Classic Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage rolls are a traditional comfort food known for their savory filling and tender cabbage leaves. This classic dish, often associated with Eastern European cuisine, has gained popularity worldwide due to its heartiness and versatility. The recipe involves wrapping a flavorful mixture of meat and rice in cabbage leaves, then cooking them in a rich tomato-based sauce. It’s a great dish for family dinners, potlucks, or a cozy weekend meal.

Choosing Ingredients

  • Cabbage: Opt for a medium-sized cabbage with fresh, flexible leaves that are easy to roll. Green cabbage is the traditional choice.
  • Rice: White rice is commonly used, but you can experiment with brown rice for added nutrition or even substitute it with other grains like quinoa or bulgur for variation.
  • Meat: The mix of ground beef and pork offers a rich flavor, but you can easily substitute it with ground chicken, turkey, or even a vegan alternative like lentils and mushrooms.
  • Seasonings: Fresh herbs can enhance the flavor. Consider adding fresh parsley or dill to the meat mixture.

Cooking Tips and Variations

  • Cabbage Preparation: Gently boiling the whole head of cabbage makes leaf removal easier. Ensure the leaves are pliable but not too soft to prevent tearing.
  • Filling: Don’t overfill the leaves; leave enough room for the rice to expand.
  • Sauce Variations: Feel free to spice up the tomato sauce with additional herbs, garlic, or even some heat with red pepper flakes. A dash of sugar can balance the acidity of the tomatoes.
  • Cheese Addition: Sprinkle some grated cheese on top before baking for a cheesy crust.


  • Dairy-Free: Use dairy-free alternatives for the milk in the mixture if needed.
  • Gluten-Free: Ensure that the ingredients like Worcestershire sauce are gluten-free.

Classic Cabbage Rolls Recipe


  • Cabbage Leaves: 12 leaves from a medium-sized cabbage.
  • Rice: 1 cup of white rice, preferably cooked in beef broth for enhanced flavor.
  • Binding Agents: 1 beaten egg and 1/4 cup of milk.
  • Aromatics: 1/2 cup of finely minced onion and 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder.
  • Meat Mixture: 1 pound of a mix of extra-lean ground beef and ground pork.
  • Seasonings: 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt, 1 teaspoon of pepper.
  • Tomato Sauce: Two 8-ounce cans of tomato sauce.
  • Tomatoes: One 14.5-ounce can of diced or crushed tomatoes, including the liquid.
  • Flavor Enhancers: 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.


  1. Prepare the Cabbage: Begin by boiling the whole cabbage head in a pot of water, with the core removed. Boil for about 6-8 minutes, gently removing softened leaves with a fork as they separate from the head. Drain and set aside to cool.
  2. Mix the Filling: In a large bowl, blend together the cooked rice, beaten egg, milk, minced onion, garlic powder, ground beef and pork, salt, and pepper. Form the mixture into roughly 1/4 cup portions.
  3. Assemble the Rolls: Place each meat mixture portion onto a cabbage leaf. Fold in the sides and roll the leaf to enclose the filling.
  4. Cooking Setup: For oven cooking, arrange the rolls in a lightly greased 9×13-inch baking dish and preheat the oven to 350°F. For slow cooking, place the rolls in a slow cooker.
  5. Prepare the Sauce: In a separate bowl, mix tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, brown sugar, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce. Pour this mixture over the cabbage rolls.
  6. Cooking the Rolls: For oven baking, cover the dish with foil and bake for 1 hour at 350°F. In a slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 8 to 9 hours.

Serving Suggestions

Serve the cabbage rolls with a side of creamy mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, or a crisp garden salad. They pair wonderfully with a light, tangy sour cream or yogurt sauce.

Storing and Reheating

Cabbage rolls store well in the refrigerator and can be easily reheated in the microwave or oven. They also freeze well, making them a great make-ahead meal option.

This versatile dish allows for numerous adaptations, making it suitable for various dietary needs and preferences. Whether you stick to the traditional recipe or experiment with your own variations, cabbage rolls are sure to offer a satisfying and hearty meal.