Ground beef and rice wrapped up in a little cabbage package, and topped with tomato sauce shouldn’t taste so good! My family is not from the “Old Country” so my recipe is a mixture of what I ate as a kid, and what I’ve learned to like as an adult. My mom only made cabbage rolls a few times, but I always loved them anytime she put in the extra work. I’m the strange kid that loved meatloaf and cabbage so a combination of the two on my plate always made me happy.
My mom went the traditional route for her sauce by just opening up a can of condensed tomato soup and mixing it with a can of water and a can of diced tomatoes. It was delicious and if you prefer a simple and fast sauce then by all means use my mom’s method, but I prefer a rich vegetable loaded sauce. If you like a flavorful sauce, but want it smooth, then blend it. Some recipes call for a little balsamic vinegar, but I don’t add it to my sauce. If you prefer it, then add 1 – 2 Tbsp. of balsamic vinegar.
I boil my head of cabbage in a large pot of water after I remove the core. It takes about three to five minutes for the leaves to begin peeling away, so be patient. I use a pair of tongs to remove the leaves one by one, and then set them off on a towel to dry a little. I’ve never had the space to try the freezer method, but if you do and it’s successful for you then use it to remove the cabbage leaves.
I add cooked rice to my cabbage rolls, but if you’re looking to make this a low carb meal then leave out the rice or sub it out for riced cauliflower. It will be delicious and add a little more substance to the filling.
Likewise, if you would rather make this a vegetarian option then swap out the ground meat for cooked lentils or an alternative ground meat product.
I normally don’t serve these with a side because they’re so filling, but mashed potatoes or any type of vegetable such as green beans would be excellent sides.
I hope that you’ll try this recipe today and leave a comment below. Also, please follow @lifeabovethecafe on Instagram and Facebook. You can find my social media links below.
Tomato Sauce for topping:
For the cabbage rolls:
Boil the cabbage leaves for 3 to 5 minutes or until they easily peel away. Set them off to the side to dry.
I use the same large pan from the cabbage for my sauce. Heat up the oil and then saute the carrots, celery, and onions until soft (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic, sugar, and other spices to the vegetables and cook for one minute and then add the tomato sauce and 1/2 of a cup of the chicken broth. I leave the rest of the chicken broth for later to thin the sauce (I like it not as thick as spaghetti sauce but not as thin as soup).
Bring the sauce up to a low boil and then turn it down to simmer while you prep the filling and roll up the cabbage rolls. Check on the sauce often, to make sure that it isn’t scorching on the bottom of the pan and add more chicken broth as needed. If making a vegetarian recipe with lentils as your filling then use vegetable stock or water to thin the tomato sauce.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and spray a large baking dish with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, mix the meat with the onions, rice, egg, 4 Tbsp. of tomato sauce, garlic, and other spices. Don’t over mix so the rice doesn’t break up or become gummy. If the mixture seems too damp I add 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs, but sometimes my meat is very lean and I won’t need them.
To assemble, cut the thick part of the vein off of the cabbage leaves. Choose the largest leaves to use first and then if needed place two leaves together, overlapping, to make a larger leaf. Spoon 2 -3 soup sized spoonfuls of the meat mixture into the cabbage leaf toward the bottom and then begin to roll it up like a burrito. Fold in the sides and roll it until the meat is securely wrapped up. Set the cabbage rolls off to the side as you make them, not in the casserole dish.
Once all of the meat mixture is gone and the cabbage rolls are completely rolled up, chop up the remaining cabbage leaves. Spread a layer of the tomato sauce in the casserole dish and then place a layer of the remaining cabbage down. Next lay the cabbage rolls in the pan in rows, seam side down and top them with the remaining tomato sauce.
Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake the cabbage rolls for 1 hour. Remove the pan from the oven, and remove the aluminum foil and allow the cabbage rolls to cool for 5 – 10 minutes.
Serve the cabbage rolls with the extra cabbage and tomato sauce in the pan.
Note ** When you remove the foil the sauce may be watery from the moisture in the cabbage, use a spoon to mix it around with the tomato sauce in the pan and it will disappear. I prefer that there is more liquid than less so that the cabbage rolls are not dry. To me these are even better on day two like most dishes that have tomato sauce the flavor becomes richer.
This recipe normally makes 9 – 12 cabbage rolls depending on how much filling you use in each one.