Preparing European Stuffed Cabbage Rolls—The Right Way

For some foods, like potatoes, there is no wrong way to make them. For other foods, like the popular European dishes featuring stuffed cabbage, there are a lot of wrong ways to make them. The stuffed cabbage rolls are extremely common, but there are a number of interesting variations across Europe. If you are interested in some of the most interesting and enticing ways stuffed cabbage rolls are made, here are a few variations that are sure to  you grab your attention.

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Some Background Information:

Cabbage should almost always be stored in cold water before preparation. Almost all cabbage rolls feature strong similarities: cabbage (obviously!) being stuffed, in some way, baked and then topped with sauce. The variation is in how the leaves are prepared (boiled or peeled off cold) and in what the filling contains.

Generally speaking, you need to remove the leaves from the core. You do not want stems in your cabbage roll. The filling (or stuffing) should be a savory mixture of grains, of rice, some meat, and a light sauce to keep the inside moist. In most cases, you will want to place a small amount of stuffing on a prepared cabbage leaf and then fold or shape the leaf according to national custom. Once done, place the cabbage roll, seam side down, and bake.

Here are a few interesting variations!

Bulgarian Stuffed Cabbage:

The Bulgarian national dish of stuffed cabbage roll is called “Sarmi.” This variation of the stuffed cabbage roll is one of the most popular versions out there, truly a foodie’s delight. The basic ingredients are cabbage, obviously, stuffed with lean pork, veal, rice, and yogurt or sauerkraut. These rolls are usually topped off with a light tomato and paprika sauce.

Making these stuffed cabbage rolls is not that difficult. Take the cabbage, cut out its core and then boil it in hot water. When tender enough, pluck the whole leaves off the cabbage. Heat olive oil in a pan, then add the stuffing: Circle B Ranch ground pork, other meat of choice, the rice, and etc. Place a few leaves down as a base and put the cooled stuffing on top, then wrap excess cabbage leaf around it. Wrap until the stuffing cannot escape and then cook, again, in a pot. This recipe should take around one hour to complete.

These stuffed cabbage rolls are eaten as a main course in Bulgaria, and for a good reason; the mixture of the rice, pork, and veal make this among the most savory variations of cabbage roll commonly made in Europe.

Polish Stuffed Cabbage:

The Polish version of stuffed cabbage rolls is called, “Gołąbki,” which is pronounced ‘Gaw-Wohmp-kee.’ Similar to sarmi, these rolls are stuffed with pork, mature beef and rice, though it is common for the rice to be replaced with barley and these rolls are often cooked on a stovetop until tender. Instead of using cool cabbage, bring the cabbage to a boil. Having done so, place a small amount of the meat mixture into the cabbage leaf, place seam side down and bake for 25-30 minutes. Gołąbki should be smaller in size than Sarmi.

This Polish dish is considered both a comfort food and national fare. The Polish version is very popular throughout Eastern Europe, though it usually a lot more of a casual meal than its Bulgarian counterpart.

Greek Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:

For something a little different, you can attempt the Lahanodolmathes, a Greek stuffed cabbage roll that often uses lamb or goat instead of beef or pork. Similar to the Sarmi, it usually comes with yogurt included in the filler which offers a smooth texture along with the savory meat.

The major difference here is that you would substitute the beef filling with lamb. Otherwise, Lahanodolmathes is similar to its Bulgarian and Polish counterparts. For best results with the tomato sauce, let a sauce simmer for thirty minutes to an hour without a lid to thicken, stirring as needed. Season to taste and pour over the finished stuffed cabbage rolls.

These traditional cabbage rolls are easier to roll than many of their counterparts, and the rolls are usually covered in a heavy tomato sauce to accent the flavors. Adding a more robust tomato sauce gives this roll a far more robust and Mediterranean flavor. For a fresh tomato flavor, try using Marina’s Italian Style Tomato Sauce.

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Kosher Stuffed Cabbage:

Though European in origin, the Kosher stuffed cabbage, Holishes, offer an obvious deviation from their counterparts: no pork! Less pork means more room for beef, with eggs, matzoh meal and rice commonly rounding out the stuffing recipe. You can find an interesting recipe here if you would like to try to make these yourself. Holishkes are actually rolled, instead of shaped. Use a similar method to the Gołąbki, but instead of tucking excess leaf, roll the leaf over. Place the rolled cabbage leaf seam side down when baking, of course.

Common and popular among the Jewish communities, Holishkes are a staple food that started as a special harvest meal for Sukkot that became a common dish year round. Topped with a sweet and sour sauce based on raisins, this variation of stuffed cabbages really offers something very different than many of its counterparts.

Vegetarian Variation:

If you are looking for a vegetarian variation on the stuffed cabbage roll, there are a number of interesting directions you can take. While many of the more common recipes are not traditional, they do offer a healthy alternative to those who like stuffed cabbage rolls but do not want the meat. Rice is joined by yellow onion, ripe tomato and seasoned to taste with dill and parsley. This fresh garden variety is a strong choice for those looking for a lighter meal.

Final Thoughts:

Stuffed cabbage rolls are a surprisingly versatile food that can be used in a number of different ways. These traditional European recipes offer a relatively easy meal choice that you can make with a little bit of practice and the right ingredients.

By following these traditional recipes, you should be able to recreate genuine European cuisine without breaking the bank or breaking your back. An interesting, exotic but healthy meal is much easier than you thought it could be! 

About the Author:

This great guest post and delicious recipes were provided to us by  Mike Jones from Ice Maker Experts.

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