Rolling Down the River

The sun's been out these past few days. If I'm sitting at my desk, in the sunlight, not looking at the bare tree outside my window, it almost feels like summer. But there is a chill in the air, Winter is around the corner, I can feel it in my bones. 

Times like these make me want to slow cook something on a wood burning stove, so that the smells could embalm the house, enveloping its inhabitants in a cloud of warmth and delicious comfort.

Cabbage rolls. They can be a handful to make, but once you have a batch done, you are set for a few dinners throughout the cold, cold days. They freeze very well, so they are worth the time it takes to make them. Cabbage rolls are traditionally stuffed with meat, and are quite delicious as such, but like just about everything else, you can use anything you want as stuffing, including left-overs. Being a vegetarian, I obviously prefer going the non-meat route. However, the following recipe can easily be adapted by adding any cooked ground meat or finely chopped left-over roast.

The most important part to successful cabbage rolls is the cabbage you use: I prefer using Savoy cabbages, even though classical Polish recipes call for regular cabbages. Savoys have large crinkly leaves, and tend to be very flexible, therefore are easier to handle than regular green cabbages. However, there are a few tricks to handling those tight balls of leaves. First of all, you need to buy a large head: it should weigh at least 2kg (5lbs). A cabbage that size will yield about 20 rolls. Secondly, the cabbage needs to be blanched before you even attempt to remove the leaves: remove the first layer of tough outer leaves, then plunk it in your largest pot before filling it with just enough water to cover the head; remove the cabbage from the pot, and bring the water up to the boil. While you are waiting for the water to boil, prepare the cabbage: with a small, sharp knife, cut the base of the visible leaves around the stem without cutting it off entirely -you will need it to pull the cabbage out of the water.

When the water is boiling, dunk the cabbage for 2 to 3 minutes; remove and place under cold, running water to cool; peel off two to four leaves; if the leaves are hard to remove, do not persist,  cut a few more stem bases, and dunk the cabbage in the boiling water; continue until you've removed all the large leaves. If you bought a Savoy cabbage instead, you can remove all the leaves raw before blanching. In both cases, you might have to shave off part of the leaf's rib to make them more flexible. All you need to do next is stuff the leaves, roll them up, and cook them off.


Cabbage Roll Stuffing
Makes enough to fill 20 rolls

2 cups cooked grains (rice, quinoa, wheat berry... or a mix of any left-over)
1 onion
2 carrots
1 small rutabaga
1 apple
½ c/ 100g raisins and or dried cranberries
½ c/ 120g almonds or pumpkin seeds
2 cloves garlic
2 cm/ 1" piece of ginger
1 tsp herb of your choice
1 orange
salt and pepper
20 cabbage leaves, blanched
stock or tomato sauce

Butter or oil a large baking dish. Set aside.
Peel onion, carrots, rutabaga, ginger, apple and garlic cloves. Chop finely. If you have a food processor or a mandoline, you can use those to process the vegetables.
Zest and juice the orange. Set aside.
Toast the almonds or pumpkin seeds: the almonds take about 4-5 minutes in a 170'C/ 325'F, the pumpkin seeds only need about 3 minutes (the toaster oven is perfect for this job).
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients. Check seasoning.
To stuff the cabbage leaves: place 3 spoonful of stuffing 3 cm/ 1½" from base of leaf; roll up the base of the leaf over stuffing, then fold in side flaps, and finish rolling up the leaf. Set in baking dish, seam side down.
Pour just enough stock or tomato sauce to completely cover the rolls. 
Cover with plastic wrap, then aluminum foil -don't worry, the rolls are baked at low temperature, so the plastic wrap will not melt or taint your food, but it will protect it from the foil (which should never be in contact with tomato sauce).
Bake in a 170'C/ 325'F oven for 2-3 hours: the rolls are cooked when you can cut through them with a spoon. 
If you are wary of putting plastic wrap in your oven, you can braise the rolls on the stove top. Just make sure you use a pan large enough to place the rolls in one layer, and gently simmer the liquid.
Serve hot from the baking dish, or let cool completely and save for later.

Cabbage rolls are most often cooked and served with a tomato sauce, but can easily be braised in a flavourful stock, in which case they should be broiled before serving for a splash of colour; serve with the yummy stock. The stuffing can be varied ad infinitum, and you can even garnish them with anything (including cheese, if you want!)  Like many comfort foods, cabbage rolls improve with time: it probably has something to do with repeated re-heating, but the flavours really do meld into a more complete whole the next day.

They are, admittedly, time-consuming to make -it takes me the better part of the afternoon to make a batch- however, if you have a few extra pairs of helping hands, you can tackle three or four heads of cabbage in the time it takes to process one on your own: all you need to do is organise a cabbage roll-making party!

Bon app'!

P.S. Don't worry about the left-over cabbage: a scrumptious recipe will follow shortly. The cabbage core will need to be used up pretty quickly since it is partially cooked. Use it in any cooked dish, like this braised cabbage.



  1. Ooooh, I love stuffed cabbage rolls. I've never made it before. Thanks for posting the recipe.


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