoon of meat and put on each leaf depending on size of cabbage leaf. To fold over, I pull the sides over the meat, then the thicker part of the cabbage and roll so meat cannot fall out. I never have to use toothpicks.

                      Put in a thick pot, placed tightly, and add 2 cans tomato sauce mixed with 2 can water and more seasoning. Fill sauce almost to top of pot and cook on medium fire. Cover tightly and cook 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

                      This recipe makes 24 cabbage rolls. This takes real large cabbage.

                      1. My grandma made them, too. The filling was pork and beef, raw, with cooked bacon and onion also cooked in the bacon fat added. The rice should be almost cooked. A little paprika and garlic. The sauce, which they were cooked in, was canned tomato sauce with brown sugar, cider vinegar, and more paprika.

                        Grandma layered them in the big oval Dutch Oven with pieces of Kielbasa and large chunks of potato- like medium yukon golds peeled and quartered. SHe brought it to the simmer on the stove then popped it in the oven for a few hours. Then we would top the potatoes with sour cream at the table. Yum. Good luck!

                        1. My recipe is for Jewish Hungarian stuffed cabbage with a teensy bit of brown sugar, probably a violation to true Hungarians. The secret ingredient is to use sauerkraut juice and blend with some brown sugar. I also add sliced carrots to the dish, adding some natural sweeting. Remember stuffed cabbage is best made in advance and "rested" in the fridge for 1-2 days to allow flavors to meld. Here it is:

                          Large heal green cabbage with core removed
                          2 lb. ground chuck
                          1 T garlic powder
                          14-16 oz. can sauerkraut, juice drained into mixing bowl
                          3/4 cup rice, washed and drained
                          12 oz. baby carrots or sliced carrots
                          2 28 oz. cans chopped tomatoes, I like RedPack brand
                          1/3 cup brown sugar
                          2 eggs, beaten
                          1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

                          Bring very large 12+ quart stockpot to boil with about 9 quarts water. When boiling, add 1 T salt. Immerse whole cabbage (without core) in pot. Let simmer 5-10 min, until you can remove whole leaves with sharp knife at base. You may have to re-immerse cabbage several times to get this done. Typically, you harvest 12-14 leaves. Finely chop the remainder of the cabbage and reserve in large bowl. The next step is optional, but makes the dish taste better - using sharp paring knife, remove some of the woody vein along coked leaf, leaving it all attached, but trim judiciously. The goal is to make the leaf even thickness, cuts down on cooking time and tastes better. Let leaves dry in colander while you make filling.

                          Mix ground beef with s&p, eggs, washed rice, garlic powder in large bowl. Reserve filling.

                          Preheat oven to 350. Liberally grease very large roasting pan (like for turkey, preferably 11X17. To reserved chopped leftover cabbage, add drained sauerkraut. Optional is you can wash kraut for milder flavor. Mix in chopped onions and carrots. Spread half this mixture in bottom of roasting pan.

                          Mix tomatoes, s&p, brown sugar and reserved sauerkraut juice. Taste and adjust seasoning, you may want to make it more sour - add lemon juice, or more sweet - more brown suage. Pour 1/3 of this mixture over cabbage in roasting pan.

                          Fill each prepared cabbage leaf with small amount of ground beef mixture. Close as for envelope, making sure rolls are tight. DO NOT overstuff, rolls will explode. Line up rolls on top of prepared cabbage/tomato mixture. Add remaining cabbage/onion/carrot mixture and top with remaining tomato sauce. Cover roasting pan very tightly with heavy duty foil and bake at 350 for 2 1/2 - 3 hours. To save on cleanup, place roasting pan on large sheet pan.

                          After cooking time is up, check cabbage rolls to see if they are fully cooked. They may need some more time. Hint: if you are freezing them, cook about 3/4 way done, cool, then freeze.

                          1. I will try to think of all the things my sister "The Queen of Cabbage Rolls" would tell a first timer. She uses sour cabbage instead of fresh because it does not require precooking and adds a nice sour note to the tomato sauce. She makes the filling from slightly undercooked long grain rice, ground meat (usually beef and something else), some finely chopped onion and seasoning. Many people do not season the filling and it can be bland. I also put parsley in my filling, but she thinks that is unnecessary.

                            Sauce: soften a good amount of white or yellow onion, render a half pound of finely chopped bacon, mix with a large tin or two of tomatoes (crushed or run through the food processor for a pulse or two), couple tablespoons of tomato paste, shot of vinegar to taste, lots of pepper and maybe even a clove or two of garlic. The bacon is really key and the smokier the better. Put a little sauce on the bottom of the pan before the first layer of rolls. Do not make the rolls any wider than two of your fingers or the cabbage/filling ratio is off. Cover each layer with sauce. Cook for at least an hour cover and then at least 15 minutes uncovered.

                            And the best part is that they are even better the second day.