Delicious Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

One of my fondest memories from childhood was Saturday visits from my maternal grandparents.  They would arrive bearing bags loaded with gifts and food, eyes twinkling as we ripped the bags from their hands and started rifling through them, staking claim on anything we could get our hands on.  The ‘usuals’, as far as the food went, were; homemade stuffed green peppers (my mother’s favorite), these fabulous, fluffy, yeasty rolls from a bakery near them, assorted cold-cuts, noodle kugel, and homemade chocolate chip cookies. But, there was one dish that trumped all of the above for me, one that my grandmother must have fed me from birth because I loved it more than anything at an age when anything leafy or green was gross; stuffed cabbage rolls (aka Holishkes, Golumpki or Prakas).

We always served the stuffed cabbage with mashed potatoes.  No explanation why, it was just tradition.  It was the perfect sauce soaking vessel.  I love them with egg noodles too.

I still remember digging deep in each bag feeling for that familiar, large Chinese soup container, the tender green rolls flush against the sides, crammed within a brightorangey/red, sweet tomato sauce floating with raisins and bits of cabbage.  The moment I hit it, I would yank it out with impassioned glee, and the understanding that it was MINE, MINE, ALL MINE.

I used the whole cabbage, even the darker outer leaves, but it’s the inner lighter leaves (below) that are sweeter, tender and just well, better, when cooked.

When my grandmother passed, the recipe went with her.  I never asked for it because I assumed she would live forever.  You have these moments in youth where everyone seems immortal, and death is just an eventual speck to be kicked aside.  No one was gonna die on you, no matter what older people said.

I had attempted ‘my version’ of her stuffed cabbage only once before, but was completely unsuccessful.  It was okay, but it just wasn’t HERS, and I think you all know what I mean by that.  It was missing that something something, but I couldn’t quite place what thatsomething something was. I finally decided that I wasn’t going to even attempt it for a while and just occasionally bask in the memory of her magic whenever I encountered it elsewhere.  A few Jewish delis came close, but still, no dice..hers was much, much better.  There wasalways something missing.

When this month’s Daring Cooks challenge was announced, the first thing I saw was stuffed grape leaves.  I’ve never been a huge fan of them, although I try to like them because they’re such a huge presence in some of best Greek salads I’ve had.  I always end up taking one bite, chewing with a sour face, then eventually spitting it out into a napkin like a 5-year old.  I suppose we were just not meant to be, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying.  I have this thing about waste, and it seems such a waste to let these amazing little rolls hit the trash with tiny bits of Greek salad residue clinging to the pretty, grape leaf wraps. (Yes, I know dolmades are not only an occasional part of Greek salads, but it’s the only time I encounter them).

Our October 2010 hostess, Lori of Lori’s Lipsmacking Goodness, has challenged The Daring Cooks to stuff grape leaves. Lori chose a recipe from Aromas of Aleppo and a recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.

Scrolling further down, I noticed there were a few people stuffing cabbage leaves.  Alright, so it’s not exactly what the blog checking lines state, but it is of Jewish origin, and Israel isin the Middle East.  Yep, trying to crawl through loopholes here. Regardless, this was a sign…it was now time to take on my grandmother’s stuffed cabbage.  It couldn’t have come at a better time since 1) the weather is getting cooler, and 2) I was really starting to crave it again.

Old-Fashioned Stuffed Cabbage

No fancy pants plating for a dish like this – just load up your plate with comforting goodness.  OK, so I piped the potatoes with a pastry bag, it was just a brief whim thing aka I’m a food blogger and I take photos of everything I make.

So, here’s what I did.  I took a recipe from Joan Nathan, and another recipe from, combined them and adjusted it according to what I remember my grandma’s stuffed cabbage tasting like.  The only thing I did differently from my grandmother was oven simmering the stuffed cabbage in lieu of simmering it stovetop in a dutch oven – a method Joan Nathan recommends in her recipe.  Just the thought of having to keep running to the stove to stir so the cabbage rolls didn’t stick to the bottom and burn, like my grandmother did, wasn’t something I relished.  In fact, I don’t think she ever left the stove when she was simmering those lovely rolls!

Update:  Sue left a comment saying that if you want to cook this stove top, line the bottom of the pot with cabbage leaves and  it will prevent the rolls from scorching.  Thank you, Sue!

Final verdict?  Closest to hers that I’m ever going to get.  My mother was the true test, and she said they tasted exactly like hers.  Success!

Old Fashioned Sweet and Sour Stuffed Cabbage

Be sure to check out the links in Daring Cooks blogroll for all kinds of leafy rolls, HERE.  For the recipes for stuffed grape leaves provided by our sexy lips hostess, click HERE.  Thanks for a great challenge, Lori!

Amazing Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Tender leaves of cabbage stuffed and rolled with beef, garlic, onion and rice, simmered in a rich tomato sauce.
Cabbage Rolls
  • 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 garnish
  1. Prepare the cabbage leaves. Cut out as much of the core as you can from the bottom of the cabbage, then carefully separate the leaves from the head. Blanch 16 large leaves in boiling water for about 1 minute, or until bright green and just softened. OR, just drop the whole, cored head into the boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, then immediately drop the blanched leaves (or whole head) in ice water. Drain and pat the leaves dry. If you’ve got time on your hands, you can freeze the head of cabbage for two days then defrost. 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- 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. Take a knife and shave down the vein on each cabbage leaf, but they still need to be softened to roll, so you’d still have to blanch them aka extra work, so I’m not sold on that one. 3. You can also throw the whole head in the boiling water without coring it. The leaves just won’t separate on their own, but are still easy to peel off.
  2. Chop some of the remaining leaves to make 1 cup of chopped cabbage and reserve.
  3. Mix the ground beef with the eggs, grated onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and rice. Divide this mixture into sixteen 2-ounce balls. Using moistened hands, form the balls into cylinders. Place a cylinder of filling near the bottom of a cabbage leaf. Begin to roll it up, folding both sides over the filling, 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.
  4. 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 chopped cabbage and sauté briefly.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 350F oven.

Amazing Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. Tender leaves of cabbage stuffed and rolled with beef, garlic, onion and rice, simmered in a rich tomato sauce.


Share Button