Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

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These stuffed cabbage rolls are the most traditional and among the most beloved of Lebanese stuffed vegetables. Tender cabbage leaves filled with rice and beef stuffing are cooked in seasoned tomato broth.

Cabbage rolls with tomato on a platter
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So many cultures have their version of a cabbage roll, and with good reason. Cabbage makes the perfect wrapper for fillings, especially the traditional meat and rice filling that we love so much. Lebanese stuffed grape leaves get so much attention, and they are so good, but cabbage rolls are just as if not more flavorful. Follow a few simple steps, from selecting the cabbage to serving, and you’ll be rolling up a storm.

How to select cabbage

Head of cabbage with hands holding the core cut out

Select a big cabbage. The larger leaves can be cut in half and there are more flat leaves on a larger head.

First things first: we need to get each leaf off the cabbage and those need to be softened. To get there, cut out the core with a sharp knife cutting at an angle all the way around it. Learn more about how to cut cabbage in my post on this subject.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Choose the biggest pot you have. This is probably the most impatience-inducing aspect of the project! It takes a minute, and then a few more, to bring the thing to boil.

Cabbage leaves pulled from a pot

Dunk the head of cabbage into the boiling water and submerge it with tongs. Boil the cabbage for a few minutes, and remove one leaf at a time until you’ve pulled them all out. Wait a few seconds between pulls to allow that outer leaf to soften before pulling it away.

Then, each leaf has a thick rib in the middle that needs to be cut out. I generally cut all the way down the leaf, cutting the rib out and the leaf in half with a paring knife or larger chef’s knife. On smaller leaves, the rib can simply be shaved down to make it easier to roll.

Stuffed Cabbage Ingredients

  • Cabbage. Choose a large cabbage, about 2 to 3 pounds.
  • Ground beef. I love using ground sirloin, but any other lean beef or even lamb would be delicious.
  • Rice. Medium grain or converted rice works well.
  • Butter. You can use either salted or unsalted butter. Olive oil is also a great alternative.
  • Salt and pepper. We use kosher salt to season the meat mixture as well as the tomato juice we cook the cabbage rolls in.
  • Cinnamon. Ground cinnamon adds a warm aroma to the stuffed cabbage filling and adds depth to the flavor! You can also use allspice, 7 spice, or baharat.
  • Mint. Adding chopped fresh mint to this stuffed cabbage rolls recipe makes it irresistible and delicious!
  • Garlic. A must-have! They add so much flavor to this recipe!
  • Tomato juice. We cook the cabbage rolls in tomato juice, but you can also use tomato sauce thinned out with water. If you’re not a fan of tomato, you can also use some stock.
Center rib being cut out of a cabbage leaf on a cutting board

How to make stuffed cabbage rolls

The Filling

Rinse the water twice to remove the starch and add it to a medium bowl. Add the melted butter, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and mint. Mix and let it rest for 10 minutes to let the rice absorb the flavorings. Add the ground meat and mix until combined.

Meat and rice filling on a cabbage leaf

How to roll cabbage

It’s surprising how little filling each roll should have in our Lebanese version of cabbage rolls. These are narrow, thinner rolls and full of cabbage flavor. I use about one tablespoon per leaf, spread in a line along one edge of the leaf. How much and where to place the filling depends on your leaf shape and size, so experiment to see what works best.

To roll the cabbage and filling, simply tuck the initial edge up, over, and under the filling tightly, then roll up the leaf without folding in the edges. These lay flat. The filling should stay clear of these ends so that it doesn’t fall out. Remember that rice will expand when it cooks so a little extra space on each end is a good thing.

Cabbage rolls tucked into a pot

The bottom of the pot is lined with the large green exterior cabbage leaves. Rolls are laid on top, seam side down and placed tightly against one another. Stud the layers of rolls with peeled garlic cloves. Ahhh the flavor! Aunt Hilda also salted each layer lightly. I always always forget to do that and, well, it doesn’t seem to matter.

Cooking the stuffed cabbage rolls

Keeping the rolls in place is assisted with a plate overturned right on top of the rolls while they cook. The rolls are covered just to the top of the rolls (not the top of the pot) with liquid. Here we’re using tomato juice. You can use tomato sauce, thinned out with a little water. Also wonderful: chicken or beef stock. Or Aunt Rita’s favorite: water, simply water. The garlic cloves do their job to flavor the liquid no matter what you use.

Be sure after the rolls are cooked to remove the cover and let them rest and cool off just a bit. This way they will hold their shape better when removed from the pot with tongs.

Cabbage Rolls covered with tomato juice
Maureen takes cabbage rolls out of a pot

Storing Leftovers

You can store any leftover cabbage rolls in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Simply reheat them in the microwave, in a baking dish in the oven or a pot on the stove (with some broth, lemon juice, tomato or water in the base of the pot) before serving.

The stuffed cabbage rolls are too delicate and may fall apart if frozen, so I don’t recommend it. That said, you can make the filling ahead and store it in the freezer. When you’re ready to cook, you can defrost the filling, prepare the cabbage, roll, and cook.

Delicious Sides for Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Here are some side dishes that would pair perfectly with this stuffed cabbage rolls recipe:

More Lebanese Stuffed Vegetable Recipes

Lebanese Stuffed Kousa Squash

Vegetarian Stuffed Kousa

Lebanese Stuffed Grape Leaves

How to identify and preserve fresh grape leaves

How to roll grape leaves

Cabbage rolls with tomato on a platter
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4.25 from 12 votes

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls Recipe

These are one of the most beloved of the many ways with stuffed vegetables, Lebanese-style. Follow a few simple steps and you'll be rolling up a storm! One large, 2-3 pound cabbage yields at least about 30 rolls, with several of those leaves cut in half. Serve the rolls with labneh.
Servings: 8

Ingredients 

  • 1 large cabbage, 2 to 3 lbs
  • 1 pound ground sirloin, or other lean beef or lamb
  • 1 cup medium grain rice, or converted rice
  • 4 oz. butter, melted (salted or unsalted is fine)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to season the tomato juice
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 4 cups tomato juice
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Instructions 

Prepare the cabbage:

  • Cut the core from the cabbage with a sharp knife.
  • In a large pot of boiling water, blanch the cored head of cabbage and remove the leaves one by one.
  • In order to roll the blanched cabbage leaves, the thick rib must be cut out of the center of each leaf. On the small leaves, the rib can simply be shaved down rather than cut out entirely. On large leaves, cut the rib out and keep cutting the leaf in half lengthwise. Each leaf should be about six inches long. Some will be shorter, and some will be longer. This is fine. Place the trimmings and any very large, dark leaves in the bottom of a medium-sized heavy pot.

Make the filling:

  • Rinse the rice twice to remove some of the starch. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the uncooked rice with the melted butter, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and mint. Let this mixture sit for about 10 minutes for the rice to absorb the flavorings. Add the meat and mix with the rice mixture until combined.

Roll and cook:

  • Lay about a tablespoon of the stuffing on a cabbage leaf and spread the stuffing into a long row lengthwise along the leaf. Roll up the leaf around the meat without tucking the edges in. Stuff and roll each leaf, then place each roll in the prepared pan snugly against one another. Run each layer of rolls in opposite directions. Scatter the garlic cloves over the rolls throughout the pot. Place a small plate over the rolls to hold them down while they cook. Cover with the tomato juice. Add about 2 tablespoons of salt to the tomato juice. Make small meatballs with any leftover stuffing and place those in the pan.
  • Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover the pot,and cook the leaves until the rice and meat are fully cooked, about 45 minutes. Remove the cover and allow the rolls to rest and cool slightly before serving.

Video

Notes

Storing: You can store any leftover cabbage rolls in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Simply reheat them in the microwave or a pot on the stove before serving.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 373kcal | Carbohydrates: 34g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 69mg | Sodium: 752mg | Potassium: 756mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 1057IU | Vitamin C: 80mg | Calcium: 102mg | Iron: 3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Lebanese
Servings: 8
Calories: 373
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15 Comments

  1. Marilyn Nader says:

    5 stars
    Your recipe sounds delicious. I love stuffed cabbage this way with a tomato type sauce, but my favorite is made the way we make grape leaves, that is with lemon and garlic. We do add dried mint which is not added to stuffed grape leaves. We also sometimes put partially cooked shoulder lamb chops on the bottom of the pot before adding adding the rolls. Same with stuffed grape leaves. I guess you could do that with kousa, too. The meat gets flavored so well and it’s delicious and tender. I love these stuffed dishes every way. I just finished my dinner of string beans with tomato sauce and cubed chicken. I love using baharat and cinnamon in that dish. Thank you.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Marilyn I love your comment and also love cabbage cooked in garlic and lemon. Check out my recipe for garlic and lemon cabbage rolls and see if that compares with how you make them. Delicious to season the meat with baharat and cinnamon, mmmmm. Thank you!

  2. Kathleen Shaheen says:

    Just a suggestion…being under the gun, I decided on ‘deconstructed cabbage rolls’ chopped the cabbage used all the same ingredients and served! My family loved it! (I was giggling & yet a bit concerned but, no , it was all great!)

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      This is so great Kathleen, I love it!!!! I’ll try it soon!

  3. Loren Sirhan says:

    I do exactly like you, but I sprinkle dry mint on each layer.
    It was like this in my family.

    Your recipes are excellent, T.Y.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Loren the mint on the cabbage rolls…mmmmmm…thanks so very much!

      1. Loren says:

        Yes …and generous sprinkle!

        1. Maureen Abood says:

          Will do!!

  4. Jacqueline says:

    I make Polish cabbage rolls but first I freeze the head of cabbage. Then you don’t have to worry about steam burning yourself or coring the cabbage. Just take the cabbage out and let it thaw ahead of time. The leaves peel off so easy and roll so easy.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Great tip Jacqueline, thank you!

  5. Dawn Gaertner says:

    Hi there! Love this. Can they be frozen? Or can a portion of the steps be done ahead of time? Thank you!

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Dawn, thank you! Hmmm. I freeze grapeleaves after they’re cooked but I’d worry about the cabbage falling apart, more delicate. You could make the filling though and freeze that ahead.

    2. Maureen Abood says:

      Also Dawn you could roll the cabbage and put them in the pan a couple of days in advance and refrigerate. Then cover with tomato and cook earlier in the day of making or the day before. Just reheat when you’re ready to serve. Undercook them just a touch if cooking in advance and reheating, to avoid the cabbage falling apart.

  6. Maggie says:

    In part 1 of the roll and cook section you say to add the tomato juice over the plate. I get that but Then you say to add 2 tablespoons of salt to the water. I’m not sure which water you are referring to?
    PS…..thank you for your recipes!

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Good catch! That should read, and now does, “tomato juice” and not “water.” Thank you!