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Stuffed Cabbage Rolls: Meat-free & Delicious

Updated on October 21, 2015
Stuffed cabbage rolls
Stuffed cabbage rolls | Source

Stuffed cabbage rolls - delicious meat free recipe

Well, this was certainly a challenge but I refused to be beaten by a cabbage. If you've read my other recipes - and there are lots of them - you'll know that he does the shopping and I do the cooking. This can result in some rather strange, but inventive, meals sometimes.

Now I don't particularly care for cabbage; he loves it. But, knowing that it's not favourite of mine, this was the first time he'd brought one home from the grocery store.

I remembered that many years ago, when I cooked for my meat-eating family, I used to cook stuffed cabbage rolls using ground beef - so I was sure that I'd be able to create a meat-free version. I used to call them 'stuffed vine leaves' (taking after my mother and trying to be posh) because they were based on the Greek recipes for dolmas.

These rolls feature in many cuisines from Polish through Hungarian to Russian but the basics are always the same. The leaves are rolled with a filling and then cooked in a tasty tomato sauce. So now we have a British-Floridian version too. The vegetarian recipe is quick and easy to make. Oh, and very inexpensive too.

Even better, these have a fraction of the calories of the meat version and use a fraction of the amount of electricity used in the traditional cabbage rolls. Win win.

Images © BritFlorida.

What you'll need for the best meat-free stuffed cabbage rolls

Stuffed cabbage rolls - ingredients
Stuffed cabbage rolls - ingredients | Source

These ingredients are what I use to make dinner for two. But these can also be served as an accompaniment, and appetizer or even cold as finger food.

Working clockwise from the cabbage:

  • 1 small, leafy cabbage
  • Black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg (just a pinch)
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes - I like to use the organic ones
  • Dried apricots - about eight, there's no need to be exact
  • A handful of pine nuts
  • 1 slice good wholewheat bread
  • 1 small onion
  • Olive oil
  • A tiny touch of Marmite. I just dip the very end of a teaspoon into the jar
  • ½ cup uncooked rice. I used a mix - white, brown, wild and red

Let's go


This is the first step. Place the rice in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. This has two effects. Firstly, the rice is softened and therefore doesn't take as long to cook and secondly, it removes any starches.Leave the rice soaking while you prepare the rest of the dish and rinse it in a sieve just before you add it to the stuffing ingredients,

Cuisinart 733-30H 5.5-Quart Chef's-Classic-Stainless-Cookware-Collection, Sauté Pan w/Helper Handle & Cover
Cuisinart 733-30H 5.5-Quart Chef's-Classic-Stainless-Cookware-Collection, Sauté Pan w/Helper Handle & Cover
I have seen recipes for stuffed cabbage where the dish is cooked in the oven.There's absolutely no need to waste electricity in that way. You need a sauté pan with a lid - this is perfect because of the convenient handle at the side. This is a good safety feature.


Before chopping the onions, pour the olive oil into a sauté / frying pan and turn the heat to medium. When you've diced the onion, add it to the pan. You may need to turn the heat down slightly so that the onion gently sautés. They will need to be slightly golden brown.


Remove and discard any rough outer leaves if necessary. Then gently remove the number of leaves you'll be using. I used about fourteen. There was just a tiny core left which I used to make coleslaw the following day. Clean the leaves in cold water then add them to a large pan.


Place the pan on the stove, set to high, and pour the boiling water over. When the water comes back to a boil you'll see that the various shades of green become really defined. The outer leaves are darkest and get paler as you head towards the center. This variation makes the dish very attractive. They will need to boil for only a minute or so until they become flexible. Remove the pan from the heat, strain and pile the cabbage leaves on a board or plate to cool while you prepare the stuffing.


Take your teaspoon with the Marmite and stir this into the onions. This gives a slightly 'meaty' taste but not a Marmite-y taste! Remove the onions from the heat and place them into a medium sized bowl.


Grate the bread directly into the bowl using a cheese grater.Chop the dried apricots - add them, a handful of pine nuts and add freshly-ground black pepper and sprinkle in a pinch of nutmeg. Rinse and strain the uncooked rice, pour it into the bowl and stir the mixture.


Take each cabbage leaf and cut away the hard spine. This will make them easier to roll. Place a dollop of stuffing onto each leaf. If you have a lot of work surface, lay the leaves out and divide the stuffing equally between them. I don't, so I have to do them one by one.Each leaf, depending on its size, will hold about a tablespoon of stuffing.


Starting at the cut end, roll up the leaf with the stuffing inside. Just before you get to the end, tuck the two sides in towards the middle and make the final roll. Don't roll them too tightly as the rice needs room to expand when it cooks. You'll now have several lovely cabbage rolls.


Add the rolls, seam side down, to the same pan you used to sauté the onions (no need to wash it first - let's save water) and pour the contents of the can of tomatoes over the top. Sprinkle with black pepper Some people cook these in the oven but I find that is an irresponsible waste of electricity. Plus, the oven heats the kitchen too much. When used to make this dish in the UK, cabbage was in season from June to September - therefore the warmer months. Bring the tomato sauce to a boil then turn the heat down to a simmer. The type of canned tomatoes I use doesn't have much liquid so I use a lid. These are ready when the rice is cooked - about fifteen minutes.

Stuffed cabbage rolls
Stuffed cabbage rolls


I serve these with cheese on the side. When cheese is sprinkled onto the cabbage rolls,the heat makes it delightfully gooey. This is also a good idea if you're feeding strict vegetarians, half-hearted vegetarians (me) and vegans - something that often happens here. Vegans and strict vegetarians can simply ignore the cheese (although I haven't tried it, a dairy-free cheese could be an option here).

I like to serve a simple salad with this too, plus some lovely crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

Healthy and planet-friendly

I'm so pleased that I was able to convert my meaty cabbage rolls recipe of years ago to a meat-free version. Not only is it much healthier, it also uses much less electricity.

I've seen recipes for the meat-laden dish that are between 250 - 550 calories per roll The recipe above serves two - six or seven rolls per person - and each portion is just slightly over 350 calories.

That's right, the calorie count for these is just over 50 calories per roll.

The traditional recipe calls for the cabbage to be boiled whole and, depending on the recipe, for the stuffed rolls to be baked in the oven for between 25 and 45 minutes. (I have even seen a stovetop recipe that requires three hours to cook! We have a social responsibility to reduce our fuel usage as much as possible.) These cook on the stovetop in fifteen minutes. It doesn't get much better.

Further reading

The phrase 'too many cookbooks' doesn't exist, in my opinion. Here are my favorites for meat free meals. They make a great addition to your recipe book collection and are also a great gift for the veggie in your life.

These are the most popular meat-free recipe books available on Amazon. I hope you'll try them because just be eating one meat-free meal a week we are saving our planet's resources. Plus, meat free-meals are good for us ... and tasty.

I love the book below - meat-free eating with a French flair. What could be better?

Award-winning recipe


One of the great features of this recipe is that you can adjust the ingredients to suit your own personal tastes, to use the most seasonal products or to tailor it to a particular event or occasion. Enjoy!

© 2013 Jackie Jackson


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