Cabbage rolls made the most traditional way, grandmother’s way, they are to-die-for. This recipe is the epitome of Ukrainian comfort food. Enjoy!
Cabbage rolls appear in the cuisines of many Eastern European countries. Typically, boiled cabbage leaves are stuffed with a savory meat and rice mixture, then topped with tomato sauce and sour cream and finished in the oven. However, like with many other dishes, each cook and culture has their own variation.
In my family, cabbage rolls, or “halupki,” are a staple during the holidays. You can expect a piping hot tray to be served on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Let’s get started!
How to Make Cabbage Rolls
Perhaps the most intimidating part about making cabbage rolls is the rolling! Fear not, this process is actually quite easy and the sturdiness of cabbage leaves makes them easy to work with.
Here are the steps needed to make cabbage rolls:
- Hold a cabbage leaf in your hand.
- Place a spoonful of filling on the bottom half of the cabbage leaf.
- Fold over one side of the cabbage leaf, securing the filling.
- Pinch the edges of the cabbage inside the cabbage roll.
Tip: Try to purchase the largest cabbage you can! The bigger the cabbage, the larger the leaves. This means you will have an easier time rolling. Also, be sure not to overfill your cabbage leaf! A large spoonful of filling is the sweet spot. Any more and you will have filling popping out of the sides.
What Sides go with Cabbage Rolls?
Cabbage rolls are pretty filling all on their own. However, when I am hosting, I like to serve them alongside a nice vegetable side dish. Here are some of my favorites:
- Vinaigrette Salad – A vinegary salad of beets, carrots and potatoes is a wonderful Eastern European sidekick to cabbage rolls!
- Classic Garden Salad – Keep it simple and whip up a nice garden salad with no frills.
- Marinated Mushrooms – These mushrooms make for the perfect appetizer or side dish. Make them the night before and allow them to marinate until it’s time to eat!
- Asparagus with Bacon – Bacon always elevates the flavor of veggies. This simple dish is sure to please.
Cabbage Rolls Sauce
My favorite part of this recipe is the sauce! Rich tomato sauce and sour cream come together to make the perfect combination of sweet and savory. As the dish bakes, it seeps wonderfully into each roll. Yum!
How to Store Cabbage Rolls
Cabbage rolls are one of those dishes that almost guarantee leftovers. We like to make a large batch and have some on hand for throughout the week. Here’s how to store and reheat them:
Refrigerate Cabbage Rolls
Cabbage rolls stay fresh for up to a week when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Reheat them in the microwave or on a preheated skillet set to medium-low heat.
Freeze Cabbage Rolls
If you plan on freezing cabbage rolls, prepare them all the way up until the point of baking. Store them in a Ziploc bag and be sure to remove as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn. When you are ready to eat, place them in a baking dish, cover them with sauce and bake them according to instructions.
Cabbage Rolls Sauce
- 1/2 cup tomato sauce
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 large onion cut in half rings
- Boil rice in a pot of salted water until it's cooked. Saute grated carrots and thinly cut onions with olive oil.
- Cool rice and carrots with onion, combine them together with the meat in a large bowl, add greens and spices, and mix well.
- Bring 1 gallon water to boil in a large deep pan, and place the cabbage in the pan. Boil for 2-3 minutes, cut and takeout the upper cabbage leaves, trying to keep them from braking. Repeat until the cabbage leaves are too small. Let the leaves cool.
- Cut out the hard part of the cabbage leaves by slicing each piece into two and removing the middle of the leaf
- Place cabbage leaf into your hand, add filling and fold over the cabbage leaf into a roll.
- Press the top of the pocket into the filling.
- Place the cabbage rolls into a ceramic pot, spaced tightly together.
- For the Sauce – preheat skillet with a bit of oil, add onion rings and saute until they are golden brown. Pour sour cream and tomato sauce into the pan. Combine everything together.
- Pour sauce over cabbage rolls. Bake them in an oven at 375F for 45 minutes.
- Serve the cabbage rolls while they are warm with a dollop of sour cream.
For a easier way I buy 1-2 cabbages, I throw them in the freezer for several days and I just thaw it and its ready to be used, without any boiling
Hey Lily- this is such a great tip! And I actually mention it in my other cabbage rolls recipe (the vegetarian one). It truly is THE best hack. Thank you for commenting!
I am hosting a cooking club dinner, I am assembling them the day before to cook day of. Once they are assembles do I leave the suace off until I bake them the next day?
Hi Kimberley- Yes, you can leave the sauce off until the next day OR you can even prepare them fully and then just reheat the next day, it's a pretty flexible recipe! Enjoy 🙂
Can you use Savoy cabbage or is the regular cabbage the best to use?
Hi Gail, I would recommend regular cabbage for this recipe. Enjoy!
Turned out perfect! Recipes are always soooo good! Thank you for this!
You're so welcome! Thank you for the feedback, Laura.
I think my buba used chopped up bacon in her recipe. Have you ever heard of that?
Hi David, I have not! But everyone has their secret ingredients or special additions, and maybe that was hers! 🙂
Hi Natalya what kind of rice works best? It's my first time making these.
Hi Lena - Just regular, short-grain rice will do the trick! Hope this helps.
Being from Odessa my grandmother put raisins in her sauce.
If adding raisins when would you put them in?
Hi Kazu, I have never tried this recipe with raisins, not even sure when is a good time to add them.
Can I freeze the finished product? Cooked or uncooked?
Hi Elena - If you plan on freezing cabbage rolls, prepare them all the way up until the point of baking. Store them in a Ziploc bag and be sure to remove as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn. When you are ready to eat, place them in a baking dish, cover them with sauce and bake them according to instructions. Hope this helps!
Is it 1 pound of beef and 1 pound of chicken? Or is it one pound total?
Hi Inna, a total of 1 lb of meat. Sometimes I like the extra protein so I double it up, the recipe will still be great. Hard to mess it up.
When you say "add greens and spices", what do you mean? I don't see any greens in the recipe.
Hi, what I mean is any additional herbs or spices that you want to add.
Thx for clarification
Yummy. We call it sarmale in Romania and we use porc instead of chicken and smoked sausage. But I like the idea of chicken
That sounds delicious as well Adriana. I hope you get to try this version as well.
1/2 lb or 1/2 cup of rice?
It is 1/2 lb of rice.
Does the ground meat have to be cooked beforehand? Or just the rice,carrots,and onions?
I don't cook ground meat prior to making cabbage rolls. Just the rice, onions and carrots.
I usually use ground beef not chicken and my mother in law always use ground pork
Sometimes I use pork too 🙂
Can you use iron cast dish instead
Yes, I often you iron cast oven too.
Hi, I was wondering can I freeze stuffed bell peppers as well?
Bell peppers loose their texture when you freeze them. I don't really like freezing them.
what size ceramic pot should be, a shallow one? and also do you have to cover with foil when baking?
I have a deep one rectangular one and one with a a lid. You can also use Dutch oven too.
If you don't have a lid, do wrap them up with foil.
I hope this helps 😉
Hi Natalya, thank you for this delicious looking recipe!
I am preparing to make this for the first time and wanted to clarify for myself whether you need to use a lid if cooking in a Dutch oven or not?
Sorry if I’m not understanding, but I do not want to ruin the recipe!
Thank you! 🙂
Hey Rose, this would depend on your preference. We love using a dutch oven.
Do you use the lid of a dutch oven or leave it off? would a 12" cast iron skillet work?
Hi Kimberly- cast iron skillet works as long as its enameled and has some depth to it, so that all the cabbage rolls and sauce fit. I'd recommend using a dutch oven; a traditional cast iron skillet wouldn't work as it's most likely not deep enough and the acidity of the tomato sauce isn't good for the iron skillet. And yes, do cover with a lid while baking, foil works too. Hope this helps, enjoy! 🙂