My quick unstuffed cabbage rolls are great for weeknights, but when I want the real deal, I turn to my mom’s recipe for vegetarian cabbage rolls. It’s a childhood favorite; so comforting and tasty.
These are quite different from the large, meat-heavy cabbage rolls that are most familiar to us here in the States. These cabbage rolls are prepared Mediterranean-style with tasty vegetarian rice filling with tomatoes, onions, fresh herbs, and spices.
You do not need to heat up the oven, these cabbage rolls are cooked stove-top. You can do most of the prep, including stuffing and assembling the cabbage rolls the night before (I’ll tell you all about this in just a bit.)
How to Prepare Cabbage for Stuffing
This recipe uses green cabbage, which is readily available almost year-round, but especially during the fall and winter months.
To make cabbage rolls, you need to start by preparing the cabbage–softening and separating the cabbage leaves, then cutting them to the desired size.
In this recipe, we start by simply blanching the whole head of cabbage in boiling water. The first layer of leaves will begin to soften in a couple minutes or so, I use a pair of tongs to remove them. The process is simply repeated from there (be sure to watch the video below.)
Once the cabbage leaves have cooled, we cut them to the desired size from there. My mom likes to serve cabbage rolls that are bite-sized and easy to manage. They are absolutely divine!
What’s in the cabbage rolls filling?
The secret to these Mediterranean-style stuffed cabbage rolls is in the filling. Like I said earlier, it’s a vegetarian rice filling that’s big on Mediterranean flavors from fresh herbs and spices. Here’s what’s in it:
-Fresh herbs: lots of chopped fresh parsley and dill
– Spices: a combination of cumin, allspice and a touch of cayenne, add depth and flavor
– Extra virgin olive oil (I used Private Reserve Greek extra virgin olive oil)
– Tomato sauce and a bit of water. The liquid here helps the rice cook properly
Let’s walk through the step-by-step for how to make these Mediterranean-style stuffed cabbage rolls:
Step-by-step for Vegetarian stuffed cabbage rolls:
(Video and print-friendly recipe to follow)
1. Prepare the cabbage leaves. Remove and discard the first couple of leaves of cabbage. Cut just a little bit of the end about ¼” inch or so and place the cabbage in boiling water. Cook for a couple of minutes until the outer layer of cabbage leaves is tender. Remove, using a pair of tongs. Repeat the process until the last layer of leaves.
Set aside to cool briefly. Once cooled, cut each cabbage leaf into halves or thirds, removing any thick veins.
2. Now prepare the rice stuffing mixture. In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice, shredded onions, herbs, spices, oil, ½ can of tomato sauce, and ¼ cup water. Mix together with a spoon.
3. Prepare a Dutch oven or cooking pot. Lightly oil a large Dutch oven or heavy cooking pot. Line the bottom with a few cabbage leaves, sliced onions, and sliced tomatoes (this serves as a nice bed for our small cabbage leaves.)
4. Now begin to roll the cabbage leaves. Take a piece of cabbage and place it on a flat surface, coarse side up. Add about 1 tbsp of the rice stuffing mixture to the end of the leaf closest to you.
Roll up the cabbage leaf to completely enclose the stuffing. Fold in sides as your roll. Repeat with the remaining cabbage pieces or leaves.
5. Arrange cabbage rolls in prepared pot. Layer the cabbage rolls, seam-side down, in the prepared Dutch oven or pot.
Top the cabbage rolls with with the remaining ½ can of tomato sauce, and about 1 ½ to 1 ¾ cups of water (water should barley reach the top layer of cabbage rolls). Sprinkle a pinch more ground cumin.
6. Get ready to cook the cabbage rolls. One helpful tip from my mom: top the cabbage rolls with a small plate, this keeps them well in place and prevents them from opening up or getting messy.
Cook on high heat for 5-7 minutes until the liquid reduces to half. Reduce the heat to low. Leaving the small plate in and cover the pot with its own lid. Cook for 30 minutes then remove the plate, but cover again with the lid only.
Cook for another 15 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed completely and the rice filling is cooked through.
7. If you’re not in a hurry, leave the cabbage rolls undisturbed for about 10 to 15 minutes, then transfer to serving platter or individual plates.
Can I prepare these cabbage rolls ahead of time?
It does take a bit of time to roll the cabbage leaves, so you can absolutely do this part one night in advance. Assemble the stuffed cabbage leaves in the pot you intend to cook them in but do not add the sauce or water until you are ready to cook.
Cover tightly and refrigerate. When you are ready to cook, top the cabbage rolls with tomato sauce and add water. Follow cooking instructions.