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How to Make Cabbage Rolls - Stuffed Cabbage Rolls Recipe

Updated on December 1, 2014
4.4 stars from 5 ratings of Cabbage Rolls Recipe
Cabbage Rolls with Polenta (Mamaliga cu sarmale)
Cabbage Rolls with Polenta (Mamaliga cu sarmale) | Source

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls Recipe

Stuffed cabbage rolls is an Eastern European recipe, with the main ingredients consisting of ground meat and brined cabbage. The stuffed cabbage rolls will be the main attraction of any party, familly reunion no matter what. There are even delicious vegetarian variants of the cabbage rolls, although the vegetarian recipe is not the traditional one.

If done properly, the cabbage rolls will melt in the mouth, and will excite the senses of any person, epicurean or not. Preparing the cabbage rolls though is not easy, it takes a bit of effort and time. But believe me, it's all worth it, witness are the millions of people from the Eastern Europe who make the effort to cook them.

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Ingredients for stuffed cabbage rolls
Ingredients for stuffed cabbage rolls | Source


  • 1 head brined cabbage
  • 1 lb pork meat, ground
  • 1lb beef, ground
  • 3 onions, small
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons thyme
  • 1 spoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1/2 lb smoked bacon
  • 1 celery root, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 - 3 teaspoon salt, depending on how salty is the cabbage

Cook Time

Prep time: 1 hour 20 min
Cook time: 5 hours
Ready in: 6 hours 20 min
Yields: About 30 cabbage rolls, (three rolls per portion)
The prepared cabbage rolls stuffing
The prepared cabbage rolls stuffing | Source
Cut the cabbage leaves to a proper size
Cut the cabbage leaves to a proper size | Source
After one roll, fold the cabbage sides inside
After one roll, fold the cabbage sides inside | Source
Insert the sides in by poking the extremities
Insert the sides in by poking the extremities | Source
Arrange the stuffed cabbage rolls in a cast iron pot.
Arrange the stuffed cabbage rolls in a cast iron pot. | Source

How to Make Cabbage Rolls - Instructions

  1. Mix the stuffing using the pork, beef, ground pepper, half of the sweet paprika, the chopped onions, the thyme and the rice. Add salt as needed, if your brined cabbage is very salty, add less salt. The chopped cellery root is secret of my recipe. It adds a little more flavor and it gives the rolls a nice texture.
  2. Depending on how salty is, rinse the cabbage to remove excess of salt and sourness. Sometimes the cabbage can be very salty to insure preservation. If your cabbage is very salty, leave it in a bowl with water and add a few bread slices.
  3. Core the brined cabbage, and separate the cabbage leaves and devine them. Cut the larger leaves in half.
  4. Line the bottom of an iron cast pot with finely chopped cabbage; you can use what's left from deveining the leaves, and the part close to the core.
  5. Take a little meat filling and start rolling. After completing one roll, fold the sides of the leaves inside, and continue rolling. This will ensure your filling doesn't fall outside the cabbage leaf. Do not roll to tight, as the filling will expand a little. This the best technique and it is used with thin leaves, that are easy to fold and manipulate.
  6. Another technique is to roll without any folding and at the end poke the extremities inside as in the picture. This technique is particularly usefull when you have thicker cabbage leaves and folding doesn't work. This was the case with this bacth of leaves.
  7. Arrange the cabbage rolls in a pot, but leave a bit of space in between as they will expand a little. The more rice you use the more they will expand. I tend to use very little rice, just enough to hold the filling together.
Cabbage roll pots in the oven
Cabbage roll pots in the oven | Source

Cooking Instructions Cabbage Rolls

  1. Cover the rolls with water, and put it in the oven or on the stove.
  2. Leave the rolls cook on low, (minimum temperature on the stove top, or 300F in the oven), for a few hours. Make sure you add water as needed, so you don't burn them.
    Note the mess in my oven, that's from the overflow.
  3. Just 40 minutes before the finish, take a roll and tatse it. Add salt as needed. If they are too salty just add some more water in the pot.
  4. After tasting the cabbage roll, prepare a sauce from the tomato paste and the rest of the paprika, and pour over the cabbage rolls. Cook for another 30-40 minutes adding water as needed, and then take it out off the oven. Your stuffed cabbage rolls are done.

How to Roll Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage Leafs Preparing Poll

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Tips and Secrets of My Cabbage Rolls Recipe

My recipe was improved over the years with many tips from various sources, some of which professional cooks, some regula people with a love for cooking. These are the tips and secrets that I kept, I tried many other, but they just didn't work for me.

  • I prefer to cook them in the oven, as the heat transfer is more uniform. That is the purpose of the cast iron pot.
  • The meat for the filling needs to be fat. If it's not fat enough, the rolls will be too hard and bland. There is another recipe that works great with lean meat, but you will need to use vine leafs.
  • The celery root is not traditional, but it is a great improvement to the recipe, as it give a great taste and a nice texture to your cabbage rolls.
  • When mixing the filling, make sure you mix it thoroughly, and add a little water and, if your meat is too lean a little olive oil. This will make your rolls fluffy and they will melt in the mouth.
  • Cook the cabbage rolls at least a day before serving them, after a day or two, they are even tastier, try it.
  • I usually cook two pots, a spicy one for the adults, and a mild one for the children. If I make only one cabbage rolls pot, it's going to be mild, and served with fres hot peppers aside.
  • The smoked bacon adds great flavor to your cabbage rolls pot.

Mamaliga cu Sarmale /  Polenta and Cabbage Rolls
Mamaliga cu Sarmale / Polenta and Cabbage Rolls | Source

Traditional Recipes of Cabbage Rolls

Romanian Cabbage Rolls

Romanians are crazy about their cabbage rolls, and it is one of their traditional dishes. They call them sarmale, a word that is of Turkish origins. Traditionally, "sarmale" are served with polenta, (which they call mamaliga). The dish is often referred to as "mamaliga cu sarmale", (polenta with cabbage rolls). Although Romanian cook their sarmale year round, they cannot be missed during the holydays.

Hungarian Cabbage Rolls

Although the Hungarian recipe also calls for brined cabbage, many times people use parboiled cabbage, which is easier to procure, and less smelly. The Hungarian stuffed cabbage rolls recipe is basically the same, although more famous Internationally. They call them töltöt káposzta, or szarma, and they cook them whenever they have the chance.

Ukrainian Cabbage Rolls

The traditional Ukrainian cabbage rolls are made with a rice base to which they add mushrooms, beat leafs, and some times small ammount of meat. The Ukrainians call their cabbage rolls holubtsi, and they use either brined, or parboiled cabbage. Another way to soften the cabbage in order to make it easy to wrap and fold is to freeze the cabbage overnight and then thaw. The thawed leaves are perfect for making stuffed rolls.

Polish Cabbage Rolls

The Polish cabbage rolls are called gołąbki, and they bear a perfect resemblance to the Romanian and Hungarian recipe, which calls for pork and beef.

Turkish Cabbage Rolls

The Turkish cabbage rolls are made with beef or lamb instead of the pork, and more fat is added in the form of ollive oil or butter. The Turkish recipe calls for parboiled white cabbage, and not the brined one. They name their cabbage rolls "etli lahana sarmasi", or simply "sarmasi". Note the resemblance with the Romanian/Arab name.

Cabbage Rolls Nutrition Facts

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 roll (100 gr)
Calories 120
Calories from Fat72
% Daily Value *
Fat 8 g12%
Carbohydrates 1 g
Protein 9 g18%
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

Polish Cabbage Rolls Recipe - Video

© 2012 Dorian


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    • Dorian Bodnariuc profile image

      Dorian Bodnariuc 

      7 years ago from Kanata, Ontario, Canada

      Great recipe, and I love your tips. Thanks for sharing.


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