By Cat, Oct 2007 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)
See also: 1. Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Rice, Lamb & Pork, with Tomato & Sour Cream Sauce (Eastern-European); 2. Middle Eastern Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Chickpeas & Bulgur; 3. Middle Eastern Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Lamb & Bulgur; 4. Ethnic Food Menu
Cabbage rolls (called golabki in Poland, and golubtsy or golubtsi in Russia and Ukraine) are common family food fare, especially in Eastern Europe, and are often made without meat, similar to stuffed grape leaves in the Mediterranean. I provide two different vegetarian versions, and a meaty version.
The leaves of open-head cabbage (such as Napa), are softer and easier to remove than closed head cabbage. But if you first soften a closed-head cabbage by removing the core and steaming the whole head for a few minutes, the outer leaves will be soft enough to separate from the head easily. I think the softened leaves of a closed-head cabbage are easier to form into pockets to hold the stuffing.
I usually find I have more filling than leaves to fill. That’s OK, I just stir the leftover filling into the tomato sauce and pour it over the stuffed leaves. You can also chop up some cabbage leaves and stir them into the sauce.
I provide two different vegetarian stuffing, and instructions to convert each to a meaty stuffing. These recipes serve 4 – 6.
Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Rice & Mushrooms
This vegetarian recipe is adapted from A Passion for Vegetables by Vera Gewanter. She says it is a composite recipe from various European countries. I’ve added a few herbs, spices and pine nuts to the original recipe, based on suggestions from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. I provide a lot of detail, but it is easier to make than it seems.
Because this recipe does not offer a full complement of protein, it is best used as a side dish, or accompanied with wedges of a good, hearty cheese. If you add lamb as in my Meaty Variation, it can be served as a main dish.
While I would prefer the greater nutritional value of brown rice, I’ve recently learned that the rice bran is likely contaminated with arsenic (from fertilizing cotton plants that formerly grew in the soil). So unless you trust your source of brown rice, I suggest using white rice. [Jun 2014 update: Another option is to use bulgur; see the second stuffing recipe which uses bulgur.]
I use my own homemade tomato sauce, which I make up in batches and freeze in half-pint and quart jars. Commercially canned tomato sauce has toxicity issues: formerly from lead in the solder that holds the can together, and more recently from the plastic used to coat the interior of the can; both lead and plastic toxins are more likely to leach into acidic foods like tomatoes, than into alkaline foods like beans and peas. If you can find commercial tomato sauce sold in glass jars/bottles, that would be safer.
I don’t care for raisins, so I use currants which have another advantage: they are smaller than raisins, so work better in the stuffing. If you use raisins, chop them in half.
Don’t forget to add the egg to the rice mixture before filling the cabbage leaves – it helps to hold the stuffing together.
Ingredients & Equipment:
- 1 green cabbage (about 3 pounds, with 15 – 18 good leaves)
- 2 – 3 cups Mineral Vegetable broth
- 2 cups Basic Meatless Tomato Sauces (or home-canned; I don’t recommend commercially canned, even Organic)
- 2 medium-sized onions, chopped
- 6 Tbsp olive oil (in divided portions)
- ½ pound fresh mushrooms, chopped (I like Crimini, but they are more expensive than buttons)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup pine nuts (optional)
- 1 teaspoon Unrefined sea salt, or more, to taste
- 2 Tbsp dried dill weed (optional)
- ½ tsp ground coriander or cumin
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp pepper
- 1 cup brown or white rice (uncooked), or bulgur
- 1 medium-sized carrot, chopped fairly fine
- 4 Tbsp dark raisins or currants
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tsp arrowroot or 1 Tbsp Organic cornstarch, or 1 Tbsp tapioca starch, mixed with 1 Tbsp filtered water (if needed, to thicken the sauce)
- Cooking pot wide enough for the cabbage leaves to lie flat.
- Cast iron skillet
- Fairly shallow baking pan or casserole dish, with lid or other cover
- small bowl
- If using open-head cabbage (like Napa), cut the leaves at the point where the leaf begins. Chop up the stems (to add to the sauce). In a pot in which the large leaves will lie flat, heat the broth to boiling. Put in the leaves, cover, and bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 3 – 4 minutes, or long enough so that the leaves will bend without breaking as you roll them. Remove leaves. Then add chopped up stems and cook until just soft. Drain, reserving broth and cooked stems separately.
- If using closed-head green cabbage, remove the core and steam the whole head for a few minutes, to make it easier to remove the leaves. If they are too stiff to fold around filling, heat them in the broth as described above for Napa cabbage.
Prepare cabbage rolls
- Remove about 15 – 18 leaves from the cabbage.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil or butter the bottom and sides of baking dish.
- Dilute tomato sauce with about 1 cup of the broth and 3 Tbsp olive oil. Stir to combine and spoon a small amount into the baking dish, spreading it around to cover the bottom. Reserve the rest of the sauce.
- In a skillet, saute the chopped onions in 3 Tbsp olive oil (this is where you add the optional ground meat, to brown 5 minutes – see Meaty variation, below). Then add mushrooms, garlic, pine nuts and seasonings; stir in the uncooked rice*. Add about 1 cup of the broth, the carrot and raisins. Cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes. (* NOTE: If using white rice, reduce cooking time to 5 minutes. If using bulgur, add it in the next step). Adjust seasoning.
- Let veggie/rice mixture cool slightly, then stir in bulgur (if using) and 1 lightly beaten egg (this helps hold the stuffing together).
- On a clean counter or cutting board, lay the cabbage leaves flat, stem side* toward you, and put 1 or 2 Tbsp of the rice mixture on each leaf. Roll them up, folding over the stem side first, then overlapping the side flaps to enclose the filling, and roll up away from you. In this way they make nice, tidy pockets. (* NOTE: ‘stem side’ refers to open-head cabbage like Napa. If using closed-head cabbage, put thicker end toward you, so it gets rolled first)
- Arrange the rolls, folded edge of leaves down, on the thin layer of tomato sauce in the baking/serving dish. They should fit snugly in a single layer.
- Stir into the tomato sauce the reserved cut-up stems any leftover filling, (or fill more cabbage leaves for a second casserole dish), then pour the sauce over the cabbage rolls, separating them gently so that the sauce reaches the bottom of the pan.
- Cover and bake about 1 hour (use oiled parchment covered with foil if you have no lid), then uncover and continue cooking for 30 minutes, until the sauce has thickened a little, and the rice is tender and plump.
- Adjust thickness of sauce (see bullets below). Remove from oven and let sit about 5 minutes before serving–if you can keep your guests away from the heavenly aroma!
- If too much liquid remains in the pan when you uncover it, spoon out a few tablespoons into a small bowl and stir in 2 tsp of arrowroot powder or 1 Tbsp cornstarch/tapioca starch. Pour over the pan, gently mixing a little with the rest of the liquid. Let cook about 5 minutes more..
- If the sauce is too thick, add a little more broth and stir in gently.
Meaty Variation: Rice, Mushrooms and Lamb Stuffing
Same as for Vegetarian Rice & Mushroom Stuffing recipe except:
- you will need a few more cabbage leaves, about 18 total
- use only 1 onion, and reduce mushrooms to ¼ pound
- add ½ – 1 pound ground lamb (turkey, veal, beef, or buffalo can be used instead). You will have too much filling if you use a pound, but you can add the leftover filling to the sauce.
- reduce rice to ½ cup
Follow recipe for vegetarian version with the following changes:
- After sauteing the onions for about 2 minutes, add the ground meat and cook for 5 minutes before adding the mushrooms, garlic, seasoning, and uncooked rice.
- If the meat is especially fatty, you may want to spoon out excess fat before filling the cabbage leaves.
- A Passion for Vegetables by Vera Gewanter
- Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon
- The Vegetarian Journal, Jan-Feb 2004 NOTE: Original recipe url is no longer valid, and I cannot find the correct link. The invalid url is findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FDE/is_1_23/ai_n6026347/pg_2
- Big Oven recipe (bigoven.com/recipe/syrian-cabbage-rolls-mihshee-malfoof-bi-burghul/161049)
- Eating Well recipe (eatingwell.com/recipes/Lebanese_cabbage_rolls.html)