Cabbage Rolls like my Ukrainian moms! Sunday’s lunch was normally Mom’s Stuffed Cabbage when we’d come over with the family. This is her basic recipe for stuffed cabbage rolls.
Want More Classic Ukrainian Recipes? Try our Red Beet Soup (Borscht), Poppy Seed Roulette, or super thin Crepes! These cabbage rolls are my mother-in-law’s recipe. However, my mom makes them a little different which you can see here on my Easy Cabbage Rolls post.
Cabbage Rolls are a family favorite! Every family has a variation of making them, but I can’t get enough of how simple my mother-in-law’s recipe is! It’s basic, super yummy, and consists of minimal ingredients without compromising on flavor! If you were ever curious about how to make cabbage rolls but were intimated by the process this recipe is great for beginners.
If you don’t want to bother with the rolling of cabbage leaves and want an easier approach then you need to try our Lazy Cabbage Rolls Recipe as you literally toss everything together with no cooking anything whatsoever! The casserole then bakes in the oven as you would with this recipe only prep is done in a fraction of the time!
What Is Cabbage Rolls?
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are vegetable, meat, and rice-filled cabbage leaves that are covered with a sauce and baked to tenderness. It’s Ukrainian comfort food at its best! Romanians, Poland, and Russian peeps all have a variation of these stuffed cabbage leaves but they all have the same shadow- stuffed cabbage.
Many families make these rolls differently depending on their origin. Ukrainians and Russians usually cook them in broth or tomato sauce, and sometimes even heavy cream. The filling stays pretty basic such as rice and meat along with some vegetables like carrots and onions.
As far as the spices, bay leaves really give the signature taste of Europe as well as fresh dill! This casserole gets irresistibly aromatic from the bay leaves, (wait until it finishes baking- incredibly delicious!) And of course, Ukrainians love it with a good old-fashioned dollop of sour cream!
How To Soften Thick and Rigid Cabbage Leaves for Rolls?
Cabbage is hard, which is why it needs to be cooked in boiling water to soften. Although boiling a head of cabbage sounds easy, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Core the head of the cabbage by removing the bottom stem.
- Bring water to a rolling boil.
- Place the head of cabbage into the boiling water. Cover and boil for 5 minutes.
- Remove the first 3-4 leaves that have easily loosened. Cover and repeat until done, working in 2-3 minute increments to not overcook the cabbage leaves.
If you overcook the cabbage leaves they can tear easily when rolling. If underdone, they can be thick and rigid to work with. Leaves are usually good once a little transparent and duller in color.
What Tomato Sauce Is Best?
This recipe is best-suitable for a tomato-based sauce. I used my homemade Marinara Sauce that I canned, however, my mother-in-law likes smooth-style pasta sauces flavored with mushrooms.
Since Pasta sauce is flavored it can easily be poured right atop the rolls. If using V8 vegetable juice or canned tomato sauces, such as diced tomatoes or tomato paste then you may want to flavor the sauce with additional spices and seasonings.
Want to try them with heavy cream? Try my Easy Cabbage Rolls with a different sauce.
Can I Make Ahead?
My mother-in-law would usually make these the day before, so, yes they make a great make-ahead dish! Simply roll up and stack into your baking dish. Pour the tomato sauce in, right before baking.
Can You Freeze Cabbage Rolls?
Yes! Cabbage rolls are best frozen uncooked and without sauce. Due to the water content in cabbage leaves, you do not want to freeze the stuffed cabbage rolls in their sauce. They tend to get watery when thawed in the sauce. However, uncooked rolls that will later be baked in sauce freeze very well.
How To Freeze: Place filled cabbage rolls into a disposable foiled pan. Cover and freeze for up to 3 months.
To Bake: thaw and top with bay leaves. Pour the tomato sauce over the rolls and bake for 2 hours.
Can I Freeze Cabbage Leaves Without The Filling For Later?
Yes! Cabbage leaves freeze very well and are even easier to work with once thawed. Simply cook the cabbage leaves in boiling water as directed. Cool. Trim and cut into pieces ready to use for filling later. Freeze in gallon-sized freezer bags and thaw whenever you need to make cabbage rolls.
Tips for Mom’s Cabbage Rolls:
- Boil the (cored) head of cabbage for 5 minutes. Remove the outer leaves and keep repeating until done.
- Trim the cabbage stems. Place the large cabbage leaves sideways and slice diagonally. Fill and roll up from one end to make triangle-shaped rolls. If you roll from the stem you’ll get a cylinder-shaped roll.
- Bake covered for 2 hours. Mom likes to bake for 1 1/2 but that works best when you leave your casserole in the oven for 30 minutes to keep warm (it still cooks through.)
- Mom likes to use a smooth-style pasta sauce flavored with mushrooms.
- Too many? Freeze them filled (without the sauce) for another meal!
How To Make Cabbage Rolls:
Moms Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
- 22x12" pan
- 8-quart pot
- large mixing bowl
- 5 lbs ground pork
- 2 heads cabbage (or 1 XL Cabbage)
- 11/2 cups uncooked rice
- 24 oz pasta sauce
- 1 onion
- 2 carrots
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp salt
- 11/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 3 cups water (divided)
- 10 bay leaves
How To Make Cabbage Rolls:
- Combine the rice and 1 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil then remove from heat and allow to sit covered for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, grate the carrots and onion; fry in olive oil until browned (8 min.)
- Remove the core of the cabbage. Boil the cabbage for 5 minutes covered. Then remove the outer leaves that have been loosened and repeat in 3-minute increments until done.
- In a large bowl combine the rice, carrot mixture, ground pork, salt, and pepper. Mix and set aside.
- Trim the stems and cut the bigger cabbage leaves in half. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into each leaf and roll up tucking in the sides. Place the seam down into a baking dish.
- Spread the bay leaves over the cabbage rolls. Dilute the pasta sauce with the remaining 1 1/2 cups water and pour over the rolls.
- Cover and bake at 370°F for 2 hours.