The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage | The Jewish Week | Food & Wine

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The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage

Stuffed cabbage seems easy, but things can go wrong.
The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage

This stuffed cabbage boasts a modern twist: Quinoa is part of the filling. Amy Kritzer/JW

about 10 rolls

30 min

2 hrs 30 min

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This is the next installment in our series The Remix, in which we seek to gently rework the more challenging dishes in the Jewish culinary canon. With a little bit of love, we’re convinced we can make any dish delicious, even ones that seem a bit bizarre to the modern palate.

Stuffed cabbage, also known as cabbage rolls for its cylindrical shape, is one of my favorite comfort foods. Bubbe, always a bit health conscious, made hers with ground turkey and a sweet tomato sauce just right for a kid’s taste. We would lick our plates clean every time.

Cabbage has been a staple of the Jewish diet for nearly 2,000 years. Lucky us! It has a short growing period and is easy to cultivate, making it a versatile peasant food. It’s  commonly seen in sauerkraut, stews, blintzes, or slaws and, of course, as cabbage rolls.

The Turks were likely the first to add (a little) meat and (a lot) of barley or rice to cabbage and roll it together, but the dish spread throughout Europe, and even Middle Eastern Jews created their own version of that ur-dish. Then Jews of various regions tweaked the dish to their personal palates. Romanian and Polish Jews went with a savory sauce, while Ukraine went for a sweet-and-sour flavor and when the dish came to America, we added more sweetness with raisins and brown sugar and more meat. What a country! (

Stuffed cabbage may sound easy enough. Mix filling, roll up in cabbage, braise, eat. But things can go wrong. Rolls fall apart. Sauces are too thin, or overly sweet. This version is sweet and sour, with brown sugar (no ketchup here!), lemon and vinegar to make a complex sauce that only gets better the next day. Cinnamon and cumin add another layer not found in blander recipes. I also used quinoa instead of rice so it’s gluten free. That way no one is deprived of stuffed cabbage! Here are our tips to stuffed cabbage success.

  1. Separating the leaves. Removing the leaves from the cabbage without ripping them can be tricky, but not impossible. There are two schools of thought on the best way to do this. I boil the whole cabbage in a large pot of water until the cabbage changes color and the leaves start to loosen. Let cool, and the leaves peel right off. Another way, if you plan ahead, is to freeze the cabbage for a day, and then let it defrost for a few hours. This wilts the leaves so that they come off easily.
  2. Trim. Your cabbage leaves will have a thick stem piece in the center. Trim that down to avoid any hard bites while noshing.
  3. Stuff, but don’t over stuff. Dry your leaves well an add a few tablespoons of filling towards the bottom of the leaf. Too much, and you won’t be able to roll it, too little, and you’ll have more cabbage than stuffing. And we don’t want that.
  4. Tight roll. Fold the bottom part of the leaf over the stuffing and then fold the sides in. Roll it up tightly like an Eastern European burrito. A tight roll is key to not having your rolls fall apart.
  5. Seasoning is essential. Stuffed cabbage is notorious for being too sweet. (I’m looking at you, ketchup.) This version has balance with tart vinegar and lemon juice, and some earthy cinnamon and cumin. If you absolutely must, add your raisins.

      6.  Low and slow. Simmer your cabbage rolls on the stovetop on the lowest heat setting. This allows the cabbage to break down and the filling to cook but not dry out.

      7.  Even better the next day! Make your stuffed cabbage a day ahead of time. The flavors will intensify and the sauce will thicken. If your sauce is still a little runny, remove the rolls                            and simmer the sauce on the stovetop over medium high for 10 minutes until it reduces and thickens. Add the rolls back in, heat it up and serve to lucky eaters.

Amy Kritzer is a food writer and recipe developer in Austin, Texas. She blogs at What Jews Wanna Eat.



1 large cabbage (about 3 - 3 ½ pounds)

½ cup dried quinoa (cook to make 1.5 cups)

1 pound ground beef (I used 80/20)

1 egg, whisked

2 garlic cloves, minced

¾ cup white onion, small diced

14 ounce can diced tomatoes

28 ounce can crushed tomatoes

½ cup onion, small diced

1/3 cup brown sugar

½ cup white wine or champagne vinegar

Juice from 1 lemon

1 tablespoon paprika

½ tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt and cracked black pepper

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

Parsley for garnish

  1. Take a large stockpot and fill it with water and bring it to a boil. Carefully place cabbage in the water (it’s hot!) and boil for a few minutes until the leaves start to fall off and the cabbage darkens in color. Let cool.
  2. While cabbage is cooling, mix together the filling. In a large bowl mix together cooked quinoa, beef, egg, garlic, ¾ cup white onion, 1/3 cup crushed tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper. Set aside.
  3. In a separate large bowl, mix together sauce ingredients. Mix diced tomatoes, remaining crushed tomatoes, ½ cup onion, brown sugar, white wine vinegar, lemon juice, paprika, cinnamon, cumin, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper or to taste.
  4. Once cabbage is cool, peel off 10-12 large leaves. Chop remaining cabbage into small-diced pieces. Trim down the stem from the leaves, careful not to cut through the leaf and then dry off the leaf. Add about 4-5 tablespoons of filling near the bottom of the leaf. Fold the bottom over the filling, then fold in sides. Roll up like a burrito. Repeat with other leaves.
  5. Pour about half the sauce onto the bottom of a large Dutch oven, top with cabbage pieces and top that with rolls. It’s okay if the rolls overlap a bit. Pour remaining sauce on top. Bring mixture to a simmer, lower to low heat, cover, and cook for 90 minutes to two hours until cabbage is tender.
  6. Let cool and refrigerate overnight. The next day, if the sauce is thin remove cabbage rolls and simmer sauce for about 10 minutes until reduced and thick. Adjust salt with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Garnish with parsley and serve!
  8. Can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to three months.
  • The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage
    The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage
  • The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage
    The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage
  • The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage
    The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage
  • The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage
    The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage
  • The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage
    The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage
  • The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage
    The Remix: Stuffed Cabbage