I didn’t grow up eating much cabbage unless it was St. Patrick’s Day, and we never ate stuffed cabbage rolls either. I discovered them once, around the age of 7 or 8 when I went with one of my friends to visit his aunt. That afternoon we sat at her dining room table and I learned how to make them. We learned with our eyes of course and dared not to touch the parboiled cabbage leaves or make a mess spilling sauce everywhere. The smell was incredible; garlic and fresh tomatoes with a touch of basil looming over us and I cannot forget how impressed I was with the precision and care that was taken with each roll before being tucked neatly into a baking dish full of that aromatic sauce.
Perhaps because this was an unfamiliar meal to me at the time or maybe because I had been served too much tuna casserole in my young life, I thought cabbage rolls were the upper echelon of family dinners. Granted, this isn’t quite a 30-minute meal, nor will these typically make a Holiday menu, stuffed cabbage rolls are the perfect Sunday dinner or are great any night you have a little extra time. Realistically, stuffed cabbage rolls are a well-balanced meal and are an affordable way to feed a larger family or crowd. They taste delicious on their own or served on an extra bed or rice or pasta. I like to have bread with mine to soak up the extra sauce. With that said, these stuffed cabbage rolls are a result of trial and error and are based on my memory of that Saturday afternoon well spent.
Notes about this recipe:
The sauce calls for one tablespoon of sugar which is not necessary. I prefer to use fresh tomatoes and tomato sauce or marinara that has little to no sugar in it. If this is the case for you, a bit of sugar may help to counteract some of the acidity tomatoes bring.
I like to use white onions, like a Vidalia for some sweetness, again, counteracting the acidity but still giving a slight crunch to the sauce along with added flavor.
If you do not have fresh garlic on hand, a tablespoon of garlic powder works just fine.
This recipe makes approximately 12 cabbage rolls. I like to use the leftover cabbage for stir-fry, soups or I simply sauté it and keep it as a side for another meal.
1 large head of green cabbage
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 to 4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 25-ounce jar tomato sauce
2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped with juice or
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon sugar*
Salt and pepper to taste
4 to 6 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
For the filling:
1 lb. lean ground beef or turkey
1 cup rice, cooked
½ cup onion, chopped
1 to 2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dried oregano
½ cup finely grated parmesan
Pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
½ teaspoon ground paprika
For the cabbage:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut 1 inch from the bottom of the head of cabbage. Place the head of cabbage into the pot of water, boiling for about 5 minutes or until the leaves are flexible and able to peel. Using tongs or two forks, carefully remove head of cabbage from pot and allow to drain in a strainer or on a large plate. When cabbage is cool enough, peel cabbage leaves from the head. You’ll want to peel the leaves slowly to avoid tearing them.
For the sauce:
Add in olive oil to large saucepan. Sauté onions over medium heat until softened and slightly translucent. Add garlic and continue sautéing for another minute or two. Add tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, and remaining ingredients, stirring just to combine. Increasing to high heat, bring sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 15 minutes.
To make the cabbage rolls:
In a large bowl, mix the ground meat, rice, onion, garlic, egg, parmesan, and seasonings along with salt and pepper. Begin assembling the cabbage rolls by removing the stem area from the cabbage leaf. This is done by cutting a ‘V’ shape on each leaf from the bottom center. In each cabbage leaf, please about 4 tablespoons of filling in the center. Fold both sides of the leaf to the center and roll the lead from bottom to top. Repeat this process with each leaf until the filling is gone.
Preheat oven to 350°. Using a cooking spray or a teaspoon of olive oil, prepare a 9 x 13 baking dish. Pour tomato sauce into dish and spread evenly throughout. Place cabbage rolls (folded side down) in baking dish making two rows of six. Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.