Cabbage Rolls – A Family Recipe

As with many Canadians, I was born in Canada, but I have a mixed ancestry. My dad’s side of the family is Ukrainian. I remember growing up and hearing grandparents, aunts and uncles speaking Ukrainian, although I knew nothing of what was being said. It is interesting how from generation to generation the retaining of cultural traditions seems to decrease. I do not speak Ukrainian and there is much of Ukrainian culture that is not part of my life. Truly, I am more Canadian than Ukrainian. If there is one aspect of ancestral cultures that seems to be the last to leave people, it is the food.

Families of Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Italian and Jamaican heritage will hold onto the food from back home for many generations. People from Ukraine are no different. I love big family holiday dinners. Perogies, kielbasa, cabbage rolls, mushroom gravy are some examples of great Ukrainian food that we would have at big family get togethers. Since I have started this food blog, I have had a strong desire to learn how to make these great dishes that bring back many memories. It is important for me to learn the actual family recipes that goes back generations.

A few weeks ago, my parents came up to visit. I used this opportunity to get my mom to teach me how to make cabbage rolls. This was the same recipe she learned from my dad’s mom, who learned from her mom and so on. In the end, it wasn’t that hard to make and the taste brought back so many memories! I cannot wait to teach my kids how to make these cabbage rolls to keep this family tradition going.


Instead of boiling the cabbage, we keep it in the freezer. Once thawed, it is easy to handle and actually stays together better than if it was boiled. Cut the spine off the larger cabbage leaves. Place them on the bottom of a large baking pan.

Hold the cabbage leaf in your hand. Spoon some filling into the centre of the leaf (larger leaves can obviously hold more filling than smaller leaves). Fold the bottom part of the leaf up over the stuffing and tuck it under the stuffing a little bit. Fold the right side of the leaf over toward the other. Roll the leaf and stuffing from bottom up. With your finger, press the remaining part of the leaf into the cabbage roll.

It takes a bit of practice to make the cabbage rolls but once you get the hang of it, you can do it quite quickly.

Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 4 hours
Servings: 6 -8
Author: Steve Cylka
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Ingredients

  • 1 head of cabbage , frozen then thawed
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 onion , minced
  • 4 strips bacon , minced
  • 2 garlic cloves , minced
  • 2 cups rice
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1 can tomato soup
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2-3 cups tomato juice
  • salt , pepper and/or other spices

Instructions

  1. Have the cabbage in the freezer for at least a week. To thaw, put the cabbage in the fridge for a couple days. On the day of making cabbage rolls, slowly peel one cabbage leaf off at a time. Cut/shave the large part of the spine off the one end of the leaf.
  2. In a large saucepan, fry the bacon, onion and garlic until the onion is transparent and the bacon is starting to crisp up a bit.
  3. In a separate pot, put the dry rice in plenty of boiling water. Cook for 8-10 minutes. Drain the rice and then rinse.
  4. Put the rice back in the pot with bacon and onion mixture along with 1/2 cup water. Boil until the rice evaporates.
  5. Add the ground beef, ground pork and any seasonings to your preference, to the rice and cook at medium heat. Stir it constantly to ensure rice doesn't stick.
  6. Stir in half the can of tomato soup and remove from the heat.
  7. Make the cabbage rolls - Look at the pictures above with the details that show how to roll up the cabbage roll.
  8. Lay the cabbage rolls in a baking tray. Pour the diced tomatoes over top of the cabbage rolls. Pour the tomato juice on top.
  9. Bake at 325F for 2 hours.

 

31 comments

  1. MMMM.. Delish!! Love this dish… We always make this for Holidays..

  2. Now that looks really good! I love cabbage rolls.

  3. I’ve been anxious to see this recipe. The flavors sound so wonderful. Wish I had some for lunch today!

  4. I know these from growing up in Germany, too. They’re always a little heavy for me, so I like to reduce the rice and substitte more veggies, but your leaves turned out beautiful! 🙂

  5. I love that food is often carried on through the generations even if other customs are not. My swedish family still makes kringle during the holidays and they LOVE them some pickled herring. Very cool that you have this recipe to carry on traditions!

    • totally agree maggie! I am so happy that I have it and can teach my kids. I have had other cabbage rolls other places and while good (even great), there is nothing like having the taste of home – the taste you remember.

  6. Yum, I LOVE cabbage rolls! These look perfect.

  7. I love cabbage rolls! My mom makes excellent steamed ones that just make me smile. I’m so glad that you learned the recipe from your mom and will be able to pass it down to your kids 🙂 Thanks for the freezing tip on the cabbage leaves; my mom boils them so, I’ll have to try your tip next time.

    • yes, freezing the cabbage is a great way to prepare the leaves. There is no change in the texture once they are baked. You would never know that they were not boiled.

      • Do you freeze them apart or the whole head? I’m doing this sunday I am so excited to use this new tip! How much easier!!

      • I tried freezing whole cabbage and then made cabbage rolls but the cabbage was sooooo tough you couldn’t cut it with a knife. I bought summer cabbage at local farm and it was nice fresh cabbage. I have made the cabbage rolls and froze them. They were a little tough but not as bad as freezing the head.
        So I’m not a fan of freezing the head of cabbage. Perhaps I did something wrong , could maybe have been frozen too long, would that make a difference?

    • I love cabbage rolls and could have them far more often than I do. I also make a ‘lazy man’s’ cabbage roll casserole with everything chopping up together. Just thinking about that, I should make that again soon and throw that on the blog.

  8. I think I’ve tried them once before in a Serbian house.
    Back in Greece we have a similar traditional recipe but the rolls are way smaller and with different stuffing and sauce..
    anyway, I love your version!

  9. I’ve never had pork in my cabbage rolls, but I bet it gives nice tenderness and flavor! These look excellent~

  10. I sent you a comment through Foodbuzz, too, Steve. I am totally blown away by this post. I grew up in a Slovak/Rusyn and Polish family in Pittsburgh. This is my kind of food. I love the frozen cabbage idea. They look just awesome. I posted this on my Facebook page tonight. You are already getting “likes.” Great job, and can you Fedex me a pot full of these?

  11. and why have these never made an appearance at the SC meat extravaganza???

  12. I love your Mom’s cabbage rolls. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  13. I love these cabbage rolls! I grew up with stuffed cabbage in a sweet and sour tomato sauce with raisins and finally found a recipe similar to it – which I futzed with until it was as close to my Grandmother’s as I could get. Loving the bacon in your filling – I think I need to try that 🙂

  14. I love this – especially the part about keeping the cabbage in the freezer. I’ve always hated the boiling and peeling off the leaves bit LOL

  15. Just found this on Pinterest and was shocked to find out about the freezing of the cabbage! The boiling and peeling off the leaves is such a messy part of this recipe. I have been married for over 53 years and have taugh my boys to make stuffed cabbage. Can’t wait to try the frozen cabbage. When I make them, I use 2 heads of cabbage; 2 lbs total beef & pork; a large can of sauerkraut,rinsed & layered between rows of rolls; & only Campbell’s tomatoe soup,at least 8 cans + 4 cans water.

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