Cabbage Rolls

November’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge had us on a roll! Olga from Effortless Lessly challenged us to make stuffed cabbage rolls using her Ukrainian heritage to inspire us. Filled with meat, fish or vegetables, flexibility and creativity were the name of the game to get us rolling!

This was the first Daring Cooks challenge I took part in after Lis suddenly passed away last month.  I won’t lie.  It wasn’t easy.  It felt strange… though Ruth and Shelley are doing a great job keeping the site and challenges going and I am very thankful to them for doing this in such a difficult time.
This month’s challenge was indeed a challenge for me… I had never made nor eaten cabbage rolls.  I must say they were easier to make than I had expected.  I know some people love these while others hate them… they always polarise people’s opinions.  I must admit that, even though I love all the ingredients used to make them and even though they tasted good, for some reason, I did not fall in love with them.  That said, I also think I cooked them a little too much, so they did dry up more than what I expected and that may also be the reason why I couldn’t appreciate them as much.  Being summer here, I had a hard time finding cabbage… I only found it sold in halves, which did not make it easy for me to make the rolls…  However, it was a fun challenge and I have learnt a new technique for steaming and separating cabbage leaves that I had no idea existed.  So, I leave you to Olga’s Ukrainian Cabbage Rolls!

Cabbage Rolls

5.0 from 1 reviews
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Ukrainian
Serves: makes about 35 rolls
  • 1 green cabbage
  • 900 gms – 2 lbs. pork (or ground pork)
  • 900 gms – 2 lbs. beef (or ground beef)
  • 300 gms – 1½ cups dry rice (I used long grain)
  • 2 yellow onions, medium size
  • 2 carrots, medium size
  • 90 ml – 6 tbsp olive oil (or other vegetable oil), divided
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 liter – 4 cups tomato puree (or 4 tbsp of tomato paste)
  • 9 gms – 1½ tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 45 gms – 3 tbsp sugar (or to taste)
  • 8 gms – 2 tsp black pepper
  • 3 bay leaves
  1. In a large pot, bring about 3 quarts (3 litres) of water to a boil.
  2. Add the rice and cook it, stirring occasionally, for 6 minutes.
  3. Drain the rice using a colander and set aside.
Cabbage leaves:
  1. Using a large chef’s knife, remove the core of the cabbage. Please be careful doing this, there is no need to cut out too much.
  2. To determine how much water you will need to cook the cabbage, put your cabbage in a large pot and pour enough cold water to cover the whole cabbage entirely. Remove the cabbage from the water and place the pot with the water in it on the stove top.
  3. Bring the water to a boil. Stick a grill fork firmly into the cored center part of the cabbage and carefully place your cabbage into the boiling water, core-side up. Be careful not to splash the hot water!
  4. Lower the fire and let the cabbage simmer for about 5 minutes.
  5. To separate the leaves you do not need to take the cabbage out of the simmering water! Keep the cabbage in the pot at all times and use the grilling fork, and a regular fork or tongs to separate and remove the leaves, one by one.
  6. Transfer the separated leaves onto a plate.
  7. When you reach the layers where leaves are too small and too bumpy, stop and save the remaining cabbage to use in soups, stews or salads.
  8. When the leaves are cool enough to handle, cut off the tough ribs. Now, the leaves are ready for filling.
  1. Cut the pork, beef and onion into 1 inch (2½ cm) pieces. With a meat grinder, grind the pork, beef and onion and put it into a large bowl. If you use store-bought ground pork and beef, transfer the meat into a large bowl and add 1 onion (blended into a fine paste with 2 tbsp of water).
  2. Into the same bowl, add the half-cooked rice.
  3. Finely chop another onion. Using a coarse grater, grate the carrots. Sauté them in a pan with 3 tablespoons of olive oil for about 5 minutes, or until soft.
  4. Add the cooked onion and carrots into the bowl with the ground meat. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper.
  5. Knead well with your hands and keep aside.
Tomato Sauce
  1. Finely mince the garlic and sauté it for 1 minute in a pot with the remaining olive oil.
  2. Add the tomato puree or paste. Cook, stirring, for another minute and then add enough water to have about 2 quarts (2 litres) (8 cups) of sauce. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring for 2 or 3 minutes.
  3. Season the sauce with a ½ teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper, bay leaves and about 3 tablespoons of sugar (adjust the sugar depending on the acidity of your tomato puree – NOTE: I did not add as much sugar as my tomato puree was not acidic). Taste and adjust the seasoning. The sauce shouldn’t be bland – remember that the cabbage leaves are not salted.
  1. Put about one tablespoon of meat stuffing on a cabbage leaf, closer to the tough edge. Roll the leaf like an envelope, tucking the sides inside (like in the pictures).
  2. Place the rolls, seam side down, into an oven proof dish (if cooking them in the oven) or into a large pot (if cooking them on the stove top). You can put a couple of torn leaves at the bottom of the pot to prevent the rolls from sticking, especially if you cook the cabbage rolls on the stove top.
  3. Keep filling the rolls until you run out of leaves or stuffing. If you have some stuffing left, make little meatballs and scatter them around the cabbage rolls. If you have leaves left, just spread them on the top.
  4. Pour the tomato sauce on top of the cabbage rolls. It should almost completely cover the rolls. If there is not enough sauce, add some water into the pot with the cabbage rolls.
  5. If you cook the rolls in the oven, tightly cover the baking dish with foil and cook them in a pre-heated oven at 375°F/190°C/gas mark 5 for 1½ hours.
  6. If you cook the rolls on the stove top, cover the pot with a lid and simmer for 1½ hours on the lowest heat setting.
  7. Serve warm with some sour cream (optional).
Stuffed cabbage rolls are even better the day after. Some people like them browned-up in a skillet the next day.

The pot with the stuffed cabbage rolls will keep in the fridge for several days. They also freeze very well.

Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage Rolls

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  1. says

    I wasn’t brought up on cabbage rolls as my family is Italian and I just got interested in these in the past couple of years. Haven’t made them tho’. However, I did visit Framingham, MA, last year and there is a restaurant that served cranberry-sauced cabbage rolls. OMG, were they delicious!
    I went back with friends three times before returning home in CA. I asked for the recipe but, of course, they wouldn’t part with it. Just delicious and wish I could figure out how they did this!

  2. OLA says

    It looks similar like a classic polish dish called “gołąbki”. Normally in Poland we use more rice and less meat. But your version looks delicious!

  3. Angela says

    Lovely recipe indeed. I cooked them tonight. The whole family enjoyed these tasty cabbage rolls. Quite filling too.
    Grazie ancora Manu, per le tue fantastiche ricette! :-)
    I wish you and all your family a Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.
    Angela x

  4. Diane says

    My mother made a version with honey and no tomatoes. Awesome. However, she found if you freeze the cabbage overnight, the leaves become just as if they are cooked (wilted, easy to manipulate) {Anyone who has every frozen lettuce to make it crispy – oh, yes, I did! – knows this} and no burnt fingers! Every bit as yummy and indistinguishable from cooked leaves. So much less trouble, too.

  5. Víctor Sobrino says

    Se ven suculentos, en México en lugar de repollo usamos tortillas de maíz o de harina, pero la preparación con repollo tiene menos calorías y es un sabor nuevo, para un platillo viejo.

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