Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage rolls 6

Cabbage rolls are not trendy, nor instagram-worthy. Some might call them dated, even though their doughy tablemates (peroghies) bask constantly in nostalgic adoration (even by those who did not grow up with Babas making them). I forgot how much I love them until my friend Dorata, who has been doing my hair for something like 20 years, and is one of the best cooks I know, brought me a plate with a few delicate Polish-style cabbage rolls as I sat with my hair under the dryer, and they were some of the best things I ever ate.

Cabbage rolls 5

I’ve never actually made them myself, and so I gave it a go for the radio this morning. I don’t expect to nail anything straight off the bat, especially not having had relatives telling me how and how not to make them. I texted Dorata, read a bit and went from memory, and came up with something that, in my mind, is a pretty delicious cabbage roll – meat-heavy (I used pork and beef, and a handful of rice), not overly spiced, simmered in plain, slightly sweet tomato sauce. Turns out W loves them too, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that they like vaguely like brains.

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The trickiest part was wrestling the leaves off the head of cabbage in one piece – I imagine savoy cabbage would be easier, and someone suggested freezing the whole head, then thawing and peeling off the leaves rather than try to boil the whole thing or snap off fresh leaves without them breaking. Genius. However you do it, they need to soften enough to be pliable.

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As for the filling, anything goes. It doesn’t really need an egg to bind it, since it’s all enclosed by the cabbage leaf – I used chopped green onions from the garden, and a shake of Vegata Dorata recommended. It’s easy to squeeze in your palm and roll up in a rubbery leaf, then stack in rows, seam side down (they won’t open up) in a baking dish, fitting them snugly together in a bed of tomato sauce and covering them with same.

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Some people bake theirs, or do them in the slow cooker – I made mine in an enamel-coated cast iron pot, covered on the stovetop, and they cooked through in about half an hour. W thought they tasted like spaghetti and meatballs, heavy on the meatballs, and I can’t disagree.

cabbage rolls 1

Cabbage Rolls


May 31, 2017


1 head green cabbage (or savoy)

1 lb ground beef or pork (I used half and half)

a couple green onions, finely chopped, or sautéed yellow onion

a handful of cooked rice

2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill (optional)

salt and pepper or Vegata (a seasoning blend common in eastern european cooking), to taste

2-3 cups tomato sauce, divided

1 Tbsp. brown sugar


1Cut the core out of the cabbage and freeze it for at least a few hours; set in warm water to thaw and separate the leaves. (This tip came in this morning during the show!) Otherwise, simmer the head in a pot of boiling water, peeling off the layers of leaves as they become pliable, or remove them while the cabbage is raw and boil for a few minutes in a large pot of water, until they’re pliable. Cut out the ribs with a sharp knife, making a long V.

2In a medium bowl, combine the meat, onions, rice, dill, salt and pepper or Vegata and about 1/4 cup of the tomato sauce, mixing with your hands just until blended. Stir the sugar into the rest of the tomato sauce.

3Pour about 1/2 cup of sauce over the bottom of a baking dish or enamel coated cast iron pot. To assemble the cabbage rolls, take a handful (about 1/4 cup) of filling and squeeze it into a sort of long oval in your fist. Place in a cabbage leaf, fold in the sides and roll up. Place seam side down in the dish or pot. Continue with the rest of the leaves and filling, fitting them snugly in the baking dish; you can start a second layer if you run out of room. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over top. Cover and bake at 350?F for an hour, or simmer on the stovetop for half an hour, or until the cabbage rolls are firm and cooked through. (They can also be cooked in the slow cooker, set on low for 4-6 hours. Serves 6.


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8 comments on “Cabbage Rolls

  1. Deb
    May 31, 2017 at 4:52 am

    Hi Julie,
    I cook mine is extra-spicy Clamato juice, with some drained, squished up canned tomatoes and they are so much better than just tomato juice! The spice is mellowed by the cooking, but leaves an amazing unami. Try it, you’ll love it!


    • Julie
      June 2, 2017 at 1:48 pm

      Ooh, this is brilliant!

  2. Bernadine Blasetti
    May 31, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    I new a single guy who used watered down ketchup(1/2 & 1/2 ) instead of tomato sauce on his cabbage rolls .His apartment building filled with the delicious aroma when he made them, driving many a single neighbor to knock on his door . Needless to say – he wasn’t single very long! They taste fabulous.

    • Julie
      June 2, 2017 at 1:48 pm

      Ha! I was wondering about ketchup and its sweet-vinegaryness – might be a tasty addition…

  3. Kailey
    June 7, 2017 at 6:19 pm

    I love those yellow plates! Do you mind telling me where you purchased them?

  4. peggy papp
    August 12, 2018 at 8:41 pm

    Fun article- I like your blog! I found it while searching how to make sea salt. I married a 3rd generation Hungarian and I have been making stuffed cabbage now for many years. It is a Christmas tradition in our family. Instead of tomato sauce, I cook mine covered with tomato juice. Also, any left over cabbage gets shredded and sprinkled over the rolls, covered with foil and baked. I also use paprika and a little extra spice (red chile flakes, ect) in the filling. Once done, it is served with sour cream and of course, more paprika. My husband swears it tastes just like his gram’s recipe. Thanks for sharing this!

  5. Amber
    February 15, 2020 at 12:59 pm

    My baba used tomato soup mixed with chicken broth and that is my go to when I buy frozen cabbage rolls from the farmers market and want them to bake in that delish tomato sauce!!

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