Cabbage rolls make a simple and healthy alternative to snack or appetizer rolls made with pastry, such as egg rolls. Although many cabbage roll recipes call for meat, you can make them without it. Once prepared, the rolls may be served cold or cooked, depending on the recipe.
The cabbage roll doesn’t have a specific inventor. You can find recipes for cabbage rolls everywhere from Australia to Alabama. Cabbage is a staple food that grows quickly, making it common across the globe. Even ancient Romans ate cabbage. It’s understandable then, that many regions around the world have meat-filled and vegetarian ways to stuff a cabbage leaf.
While there are many varieties of leafy cabbage, four can be found in most grocery stores -- green, red, Savoy and Chinese. Green cabbage tends to be the best type for cabbage rolls, partially because it's pliable. Red cabbage is thicker than its green counterpart, making it harder to roll. Savoy cabbage is too thin to hold stuffing and is noted for its particularly crinkly leaves. Chinese cabbage varities, such as bok choy, tends to be unsuitable for cabbage rolls, due to its thick and stiff spine.
Ideally, steam the cabbage leaves first to keep them from breaking as you make your rolls. In fact, many recipes call for this step before stuffing. Lightly steaming the leaves helps soften them up and makes them more pliable. However, steamed leaves are delicate and need a tender touch. To steam, add a little water to a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Place the cabbage leaves in a steaming basket and place it in the saucepan. Cover the saucepan with a lid and allow the leaves to steam for a few minutes. Remove the leaves from the basket and let them cool a few minutes before rolling.
To make a cabbage roll, start with a large, pliable leaf. Place the filling down the middle of the leaf, leaving a few inches bare along the top and bottom edges. Fold over the top and bottom edges of the leaf. Tuck and wrap the leaf sides to close the roll and keep the filling in place. Secure the cabbage roll with a toothpick if desired.
Steaming, a common method for preparing cabbage rolls, cooks the leaves just enough to make them warm but not enough that they start falling apart. Like steaming the raw leaves, the process starts with a few inches of boiling water in a large saucepan. Place the cabbage rolls seam side down in a steaming basket. Stack the rolls, seam side down, to fit them into the basket. Place the basket in the saucepan and cover with lid. Steam the rolls for a few minutes, or as long as needed to warm ingredients. Let the rolls cool for a few minutes before serving.
You can put almost anything into a meat-free cabbage roll. Wrap apple coleslaw in a raw or steamed leaf and serve it cold to create a refreshing treat. Stuff cooked rice and tomato sauce in cabbage leaves and bake them to provide a warm and filling meal. Stir fry carrots, onions, celery and mushrooms in soy sauce. Wrap the mixture in cabbage leaves and steam them for a salty supper. Saute sliced tofu and bell peppers in red pepper sauce. Roll the stuffing in leaves and serve the rolls for a spicy lunch.
- University of Illinois Extension: Cabbage
- Mediterranean Vegetables; Clifford A. Wright
- Around the Roman Table; Patrick Faas
- Photo Credit John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images