Stuffed cabbage is an Old World tradition. The cabbage rolls that we see more often than not hail from Eastern Europe. They’re the kind, like this recipe, that are covered in a tomato-based sauce. Did you know that in Sweden and Finland they use Lingonberry jam to cover their cabbage rolls? Did you know that in Egypt they rarely use meat in their stuffed cabbage? In Asia, cabbage rolls are a thing too! It’s thought that cabbage rolls started being a staple for Jews 2000 years ago. That’s a long history of cabbage rolls!
One thing that I found quite interesting is that in most places and cultures cabbage rolls are traditionally made with ground pork or a ground pork and ground beef mixture. Obviously, those of Jewish descent wouldn’t use pork. Beef would probably be the meat of choice. Lamb perhaps too. Jews from Galicia and Ukraine prefer a sweet and sour sauce over the more savory tomato sauce. If you’ve ever wondered about sweet and sour cabbage rolls, now you know a bit of history!
Can you tell that I’m a history nerd? I’m a total history nerd. Science is cool, but tell me what people did back in the day. I will love you forever!
These cabbage rolls come from a very (what we Americans consider) traditional recipes. It’s probably of Polish descent coming out of the Chicago area. Chicago once held claim to the largest Polish population outside of Poland. It’s going to be everything you remember from a grandmother making them. Delicious, warm, and creaming of the Old World.
Cabbage rolls are one of my favorite dishes to order at our local German restaurant. In fact, we’re going there on Sunday for our Valentine’s Day dinner. I might just have to order some stuffed cabbage rolls. They’re just so good! Then I’ll have to convince my SO to try them so I can make them at home. He doesn’t like cabbage, hehe.
Thanks to Lisa at Parsley Sage Sweet for this wonderful recipe!
- 1 large head green cabbage, about 2 to 2¼ pounds
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 2 eggs (not necessary, you can leave them out, but they do make the meat fluffier)
- 1 medium onion, grated or minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ cup raw long-grain white rice *Tomato Sauce
- 2 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped (medium dice)
- 2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce or one 32-ounce can whole tomatoes, pulsed in a food processor with juice until pureed.
- juice of one lemon or 2 tablespoons (or more to taste) apple cider vinegar
- ¼ to ¾ cup light brown sugar (Depending on amount of sweetness you prefer. Start with ¼ cup and taste sauce, adding if you like it sweeter. If you prefer it completely savory, add only 1 tablespoon brown sugar and the juice from half a lemon)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- ½ cup golden raisins (optional)
- Chopped parsley, for garnishInstructions
- Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a rolling boil. When the water comes to a boil, fill a large bowl with ice water. Cut out as much of the core as you can from the bottom of the cabbage, then drop the whole, cored head into the boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes. Once the leaves separate and are pliable, immediately remove and drop the blanched leaves that separated (keep the pot of water boiling) in the ice water. Once cooled down, remove and pat the leaves dry. Repeat with any leaves still attached to the head and not pliable, until you’ve gotten all the leaves off the head, and they are all soft and pliable.
Alternatively, If you’ve got time on your hands, you can freeze the wrapped head of cabbage for two days then defrost. When defrosted, the leaves will peel off easily and be soft enough to roll.
Here’s some other ideas from readers, although I have yet to try them so I cannot confirm that they work. 1. Place the cabbage in the microwave for 6 minutes. The core will slip right out and the leaves will be perfect for rolling. 2. Throw the whole, uncored head of cabbage into the boiling water. The leaves won’t separate on their owm, but should be easy to peel off.
- Set aside about 16 of the largest leaves (these will be your cabbage rolls) and slice off any thick parts of the vein on each of them, or, just cut out the thick vein since that part will be covered once the leave is rolled. Chop some of the remaining cabbage leaves to make 1 cup of chopped cabbage, and reserve.
- Mix the ground beef with the eggs, grated onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and rice. (If you use cooked rice, you can test the seasoning of the meat mixture to your liking by frying up or microwaving a piece of it and tasting, if desired). Divide this mixture into sixteen 2-ounce balls. Using moistened hands, form the balls into thick cylinders. Place a cylinder of filling near the bottom of a cabbage leaf (if the vein in the leaf is really thick, shave it down with a knife before placing the beef on it, being careful not to cut through the leaf itself OR, cut the thick vein out completely in a narrow V. When you roll the cabbage, that V will be covered sufficiently.).
- Roll the meat filled cabbage leaf up, folding both sides over the filling, (like you see in the above photos) and finish rolling to enclose the filling, like an eggroll. Continue, filling and rolling all the cabbage leaves. Place them seam side down, on a tray or baking sheet. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Over medium heat, melt the butter in a heavy, nonreactive saucepan. Sauté the second onion until soft and golden. Add the garlic and saute for 2 more minutes, then add the reserved 1 cup chopped cabbage and sauté for about 30 seconds to 1 minute more.
- Add the tomato sauce, lemon juice, brown sugar, salt and pepper to taste, and stir to combine. Increase the heat until it comes to a boil, then lower it and simmer for 5 minutes. Add raisins now, if using.
- Line of the bottom of a 13 x 9 roasting pan or glass dish with a layer of sauce. Place cabbage rolls, seam side down, on top of sauce. Top cabbage rolls with remaining sauce then cover the whole pan with tin foil. Bake for 2 hours in a preheated 350 F oven.
For more spectacular recipes and some great step-by-step photos, visit Parsley Sage Sweet.