This tutorial is all you need to make the BEST vegetarian stuffed cabbage rolls! You'll love the Mediterranean-style rice filling with tomatoes, onions, loads of fresh herbs an a few warm spices. This recipe comes straight from my mother's kitchen; a one-pot meal that is delicious and comforting. Vegan and Gluten Free! And you can prepare them a bit in advance, so they're ready to cook any night of the week.
If you haven't made cabbage rolls before, don't worry. I have the step-by-step for you below along with a video for how to make stuffed cabbage rolls (toward the bottom of this post).
My quick unstuffed cabbage rolls are great for weeknights, but when I want the real deal, I turn to my mom's recipe for vegetarian cabbage rolls. It's a childhood favorite; so comforting and tasty.
These are quite different from the large, meat-heavy cabbage rolls that are most familiar to us here in the States. These cabbage rolls are prepared Mediterranean-style with a tasty vegetarian rice filling with tomatoes, onions, fresh herbs and spices.
You do not need to heat up the oven, these cabbage rolls are cooked stove-top. You can do most of the prep, including stuffing and assembling the cabbage rolls the night before (I'll tell you all about this in just a bit.)
How to Prepare Cabbage for Stuffing
This recipe uses green cabbage, which is readily available almost year-round, but especially during the fall and winter months.
To make cabbage rolls, you need to start by preparing the cabbage--softening and separating the cabbage leaves, then cutting them to the desired size.
In this recipe, we start by simply blanching the whole head of cabbage in boiling water. The first layer of leaves will begin to soften in a couple minutes or so, I use a pair of tongs to remove them. The process is simply repeated from there (be sure to watch the video below.)
Once the cabbage leaves have cooled, we cut them to the desired size from there. My mom likes to serve cabbage rolls that are bite-sized and easy to manage. They are absolutely divine!
What's in the cabbage rolls filling?
The secret to these Mediterranean-style stuffed cabbage rolls is in the filling. Like I said earlier, it's a vegetarian rice filling that's big on Mediterranean flavors from fresh herbs and spices. Here's what's in it:
-Fresh herbs: lots of chopped fresh parsley and dill
- Spices: a combination of cumin, allspice and a touch of cayenne, add depth and flavor
- Extra virgin olive oil (I used Private Reserve Greek extra virgin olive oil)
- Tomato sauce and a bit of water. The liquid here helps the rice cook properly
Let's walk through the step-by-step for how to make these Mediterranean-style stuffed cabbage rolls:
Step-by-step for Vegetarian stuffed cabbage rolls:
(Video and print-friendly recipe to follow)
1. Prepare the cabbage leaves. Remove and discard the first couple leaves of cabbage. Cut just a little bit of the end about ¼" inch or so and place the cabbage in boiling water. Cook for a couple of minutes until the outer layer of cabbage leaves is tender. Remove, using a pair of tongs. Repeat the process until the last layer of leaves.
Set aside to cool briefly. Once cooled, cut each cabbage leaf into halves or thirds, removing any thick veins.
2. Now prepare the rice stuffing mixture. In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice, shredded onions, herbs, spices, oil, ½ can of tomato sauce and ¼ cup water. Mix together with a spoon.
3. Prepare a Dutch oven or cooking pot. Lightly oil a large Dutch oven or heavy cooking pot. Line the bottom with a few cabbage leaves, sliced onions and sliced tomatoes (this serves as a nice bed for our small cabbage leaves.)
4. Now begin to roll the cabbage leaves. Take a piece of cabbage and place on a flat surface, coarse side up. Add about 1 teaspoon of the rice stuffing mixture on the end of the leaf closest to you.
Roll up the cabbage leaf to completely enclose the stuffing. Fold in sides as your roll. Repeat with the remaining cabbage pieces or leaves.
5. Arrange cabbage rolls in prepared pot. Layer the cabbage rolls, seam-side down, in the prepared Dutch oven or pot.
Top the cabbage rolls with with the remaining ½ can of tomato sauce, and about 1 ½ to 1 ¾ cups of water (water should barley reach the top layer of cabbage rolls). Sprinkle a pinch more ground cumin.
6. Get ready to cook the cabbage rolls. One helpful tip from my mom: top the cabbage rolls with a small plate, this keeps them well in place and prevents them from opening up or getting messy.
Cook on high heat for 5-7 minutes until the liquid reduces to half. Reduce the heat to low. Leaving the small plate in and cover the pot with its own lid. Cook for 30 minutes then remove the plate, but cover again with the lid only.
Cook for another 15 minutes or until the liquid has been absorbed completely and the rice filling is cooked through.
7. If you're not in a hurry, leave the cabbage rolls undisturbed for about 10 to 15 minutes, then transfer to serving platter or individual plates.
Can I prepare these cabbage rolls ahead of time?
It does take a bit of time to roll the cabbage leaves, so you can absolutely do this part one night in advance. Assemble the stuffed cabbage leaves in the pot you intend to cook them in but do not add the sauce or water until you are ready to cook.
Cover tightly and refrigerate. When you are ready to cook, top the cabbage rolls with tomato sauce and add water. Follow cooking instructions.
What to Serve Along?
I often serve these cabbage rolls as a vegetarian main. To start the meal, I add a big salad like Fattoush or Balela and a hearty Mediterranean dip like Baba Ganoush.
Here's the Video for How to Make these Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls
More Recipes to Try:
Quick Roasted Tomatoes with Thyme and Feta
Greek Boneless Leg of Lamb (slow cooker or braised)
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Vegetarian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
- Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
- Yield: serves 6 to10 1x
Mediterranean-style stuffed cabbage rolls with a vegetarian rice filling, packed with fresh herbs, tomatoes, onions and spices. Be sure to watch the video just above and review the step-by-step photos.
- 1 medium green cabbage
- 1 cup long-grain rice
- ½ cup shredded yellow onion
- 1 tomato, chopped or diced
- ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
- ½ cup chopped fresh dill
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin, more for later
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper, more to taste
- ½ tsp ground allspice
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (see our Greek olive oil option here)
- 1 15-oz can tomato sauce, divided
- 1 medium yellow onion sliced
- 1-2 Roma tomato sliced
- Remove and discard the first couple leaves of cabbage. Wash in cold water. Cut approx ¼" off the bottom of the head and place the whole head of cabbage in boiling water. Boil about 2 minutes. Peel off the softened leaves, using a pair of tongs. Continue the same process, peeling off the blanched layers of cabbage leaves as they soften. Set aside to cool briefly.
- Once cooled, cut each cabbage leaf into halves or thirds, removing any thick veins.
- Now prepare the rice stuffing mixture. In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice, shredded onions, chopped tomato, herbs, salt and pepper, spices, oil, ½ can of tomato sauce and ¼ cup water. Mix together with a spoon.
- Lightly oil a large Dutch oven or heavy cooking pot. Line the bottom with the sliced onions and sliced tomatoes.
- Take a piece of cabbage and place on a flat surface, coarse side up. Add 1 teaspoon (more if leaves are larger) of the rice stuffing mixture at the end of the leaf closest to you (see photo). Roll up the leaf to completely enclose the stuffing. Repeat with the remaining cabbage.
- Layer the cabbage rolls, seam-side down, in the prepared Dutch oven/pot. Top with the remaining ½ can of tomato sauce, and about 1 ½ to 1 ¾ cups of water (water should barely reach the top layer of cabbage rolls). Add a pinch more ground cumin.
- Top the cabbage rolls with a small plate. Cook on high heat for 5-7 minutes until the liquid reduces to half. Reduce the heat to low. Leaving the small plate in, and cover the pot with its own lid. Cook for 30 minutes, then remove the plate but cover with the lid only. Cook for another 15 minutes or until the liquid has been completely absorbed and the rice stuffing mixture is cooked through.
- If you're not in a hurry, leave the cabbage rolls undisturbed before transferring to a serving platter or individual plates. Enjoy!
- Cook's Tips for Preparing Ahead: It does take a bit of time to roll the cabbage leaves, so you can absolutely do this part one night in advance. Assemble the stuffed cabbage leaves in the pot you intend to cook them in but do not add the sauce or water until you are ready to cook.Cover tightly and refrigerate. When you are ready to cook, top the cabbage rolls with tomato sauce and add water. Follow cooking instructions.
- Cook's Tip: These cabbage rolls are smaller. You will have a large pot of them to feed a small crowd as a side dish. As a vegetarian entree, you can easily feed up to 6 people with sides and salads (see suggestions above)
- Leftovers: Store leftovers in the fridge in a tight-lid container for 3 to 4 days. Warm over medium heat, adding a little bit of liquid if needed.
- Try our Private Reserve Greek extra virgin olive oil (from organically grown and processed Koroneiki olives)
- Don't miss our Ultimate Mediterranean Spice Bundle (quality all-natural and organic spices). Visit our SHOP!
- Prep Time: 20 mins
- Cook Time: 45 mins
- Category: Entree
- Method: Stove-top
- Cuisine: Mediterranean
Keywords: Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls, How to Make Cabbage Rolls, Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
*This post originally appeared on The Mediterranean Dish in 2015 and has been recently updated with new information and media for readers' benefit. Enjoy!
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Help…I made the recipe exactly as stated. The taste is great, however the rice didn’t cook, it’s crunchy. So I cooked them a second time following the directions. I just had one and it’s still crunchy. I don’t want to throw them out… what should I do?
These were very good. The only changes I made was I omitted the cayenne pepper and the oil.
I cooked these in the instantpot. I put 1 cup of water in the bottom and put the stuffed cabbage
rolls on the rack. I put a third of the rolls, then put a third of the sauce and repeated twice.I also increased
the sauce by about a cup (I used spaghetti sauce). Cooked for 18 minutes on high pressure and then turned
off the instantpot and left for 15 minutes and then did a quick release. The only thing I would do
differently next time was partially cook the rice. I used brown rice.
Thank you so much for sharing, Debbie! Very helpful!
Why the plate?
Hi, Heather. The plate keeps them in place and prevents them from opening up or getting messy.
What can I substitute instead of rice, and how will it change the cooking time?
Hello! I've heard of people trying it with riced cauliflower, but I've never done that before myself, so it's hard for me to advise. I typically prefer these with rice.
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Thanks for the heads up, Reina. We'll take a look.
I have had cabbage rolls growing up as did my husband but we were never fond of the ways our mothers made them so I was always reluctant to make it for the two of till I decided to try your recipe and you blew our taste buds. Hubby said these were so much better than what his mom made and I had to agree they were better than my mom’s as well. Shhh don’t tell our moms this! A lot work goes into it but we enjoyed it throughly and will make it again. Thanks so much for your wonderful version of cabbage rolls.
WOW! What a compliment! Thank you both!!!
Hi Suzy! I made this dish a couple of days ago and it's ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS! Cabbage has never tasted so good! It was also very fun to make.
I wil definitelyl be making this regularly from now and will have a look at your other veggie recipes, which also look delicious.
Thank you for sharing. x
So glad to hear you loved it, Samantha!
RICE IS UNCOOKED CORRECT?!
Hi, Carla! That is correct. You start with uncooked rice here.
How did you make the tomato sauce please?
Hi, Cheryl! For this recipe, I simply use canned tomato sauce, ready-made. Hope that helps!
Can I use cooked leftover rice and reduce cooking time?
I have not tried that, Neeta. But it could very well work.
I don't have a dutch oven! Can I put it in the oven instead of on the stove top? 🙂
Hi Jessica, you can use any stove-safe pot here. This recipe is a stove-top recipe. Enjoy