Stuffed cabbage rolls make the most of tender ground beef and simple seasonings rolled up in cooked cabbage and simmered in tomato juice. These rolls pack flavor you may not expect–they are magical simple food and a dinner time favorite!Jump to Recipe
Where did stuffed cabbage originate?
Stuffed cabbage rolls are originally from Poland, although they quickly spread to nearby regions such as Ukraine.
Golabki is the Polish name for this traditional dish made from cabbage leaves wrapped around a mixture of seasoned beef or pork (often a combination), and grains (I used rice here but barley is another common option).
The whole kit-and-kaboodle is cooked low and slow in a savory tomato sauce and served as a heartwarming family meal.
What’s inside a cabbage roll?
Only 7 ingredients and you’re off to the races! Here’s a list of what you will need to make these classic cabbage rolls.
- Hamburger meat. I prefer an 80/20 lean beef to fat ratio but feel free to go leaner. Check out my guide to buying beef here.
- Onions. Yellow onions are best here.
- Uncooked rice. See my notes below on selecting rice for this dish. Make sure that whatever you choose cooks in 20 minutes or less.
- Diced tomatoes in their juices. Dice up your own or grab a can at the store. I suggest reaching for an organic product in either case.
- V8 or tomato juice. This is to simmer the cabbage rolls in. Feel free to use another brand of tomato juice or even a yummy tomato soup instead.
- Salt and pepper to taste. I prefer sea salt and ground black pepper.
The filling with easy prep
A lot of stuffed cabbage rolls require pre cooked rice. I don’t always have that extra time so this recipe is perfect because the rice goes in uncooked and simmers in the pot.
For the filling:
Mix ground beef, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, and diced tomatoes with their juice. Mix to combine but don’t over work it or the meat will become tough.
Once mixed, set it aside and work on the cabbage. This filling can also be mixed and frozen for faster dinners later.
What kind of cabbage is best for cabbage rolls?
When selecting a cabbage to make this delicious dish, look for a sturdy green cabbage. I used a head of organic green cabbage, but Savoy cabbage is great. The leaves have a waffle-like texture that allows them extra elasticity.
How to get the leaves off the cabbage head without tearing them
You’re going to tear some so don’t fret. If you have pieces, just layer them to make a piece large enough to add the filling to and roll them up.
That said, remove the core with a sharp knife and peel the leaves away gently starting on the core end.
Some people like to drop the whole cored head of cabbage in water and then peel the leaves away once they are soft. You’re welcome to try that method.
How to roll a cabbage roll
It’s shockingly easy to make these little rolls. Here’s a rundown on how to do it. Once the leaves are blanched and draining:
- Fill. Place a bit of filling in the lower half of the leaf (near the stem). 2-3 tablespoons should do depending on the size of the leaf.
- Roll the whole thing up like a burrito. Fold the end closest to the filling over the filling, then fold the sides in and continue to roll until you are out of leaf.
- Cook. Place the rolls seam-side down in a pot to cook.
What rice should I use when making stuffed cabbage rolls?
When selecting rice to make these homemade cabbage rolls, look for one that cooks in 20 minutes or less because we are using it uncooked.
Basmati and Jasmine rice are both good bets here. Minute rice will work just fine as well. Don’t use rice that has a longer cook time, such as wild rice and/or brown rice. They take closer to 45 minutes to cook and will not work in this recipe.
For the best flavor, make the cabbage rolls ahead of time
This dish just gets better with time. The longer the ingredients sit together, the more the flavors have a chance to meld, leaving you with a rich, heartwarming, deeply savory result.
I suggest making cabbage rolls two or three hours ahead of time and allowing them to sit until dinner. You can even make them the morning of or the day before and store them in the refrigerator. They reheat on the stove over low heat beautifully.
Variations to add to cabbage rolls
I love this recipe because there is a lot of room to play. Not a ground beef fan? Use pork sausage or ground turkey instead. Some people really like spicy Italian sausage in theirs, too.
Looking for a little extra flavor? Try adding crushed red pepper flakes or some fresh herbs. Dill and parsley would both do well here. Not feeling the V8? Use a can of tomato soup or even a homemade rendition like my Creamy Tomato Soup.
Can old-fashioned cabbage rolls be frozen?
Yes and no. Feel free to make the filling in advance and pop it in the freezer until you are ready to use it. You can also freeze the filled leaves without the sauce. Just know that they may soften significantly when thawed.
If you have already cooked the rolls in the sauce and find yourself with leftovers, I don’t suggest freezing them. They will fall apart when you thaw them.
Refrigerating them in an airtight container for up to 4 days is just fine, though.
What to serve with stuffed cabbage rolls
This savory main goes well with a number of different side dishes. Here are some of my favorite things to serve with these easy cabbage rolls.
- Cornbread. Try my Southern Cornbread for an authentic version.
- Pinto beans. I highly recommend making your own as opposed to purchasing a canned product (they often have unwanted additives). These Southern Pinto Beans with Country Ham will do the trick.
- White bean soup. This Hearty Navy Bean Soup with Ham is delightful.
- Rolls. Try my Old Fashioned Yeast Rolls or these Easy Yeast Rolls.
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
- 1/2 pound ground beef ground turkey would substitute
- 1/3 cup yellow onion diced into 1/4" pieces
- 1 teaspoon garlic minced; no jarred garlic
- 1/4 cup basmati rice rinsed but uncooked, See Note 1
- 1 cup diced tomatoes with the juice
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt See Note 2
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 head green cabbage you'll need about 10 leaves total
- 4 cups V8 juice tomato juice will substitute
- In a medium bowl, mix the beef, onion, garlic, rice, diced tomatoes, salt and pepper.
- Mix well but don't over mix it or the meat will be tough. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to a gentle simmer. While the water heats, prepare your cabbage leaves. Remove the dirty or thin outer leaves first and discard.
- Turn the cabbage core end up and use a sharp knife to cut away as much as you can. Then working from this same end, gently loosen one leaf at a time and gently remove it. It may tear and that's okay.
- Use a sharp knife to remove the thickest part of the stem from the lower 1/3 of each leaf.
- Drop two or three leaves at a time into the hot water and cook 30-45 seconds then transfer to a colander with a wide spatula.
- Once cool enough to handle, add 1/4 cup of filling to the lower third of each leaf.
- Begin to roll, tucking in the sides as you go and place the roll seam side down in a deep heavy bottomed 7 quart or larger pot. It's okay to layer them on top of one another if needed.
- Pour over the tomato juice or V8, cover and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook 20-25 minutes until the meat is cooked through. Serve immediately or let them cool on the stove and reheat 2 to 3 hours later for maximum flavor.