Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. [Oven & Instant Pot Instructions]

April 13, 2022

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. [Oven & Instant Pot Instructions]

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This is my (nontraditional) version of my Ukrainian family’s tradition, Stuffed Cabbage Rolls.

The cabbage rolls are filled with a mixture of beef, pork, brown rice, and fresh herbs and spices, then baked in a homemade tomato-based sauce, which has an amazing depth of flavor. Served with extra sauce on the side because you can never have too much sauce!

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Stuffed Cabbage Rolls Recipe – Oven and Instant Pot Instructions

What are the ingredients for cabbage rolls?

The ingredients for cabbage rolls include cabbage, red wine vinegar, salt, olive oil, onion, garlic, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, broth, herbs, rice, butter, ground beef, pork sausage, and seasonings.

These ingredients combine to create tender cabbage rolls filled with a savory mixture of rice, meat, and herbs, all nestled in a flavorful tomato-based sauce. Each ingredient plays a crucial role, from softening the cabbage to adding depth and richness to the filling and sauce, resulting in a comforting and delicious dish!

  • Cabbage: Provides the outer layer for the rolls.

  • Red wine vinegar and salt: Soften the cabbage leaves and add flavor during blanching.

  • Extra-virgin olive oil: Forms the base of the sauce.

  • Yellow onion: Adds sweetness and depth to the dish.

  • Dried thyme and tarragon: Infuse the sauce with herbal notes.

  • Fresh garlic: Adds flavor to both the sauce and filling. Always needed!

  • Tomato paste and crushed tomatoes: The heroes of the tasty tomato-based sauce.

  • Beef or chicken bone broth: Adds depth to the sauce.

  • Black pepper and fine sea salt: Basic seasonings for balance!

  • Fresh thyme and tarragon: Adds freshness and herbaceousness to the sauce.

  • Cooked rice: Adds bulk to the filling.

  • Salted butter and extra-virgin olive oil (for filling): Enhance the filling’s flavor and moisture.

  • Ground beef and ground pork sausage: The delicious protein bases of the filling!

  • Fresh parsley, thyme, and tarragon (for filling): Adds freshness to the filling.

  • Coarse kosher salt, black pepper, and hot Hungarian paprika: Seasonings for flavor and spice!
how to make stuffed cabbage rolls - above shot of all the ingredients on a white marble surface

Best Rice for Cabbage Rolls

The choice of rice for stuffed cabbage rolls can vary based on preference. Long-grain rice offers a light and fluffy texture, while medium-grain rice provides a slightly stickier consistency. Short-grain rice gives a denser and creamier texture to the filling. Each type brings its own unique characteristics to the stuffed cabbage rolls!

Cook the rice according to package directions, or try this Easy Oven Baked Rice Recipe.

What’s the best sauce for cabbage rolls?

A tomato-based sauce with fresh herbs, onions, garlic, and broth is a classic choice for cabbage rolls. It offers the perfect blend of tangy tomatoes, savory onions, and aromatic garlic, enhanced by chicken or beef broth. This flavorful sauce complements the cabbage rolls perfectly, adding richness and depth to each bite!



To make the sauce; in the same Dutch oven you’ll use to bake the stuffed cabbage rolls, heat the oil, and sauté the onion with dried thyme and tarragon for a few minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste and continuously stir for a couple of minutes, making 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.

Regarding the broth, I sometimes like to use Better than Bouillon’s Organic Roasted Chicken or Beef base. They’re so flavorful and delicious! It just makes this recipe extra special.

You could also use store-bought broth, or even better, homemade chicken bone broth. I wrote about homemade chicken bone broth in my Chicken Manchow Soup recipe here, if you’re interested!

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.

What is the best way to soften cabbage for cabbage rolls?

The best way to soften cabbage for cabbage rolls is to blanch the whole cabbage head in boiling water for several minutes until the leaves are pliable. Then, carefully remove the leaves, one at a time, using tongs or a fork. Alternatively, you can core the cabbage and place it in the freezer overnight. Thaw it the next day, and the leaves will be soft and easy to peel off. Both methods help make the cabbage leaves flexible for rolling without tearing.

While the rice is cooking and the sauce is simmering, fill a stock pot three-quarters of the way full of water along with a quarter cup of red wine vinegar, and bring that to a boil. The vinegar tenderizes the cabbage and adds a slightly sour, acidic flavor to the dish!

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!

Filling for Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

bowl of raw pork and beef, parsley, tarragon, thyme, onion, fresh garlic, hot Hungarian paprika, and cooked rice

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.

How to roll cabbage rolls?

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).

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 (see video below recipe).

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 cabbage-obsessed like mine!

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 eighteen minutes, then natural release for fifteen minutes. The sauce comes out thinner when cooking in the Instant Pot, but it’s still flavorful and delicious, and the rolls are perfectly tender!

Oven Instructions

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.
stuffed cabbage rolls on a white serving plate with extra sauce in a white bowl on the side

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 and jambalaya; however, the stuffed cabbage rolls recipe is nowhere to be found! It’s tough for me to think back to my childhood and remember exactly how hers tasted. I’ve been trying for years to get it right and it just never seemed to work. I guess mine could never top 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! 🖤

I’d love to hear from you! 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. Please leave a question, comment, and/or review below, or get in touch via email.

Follow me on social media to stay connected and keep up with the fun! I sometimes post different recipes my husband and I make that I don’t share here on the blog, other cooking, and lifestyle tips, my beginner gardening and sourdough making adventures, and more.

I hope you love this stuffed cabbage rolls recipe as much as we do! – Jenna G.

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    Print
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    two stuffed cabbage rolls with tomato sauce on a white plate, with a white serving plate with stuffed cabbage rolls and a red bowl filled with parsley in the background

    Stuffed Cabbage Rolls [Oven & Instant Pot Instructions]


    5 Stars 4 Stars 3 Stars 2 Stars 1 Star

    5 from 12 reviews

    • Author: Jenna
    • Total Time: 2 hours
    • Yield: approximately 20 cabbage rolls 1x
    • Diet: Low Calorie

    Description

    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.


    Ingredients

    Units Scale

    Cabbage:

    • 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 bone broth, divided (see this recipe for homemade broth info)
    • 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
    • 1/23/4 teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika, depending on heat preference

    Instructions

    1. Cook rice and boil water for cabbage. Cook your rice according to package directions. 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.
      head of cabbage in pot of water
    2. Start the 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.
      how to make stuffed cabbage rolls - above shot of all the ingredients on a white marble surface

       

    3. Boil the 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.
      head of cabbage in pot of water with the lid flipped to prevent the cabbage from bobbing up and down - to keep it in place
    4. Prepare the 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.

      bowl of raw pork and beef, parsley, tarragon, thyme, onion, fresh garlic, hot Hungarian paprika, and cooked rice

    5. Prepare the 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).

      close up of head of cabbage with an octagon shape cut into the core

       

    6. Form the 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 (see the video below for a demonstration). Repeat with each piece of cabbage until the meat mixture is gone.

      gif/video of hands rolling the stuffed cabbage rolls

    7. Finish the 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. SEE NOTES below for INSTANT POT instructions.

      prepared stuffed cabbage rolls layered in a Dutch oven topped with sauce

    8. Bake the 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!

      two stuffed cabbage rolls with tomato sauce on a white plate, with a white serving plate with stuffed cabbage rolls and a red bowl filled with parsley in the background

    Notes

    • 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.
    • Prep Time: 30 minutes
    • Cook Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
    • Category: Dinner
    • Method: Oven, Instant Pot
    • Cuisine: Eastern European
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