This is my (very nontraditional) version of my Ukrainian family’s tradition, Stuffed Cabbage Rolls.
They are filled with a mixture of beef, pork, brown rice, and fresh herbs and spices, then baked in a homemade tomato-based sauce with an amazing depth of flavor. Served with extra sauce on the side because you can never have too much sauce!
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Inspired by My Grandma’s Stuffed Cabbage Rolls Recipe
Stuffed cabbage rolls were always a staple in my Grandma’s kitchen, especially during holidays, like Easter and Christmas. The family always loved it when she made them and sometimes, I would get lucky enough for her to make them a few random times throughout the year. I don’t know what it was about them, but I just remember getting excited when she or my Grandpa would stroll through the short path that connected my parents’ house with theirs, with a big baking dish full of stuffed cabbage rolls in tow.
My Grandma left behind several recipes like crab stuffed flounder, jambalaya, and Christmas cookies; however, the stuffed cabbage rolls recipe is nowhere to be found! It’s tough for me to think back to my childhood and remember the exact way her recipe tasted, and I’ve been trying for years to get it right and it just never seemed to work. So, I created my own version inspired by hers, admitting that it will never be the same as Grandma’s. It’s nontraditional, but it does have a distinct flavor that brings me back to those days.
So, even though I had a dream last night that my Grandma tasted my stuffed cabbage rolls and hated them (it makes sense, because she was brutally honest), this recipe is dedicated to her. 💚 She and my Grandpa were truly the best Grandparents; always there for my siblings and I, never missing a birthday party, sporting event, holiday, or other milestone, big or small. We miss them so much! 😇😇
HOW TO MAKE STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS
Get the Rice, Cabbage, Tomato Sauce, and Filling Started
First, cook the rice according to package directions. I use heart healthy brown rice, but you can also use a different rice such as basmati or jasmine. While the rice is cooking, fill a stock pot three quarters of the way full of water along with the quarter cup of red wine vinegar, and bring that to a boil. The vinegar tenderizes the cabbage and adds great flavor to the dish.
In the meantime, you can get the sauce going so it has ample time to develop flavor. In the same Dutch oven you will use to bake the stuffed cabbage rolls, heat the oil, and sauté the onion with dried thyme and tarragon for a few minutes. Add in the garlic and tomato paste and continuously stir for a couple minutes, being sure the garlic doesn’t burn. Finally, tip in the tomatoes with their juices, tomato paste, a cup of beef or chicken broth, and black pepper. Bring that to a simmer on medium/high heat, then lower heat to medium/low and continue to simmer, covered, until you are ready to assemble your rolls. We will talk about the fresh thyme and tarragon soon.
Regarding the broth, I like to “make my own” using Better than Bouillon’s Organic Roasted Chicken or Beef base. They’re so flavorful and delicious! It just makes this recipe extra special.
Carefully place the cabbage into the boiling water, one at a time, and cook for about six to eight minutes, depending on the size of your cabbage. I use a large fine mesh strainer to remove the cabbage from the boiling water; however, two wooden spoons or something similar will work as well. Set both heads of cabbage aside to cool.
Tip: If your cabbage is bobbing like an apple above the water, flip the pot lid upside down. The handle should hold it down depending on what kind of lid you’re using!
For the stuffed cabbage rolls filling, sauté diced onion and fresh garlic in a pan with a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil and let that cool. To a mixing bowl (I use my KitchenAid Stand Mixer), add ground beef and pork sausage (I use hot Italian sausage but mild will work too), cooked rice, chopped fresh herbs, hot Hungarian paprika, salt, and pepper, along with the onion and garlic mixture. Stir to combine.
Preparing and Rolling the Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
By now, your cabbage should be cool enough to handle (also how people describe me). 😂
Take your knife and deeply cut an octagon shape into the core. This will release the cabbage leaves from the core, allowing you to separate each leaf with ease. Cut a V shape into the lowermost part of each cabbage leaf, removing the hard white center (the rib).
Now, time to stuff and roll! Place a quarter cup of the meat filling on a piece of cabbage towards the core. Fold up each side of the V, roll forward, fold the ends up, then roll forward again to seal. Repeat with each piece of cabbage until the meat mixture is gone.
Any leftover cabbage can be stored in the refrigerator for three to five days and used for other recipes like stir-fry or soup, and/or you can share some with your dog if they’re weird and cabbage obsessed like mine!
Finishing the tomato sauce + assembling and baking the stuffed cabbage rolls
Remove the sauce from the heat and add a tablespoon of fresh thyme and tarragon. Fresh herbs are added to the sauce towards the end of the cooking process because this helps maintain their fresh flavor.
While some add brown or white sugar, this recipe doesn’t need it because the tarragon adds a subtle sweetness to the sauce, naturally!
Now is the time to check to ensure the sauce is to your preferred saltiness! Add a little bit at a time until it’s just right for you.
Transfer most of the sauce from the Dutch oven to a bowl to make room for the cabbage rolls. Spread a little sauce around the bottom and edges of the Dutch oven, create a layer of stuffed cabbage rolls, then a layer of sauce, and repeat.
Pour the remaining half cup of beef or chicken broth around the edge to create steam, cover, and bake at three hundred fifty degrees Fahrenheit (one hundred seventy-seven degrees Celsius) for an hour and a half.
Serve with a bowl of extra sauce on the side (spooned from the Dutch oven), garnish with a sprinkle of fresh herbs for added color and enjoy!
HOW TO FREEZE STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS
- Uncooked: Once you’ve finished rolling all the cabbage; place the rolls on a baking sheet (ensuring they aren’t touching, to prevent them from sticking together), cover with foil, and freeze completely. Once they are frozen, place the rolls in a freezer bag or other freezer-safe packaging and label it. You can also freeze the sauce and thaw it prior to cooking.
- Cooked: Cook the cabbage rolls as directed. Once cooled (they can be placed in the fridge overnight), put them in a freezer-safe storage container and freeze for up to two months.
As always, I’d love to hear from you all! About your experience with this dish, any alterations you may have made and loved (or didn’t love), or just life and cooking in general. You can also reach out via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), and/or stay connected with me on social media, which I have linked below!
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These stuffed cabbage rolls are filled with a delicious mixture of beef, pork, rice, and fresh herbs and spices. The rolls are cooked until perfectly tender in a delicious tomato-based sauce.
- 2 small heads green cabbage
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- pot of water
For the Sauce:
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup yellow onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
- 2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (Cento brand is my favorite)
- 2 cups beef or chicken broth – not low sodium, divided (for added flavor I like to use this BTB base: Beef or Roasted Chicken)
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, minced
For the Stuffed Cabbage Rolls Filling:
- 2 cups cooked rice (brown, basmati, jasmine, etc.), about 1 cup dry rice cooked according to package directions
- 1 tablespoon salted butter
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork sausage (I use spicy, but mild will work too)
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, minced
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2–3/4 teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika, depending on heat preference
- COOK RICE. Cook your rice according to package directions.
- BOIL WATER FOR CABBAGE. While the rice is cooking, fill a 16 qt. or larger stock pot 3/4 of the way full of water (it needs to be large enough to completely submerge one head of cabbage), along with the red wine vinegar and salt, and bring that to a boil.
- START SAUCE. Meanwhile, heat your Dutch oven (or your favorite baking dish) over medium/high heat, drizzle in the olive oil, and sauté the onions with the dried thyme and tarragon for 3 minutes. Next, add the garlic and tomato paste, stirring continuously for a couple of minutes. Tip in the whole peeled tomatoes, a cup of beef or chicken broth, salt, and black pepper. Bring that to a simmer on medium/high heat, then lower heat to low, cover, and continue to simmer until you are ready to assemble your rolls.
- BOIL CABBAGE. By now, the water for the cabbage should be boiling. Carefully place the cabbage into the boiling water, one at a time, and cook for 6-8 minutes, depending on the size of your cabbage (I like to buy two small ones so they cook more evenly and all the way through, without the outer leaves getting soggy). I use a large fine mesh strainer to remove the cabbage from the boiling water; however, two wooden spoons or something similar will work as well. Bring the water back up to a boil and repeat the process with the second head of cabbage. Set the cabbage aside to cool.
PREPARE FILLING. Heat a small pan with butter and olive oil. Add the diced onion and sauté for 3 minutes, then the fresh garlic for one minute. Set aside to cool. Meanwhile, place the ground beef and ground pork sausage in a large mixing bowl (or in your KitchenAid stand mixer). Combine the meats with cooked rice, fresh parsley, thyme, and tarragon, along with the hot Hungarian paprika, salt, and black pepper.
- PREPARE CABBAGE. By now, your cabbage should be cool enough to handle. Take your knife and deeply cut an octagon shape into the core. This will release the cabbage leaves from the core, allowing you to separate each leaf with ease. Cut a V shape into the lowermost part of each cabbage leaf, removing the hard white center (the rib).
- FORM CABBAGE ROLLS. Place a quarter cup of the meat filling on a piece of cabbage towards the core. Fold up each side of the V, roll forward, fold the ends up, then roll forward again to seal (you can find a quick video/gif of me rolling them in the post above). Repeat with each piece of cabbage until the meat mixture is gone.
- FINISH SAUCE AND ASSEMBLE. Remove the sauce from the heat and add the fresh thyme and tarragon. Check to see if the sauce is to your preferred saltiness. Transfer most of the sauce from the Dutch oven to a bowl to make room for the cabbage rolls. Spread a little sauce around the bottom and edges of the Dutch oven, create a layer of stuffed cabbage rolls, then a layer of sauce, and repeat (like lasagna). Pour the remaining cup of beef or chicken broth around the edge of the pan.
- BAKE STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS. Place the lid on your Dutch oven (or foil if using a different baking dish) and bake at three hundred fifty degrees Fahrenheit (one hundred seventy-seven degrees Celsius) for about an hour and a half. The rolls should be fork tender. Serve with extra sauce on the side, spooned from the baking dish. Enjoy!
- INSTANT POT/PRESSURE COOKER DIRECTIONS. Spray the instant pot with cooking spray. Spread a little bit of sauce in the bottom and around the edges. Place a layer of cabbage rolls, then a good layer of sauce on top, and repeat until you are out of cabbage rolls. Pour the remaining cup of beef or chicken broth around the edge. Cook on high for 18 minutes, then natural release for 15 minutes. The sauce comes out thinner when cooking in the Instant Pot, but it’s still flavorful and delicious, and the rolls perfectly tender!
- FREEZER TIPS. Cooked: Cook the cabbage rolls as directed. Once cooled (they can be placed in the fridge overnight), put them in a freezer-safe storage container and freeze for up to two months. Uncooked: Once you’ve finished rolling all the cabbage; place the rolls on a baking sheet (ensuring they aren’t touching, to prevent them from sticking together), cover with foil, and freeze completely. Once they are frozen, place the rolls in freezer bags or other freezer-safe storage containers and label them. You can also freeze the sauce and thaw it prior to cooking.
- ACIDIC SAUCE? Try one of these options. I usually use sugar, but I’m going to try baking soda next time. I’ll update here!
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Oven, Instant Pot
- Cuisine: Eastern European
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