How to Make Cabbage Rolls

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These cabbage rolls are wrapped in green sour cabbage leaves and filled with a savory mixture of rice, onion, smoky ground pork and simple seasonings. The brown sugar balances well with the salty ground pork and smoky bacon and the rice makes the rolls extra filling.

Cabbage rolls may look complicated, but this recipe is fairly easy to prepare, especially as we guide you step-by-step. Here are some tips and information on how to make cabbage rolls using an old European recipe.

Cabbage rolls on a blue and white plate, blue background.

Cabbage Roll History

The homemade stuffed cabbage rolls origin is unclear, but they are common in Europe, Western Asia, Northern China, and parts of North Africa.

There are different versions of cabbage rolls around the world: Cabbage rolls in tomato sauce, or Holishkes, are part of Jewish tradition. Romania uses a base of tomato or dill, or a combination of both. The filling in the Hungarian version contains egg and the rolls are topped with sour cream. These are just a few of the many versions out there.

Cabbage rolls on a blue and white plate, blue background.

This specific recipe came from European settlers in a small Canadian prairie settlement. The recipe was so popular that almost the whole village knew it and it is still commonly prepared for town gatherings.

It was published in a village recipe book titled ‘Hospice Family Favorites’. The original recipe’s instructions and ingredient amounts were made to feed a very large crowd of people. We’ve updated the recipe to be more detailed and for a smaller crowd. We’ve also included extra tips, instructions for baking them in the oven, slow cooker and for freezing the raw rolls.

Cabbage Roll Preparation

Step 1: Prepare Ingredients

Cabbage roll ingredients on wooden background.
  • 2 lbs short grain rice (907 g)
  • 1.75 lbs ground pork (794 g)
  • 1.75 lbs ground bacon ends (794 g)
  • 1.25 lbs onions, chopped (567 g)
  • 1/8 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 1 ¼ tsp. pepper
  • 20 large sour cabbage leaves (this is only approximate – it will depend on the size of your leaves)

Step 2: Trim Ribs from Cabbage Leaves

A sour cabbage leaf with a knife.

Trim the rib of the cabbage leaves off, using a paring knife. This is in the center of the cabbage leaf. It is easier to roll the leaf when the thick, outer part of the rib has been removed.

Step 3: Cut the Large Cabbage Leaves Into Smaller Pieces

A sour cabbage leaf and knife on white cutting board.

If the leaves are large, you can cut them into smaller pieces (we cut ours into 2 to 3 pieces each). They should be approximately the size of your hand, for a standard cabbage roll size. You can go smaller or larger if you would like, but keep in mind, you will need to change the amount of filling you add.

A sour cabbage leaf and knife on white cutting board.
Sour cabbage leaves on white cutting board.

Step 4: Prepare the Cabbage Roll Filling

Clear glass bowl with cabbage roll ingredients on wooden cutting board, blue background.

In a large bowl, mix together the rice, meat, onions, brown sugar and spices.

Clear glass bowl with cabbage roll ingredients on wooden table with a metal tablespoon of salt.
Clear glass bowl with cabbage roll ingredients on wooden table with pepper in a measuring spoon.
Clear glass bowl with cabbage roll ingredients on wooden cutting board.
Clear glass bowl with cabbage roll ingredients on wooden table.
Cabbage roll ingredients getting mixed in clear glass bowl, wooden background.
Mixed cabbage roll filling in a clear glass bowl, wooden background.

Step 5: Add the Filling to the Cabbage Leaves & Roll

Cabbage roll mix in a clear glass bowl and a sour cabbage leaf in hand.

Roll approximately 1 heaping tablespoon (or more for larger leaves) of the mixture up into each sour cabbage leaf.

Cabbage roll mix in a clear glass bowl and a sour cabbage leaf with filling in hand.
Cabbage roll mix in a clear glass bowl and a sour cabbage leaf with filling in hand.
Cabbage roll being rolled up with gloved hands.
Cabbage roll being rolled up with gloved hands.

Step 6: Push the Ends of the Roll In

Cabbage roll being rolled up with gloved hands.

Close the ends by pushing them into the roll. Repeat with the remaining leaves and filling.

Cabbage roll being rolled up with gloved hands.
Cabbage roll in gloved hand.
Cabbage roll in gloved hand.

Baking Instructions

If the cabbage rolls were frozen, thaw them in the refrigerator. I like to thaw them directly in the dish I will be baking them in. If fresh, go straight to step 1 below.

Step 1: Boil Water & Arrange Cabbage Rolls in Baking Dish

Cabbage rolls in a casserole dish, wooden background.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Boil some water in a kettle. Arrange the cabbage rolls in a casserole dish. If you are baking a large amount at once, they can be layered on top of each other.

Step 2: Pour Boiling Water Over the Rolls

Cabbage rolls in a casserole dish with hot water, wooden background.

Pour just enough boiling water over the cabbage rolls to cover them.

Step 3: Cover and Bake

Cabbage rolls in a casserole dish with the lid on, wooden background.

Cover the casserole dish with a lid and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. If there is water left in the casserole dish after baking, you can drain it.

Baked cabbage rolls in a casserole dish, wooden background.

Step 4: Serve

Cabbage rolls on a blue and white plate, blue background.

Serve the cabbage rolls!

Slow Cooker Instructions

Layer the uncooked cabbage rolls in the crock pot. Pour boiling water over top (just enough to almost cover them). Cook on high for at least 4 hours or on low for 8 hours.

How To Freeze Raw Cabbage Rolls

You can freeze the cabbage rolls before cooking them. Follow the instructions below:

Step 1: Place Rolls on Sheet Pan

Cabbage rolls on a wax paper-lined baking sheet, on wooden table.

Place the freshly made raw cabbage rolls on a sheet pan lined with wax paper. Transfer them to the freezer for a few hours or overnight. (This is so they don’t stick together once frozen.)

Step 2: Transfer to Bags and Back to the Freezer

Cabbage rolls in a zip-top bag, blue background.

Transfer the cabbage rolls to a freezer bag or air-tight container and freeze until ready to bake. We like to add 1 dozen to each bag.

When you are ready to prepare them, just thaw them in the refrigerator, in the dish that you will bake them in. That way you can avoid handling them when soft, and help keep their shape/keep the stuffing in the roll.

Cabbage Roll Tweaks & Ingredient Info

Although many people really enjoy the taste of sour cabbage leaves (like me), they may be too sour for some people. If you wish to cut the sourness down a little, soak them in water for an hour or two. You can also use blanched cabbage leaves, instead of fermented.

My mom grows and sours the cabbage leaves herself, but you should be able to find heads of sour cabbage in the supermarket.

Cabbage rolls on a blue and white plate, blue background.

If you ask around, you might find that some meat markets offer up ‘cabbage roll meat’. In the village’s meat market where this recipe comes from, it is basically a 50/50 mix of ground pork and ground bacon ends.

Many recipes call for baking the cabbage rolls with tomato sauce instead of water. This recipe, without the tomato sauce, is the one I grew up on and prefer, but feel free to try it.

Cabbage rolls on a blue and white plate, blue background.
Open cabbage roll on a blue and white plate, blue background.

What to Serve with Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage rolls are usually served as a main dish, so it is good to have a side dish with it. Some of the most common side dishes are mashed potatoes or perogies, egg noodles, roasted vegetables, or rye bread. In our home growing up, we always had a full meal consisting of sausage, cabbage rolls, perogies and a salad.

Red wines like Malbec or Zinfandel pair well, working with the meat and sour cabbage flavors.

Do you like your cabbage rolls sour or plain? With or without tomato sauce? What do you serve them with? If you liked this recipe, please comment and share!

Cabbage rolls on a blue and white plate, blue background.

How to Make Cabbage Rolls

Joss D
These cabbage rolls are wrapped in green sour cabbage leaves and filled with a savory mixture of rice, onion, smoky ground pork and simple seasonings.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 45 mins
Cook Time 1 hr
Total Time 1 hr 45 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine German
Servings 48 cabbage rolls
Calories 215 kcal

Ingredients
 
 

  • 2 lbs. short grain rice
  • 1.75 lbs. ground pork
  • 1.75 lbs. ground bacon ends
  • 1.25 lbs. onions - chopped
  • 1/8 c. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 1 ¼ tsp. pepper
  • 20 large sour cabbage leaves - this is only approximate – it will depend on the size of your leaves

Instructions
 

  • Prepare ingredients.
    Cabbage roll ingredients on wooden background.
  • Trim the rib of the cabbage leaves off, using a paring knife (just the thick part that sticks out). This will make it easier to roll up.
    A sour cabbage leaf with a knife.
  • If the leaves are large, you can cut them into smaller pieces (we cut ours into 2 to 3 pieces each). They should be approximately the size of your hand, for a standard cabbage roll size. You can go smaller or larger if you would like, but keep in mind, you will need to change the amount of filling you add.
  • In a large bowl, mix together the rice, meat, onions, brown sugar and spices.
    Cabbage roll ingredients getting mixed in clear glass bowl, wooden background.
  • Roll approximately 1 heaping tablespoon (or more for larger leaves) of the mixture up into each sour cabbage leaf.
    Cabbage roll mix in a clear glass bowl and a sour cabbage leaf with filling in hand.
  • Close the ends by pushing them into the roll. Now you can either freeze or cook the cabbage rolls (see below).
    Cabbage roll being rolled up with gloved hands.

To Bake:

  • If the cabbage rolls were frozen, thaw them in the refrigerator. I like to thaw them directly in the dish I will be baking them in. If fresh, continue to step 2 below.
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Boil some water in a kettle. Arrange the cabbage rolls in a casserole dish. If you are baking a large amount at once, they can be layered on top of each other.
    Cabbage rolls in a casserole dish, wooden background.
  • Pour just enough boiling water over the cabbage rolls to cover them.
    Cabbage rolls in a casserole dish with hot water, wooden background.
  • Cover the casserole dish with a lid and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. If there is water left in the casserole dish after baking, you can drain it.
    Cabbage rolls in a casserole dish with the lid on, wooden background.
  • Serve.
    Cabbage rolls on a blue and white plate, blue background.

Slow Cooker Instructions:

  • Layer the uncooked cabbage rolls in the crock pot. Pour boiling water over top (just enough to almost cover them). Cook on high for at least 4 hours or on low for 8 hours.

To Freeze Raw Cabbage Rolls:

  • Place the freshly made raw cabbage rolls on a sheet pan lined with wax paper. Transfer them to the freezer for a few hours or overnight. (This is so they don’t stick together once frozen.)
    Cabbage rolls on a wax paper-lined baking sheet, on wooden table.
  • Transfer the cabbage rolls to a freezer bag or air-tight container and freeze until ready to bake.
    Cabbage rolls in a zip-top bag, blue background.

Equipment

Casserole Dish

Notes

This recipe makes between 48 and 60 cabbage rolls, depending on the size of the cabbage leaves and how much filling is added.
This makes approximately 1/2 a canner.

Nutrition

Calories: 215kcalCarbohydrates: 17gProtein: 8gFat: 12gSaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 35mgSodium: 389mgPotassium: 105mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 101IUVitamin C: 4mgCalcium: 10mgIron: 1mg

Nutrition information on In the Kitch is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate only. It may not include toppings and/or sauces.

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Looking for more cabbage recipes? Try our St. Patrick’s Day Slow Cooker Cabbage & Bacon

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