Cabbage Rolls – A Family Recipe

These amazing cabbage rolls are a family recipe that has been on many generations. They are a complete meal and also great as part of a holiday meal for Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving!

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.

Tall picture of a plate of cabbage rolls

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.

Step by step photos for how to make a cabbage roll.

How to make a cabbage roll

  • 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.

How long to bake in the oven

Baking the cabbage rolls is the time when all the flavours come together. Pour the diced tomatoes on top of the cabbage rolls and pour some tomato juice on top. Bake in a 325F oven for 2 hours. I like to serve cabbage rolls with a dollop of sour cream.

A close up picture of a plate of cabbage rolls.

Other great recipes

Over the years, I have learned many different recipes that my mom made when I was a kid. Here are some of my favourites! 

Cabbage Rolls - A Family Recipe

A close up picture of a plate of cabbage rolls.
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Cabbage rolls are a classic dish for many Eastern European countries. This recipe is the version from my Ukrainian family. Made with ground beef and ground pork in the rice stuffing.
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 4 hours
Servings: 14 cabbage rolls (approx.)

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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • In a separate pot, put the dry rice in plenty of boiling water. Cook for 8-10 minutes. Drain the rice and then rinse.
  • Put the rice back in the pot with bacon and onion mixture along with 1/2 cup water. Boil until the water evaporates.
  • 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.
  • Stir in half the can of tomato soup and remove from the heat.
  • Make the cabbage rolls - Look at the pictures above with the details that show how to roll up the cabbage roll.
  • Lay the cabbage rolls in a baking tray. Pour the diced tomatoes over top of the cabbage rolls. Pour the tomato juice on top.
  • Bake at 325F for 2 hours.

Nutrition

Per serving:

Calories: 295kcalCarbohydrates: 29gProtein: 12gFat: 13gSaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 38mgSodium: 176mgFiber: 2gSugar: 5g

Nutrition Disclaimer

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Did you try this recipe?

Leave a comment and let me know how it turned out. Or, take a picture to share on Instagram and tag me @theblackpeppercorn.

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42 comments

  • My father was from Poland and my mom born in Canada, grandparent from Poland..my father insisted my mom used sour cabbage.like he was used to in Poland. Mom used to tell him too expensive, so he would give her money to get it. I did not know for 25 years, mom cheated and just used sauerkraut😀😂.our family make cabbage rolls very different and I added something else 15 years ago. And yes I have used frozen cabbage, just takes longer to cook.i use half cooked rice, lots, large amount of chopped bacon, onion, and the ingredient I added is polish or UK garlic sausage grated. Sòooooo good,
    Cabbage leaves on bottom, layer of rolls, sauerkraut, continue layering, and then add canned diced tomatoes, tomatoes juice or tomatoes soup, tomatoes sauce whatever you want, cover and place in 350 oven, check once in awhile, might need more juice. BEST EVER

    • Reply
    • Thank you so much for sharing your family method for cabbage rolls. I know of some other people who use sour cabbage as well. We never did, but we definitely made some pierogies with sauerkraut. So good!

      • Reply
  • I don’t know if anyone has pointed out a typo to you as of yet – but in the Instructions in number four you
    “ Put the rice back in the pot with bacon and onion mixture along with 1/2 cup water. Boil until the rice evaporates.”
    Should it not say “Boil until the WATER evaporates.

    • Reply
  • I will try freezing my cabbage this time. Do you cover your pan when you are baking them?

    • Reply
    • Yes, I do cover the pan when I am baking the cabbage rolls. I hope freezing the cabbage works well for you. I find it so much easier to roll the cabbages this way.

      • Reply
  • Hi Steve,
    My back ground is Polish / Ukrainian my folks came from the Lvov Region of Ukraine and were taken to Germany during the war to work
    on Farms, after the war they were at a displaced persons camp near Danish border, We emigrated to Australia and years later 1968 I went
    to New Zealand met my wife, married and stayed.
    Growing up my Mother bless her introduced us to all the beautiful varieties of Ukrainian food and had these Holubsi or Cabbage rolls often
    and my absolute favourite is Pierohi/Perogi though I do my own version which has mashed potatoes, fried Saurkraut, fried Bacon pieces and
    fried Onions all mixed together, they are divine.
    Bach to the rolls we steamed them and did the tomato thing also sprinkled sugar on them and my favourite way was fried in butter. All that
    frying you would think I’m a blimp but no all in proportion.
    Love your blog.
    P.S. Is there anywhere in Canada that you can buy a folding gadget to seal Pirohi/Pierogi, all I can get in New Zealand is those horrible
    plastic dumpling folders. Any help appreciated. Cheers Richard

    • Reply

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