Savory vegan cabbage rolls are filled with a flavorful mixture of onions, garlic, lentils, and brown rice. This vibrant plant-based and gluten-free meal is inexpensive, super filling, and delicious!
I was recently looking through my grandma Didi's box of her all-time favorite recipes and I came across the recipe for her golumpki (stuffed cabbage rolls). My grandparents were Polish and German, so I grew up eating and loving sauerkraut, schnitzel, spätzle, and pierogi. Didi's recipe called for beef and bacon fat, but I knew I could recreate it and make it vegan and vegetarian-friendly.
My version of colorful vegan cabbage rolls are made with vibrant red cabbage, lentils, onions, garlic, brown rice, and tomato sauce. It's super flavorful and I think my grandma would love my vegan twist on her recipe!
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Brown Rice - Quinoa, cauliflower rice (low-carb option), farro, or wheat berries can be used instead of rice.
- Lentil - Any type of lentils can be used, but red lentils won't hold their shape as well as the others. You could also use beyond meat crumbles, impossible meat, finely chopped walnuts, or any kind of beans.
- Onion - You can use a red, yellow, or sweet onion.
- Garlic - You can use fresh or dried. If you only have dried garlic, add 1 tsp of it to the filling mixture.
- Tomato Paste
- Dried Seasonings - Italian seasonings, paprika, salt, and pepper add so much flavor to the rolls.
- Cabbage - I used red cabbage for color, but you could use green cabbage or napa cabbage.
- Tomato Sauce - You can use homemade sauce or your favorite vegan jarred sauce.
How to Make It
First, cook the rice and lentils in separate pots and then set them aside.
Next, you have to remove the core from the cabbage. Put the cabbage on a flat surface and put the stem side up. Stick a fork into the stem and use a sharp knife to carefully cut a circle out around the stem. Hold the knife at an angle so you end up with a cone-shaped stem. You should be able to pull the fork (with the stem attached) out of the cabbage. If it's stuck, cut a little bit deeper until you can pull it out.
Boil water in a large stockpot and submerge the whole head of cabbage. Let it cook for 5 minutes or until the leaves start to soften and pull away. Use silicone-tipped tongs to pull off 10-12 large leaves and lay them on a dish towel to dry.
Next, saute the onions in a large pan until soft. Add the garlic, tomato paste, and dried seasonings. Let it cook for a couple of minutes to let the flavors meld. Add the cooked lentils and brown rice to the pan with the onions and stir everything together.
Pour a little bit of tomato sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish and spread it around in an even layer. Lay one leaf flat on a cutting board and add a scoop of the lentil rice filling in the center of the leaf. Fold both sides of the leaf in and then roll the bottom up until it's sealed. Place the stuffed roll into the dish.
Once the casserole dish is full or you run out of filling, pour the rest of the tomato sauce over the top of the rolls. Cover and bake until tender.
What Goes With It?
I usually serve the lentil stuffed rolls over rice or quinoa with a side of veggies and a salad drizzled with vegan ranch dressing. Any of the following roasted vegetables would be a delicious side dish to serve with the rolls.
- Lemon Garlic Asparagus
- Maple Balsamic Brussel Sprouts
- Lemon Turmeric Roasted Cauliflower
- Lemon Tahini Zucchini Salad
- Vegan Meat - Use vegan impossible meat or beyond meat instead of the lentils for a more traditional cabbage rolls recipe.
- Unstuffed - Instead of putting the filling into the cabbage leaves to make rolls, you could slice the cabbage into small pieces and cook it with the onions and lentil filling and serve it over rice.
- Soup - Use all of the ingredients to make a delicious vegan soup! Substitute a can of diced tomatoes for the jar of tomato sauce and add a carton of vegetable broth.
- More Veggies - Finely diced mushrooms would be a delicious addition to the rolls.
How To Store It
Put the leftover rolls in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days.
To freeze the rolls, assemble them with the cooked filling, but don't bake them yet. Put the rolls into a freezer-safe container and freeze them for 2-3 months. You can freeze rolls that have already been cooked, but the texture of the cabbage will be much softer and it may fall apart when you reheat it.
To reheat, take the container of frozen cabbage rolls out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to thaw for 24 hours. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, put ½ cup of tomato sauce into the bottom of an oven-safe casserole dish, transfer the thawed rolls to the dish, and pour more tomato sauce on top. Cover with parchment paper, and then bake it for 1 hour or until it's hot all the way through.
Frequently Asked Questions
First, cut out the cabbage core out so each leaf can pull away without anything holding on to it. Then, boil the cabbage and use silicone-tipped tongs to gently pull on the leaves until they come off.
The rolls are tough because the cabbage has not been cooked long enough. Put it back in the oven for 5-10 minutes or until they are soft and tender.
A head of red or green cabbage is the best, but you can also use napa cabbage.
Yes, you can assemble the rolls the day before with the cooked filling. Cover the dish and put it in the fridge overnight, and then you can finish baking it the next day.
Yes, you can use (2) 14 oz cans of cooked canned lentils instead of dried to make the recipe even easier.
- Pick out a large head of cabbage, so you'll have enough of the big outer leaves to use. The smaller pieces are difficult to fill and roll.
- Remove the core before you boil the cabbage so the leaves peel off easily.
- When you're peeling the outer leaves off in the boiling water, they should come right off. If they start to rip and feel stuck, let it sit in the boiling water for an additional minute or two. This will soften the layers a little more and make it easier to remove them without tearing.
- If the cabbage rips while you're filling the rolls, do your best to tuck the edges under and roll it up. Put the rolls rip-side down in the casserole dish and it will all meld together while it bakes. Nobody will ever know!
- Put tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish so the rolls won't stick while they're baking.
- Cover the vegan cabbage rolls with parchment paper or foil while they're baking so they won't dry out.
- You only need the big outer leaves to make these vegan cabbage rolls, so the smaller leaves will be leftover. You can chop the rest of the cabbage and add it to vegan vegetable barley soup.
Want More Vegan Cabbage Recipes?
Vegan Cabbage Rolls
- (2) medium saucepans
- Large Stock or Soup Pot
- 9x13 Casserole Dish
- 1 cup uncooked brown rice
- 1 cup uncooked brown lentils
- 1 medium yellow onion diced
- 4 medium garlic cloves minced
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp Italian seasonings
- 1 tsp paprika
- ¼ tsp salt (add more to taste)
- ⅛ tsp black pepper
- 1 large red cabbage (or green cabbage)
- 26 oz jar Ragu tomato sauce (Or your favorite tomato sauce)
- Cook the lentils and brown rice (separately) according to package directions, and set aside for later.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Place the cabbage on a flat surface so the side with the stem is on top. Pierce the stem with a fork and use a knife to cut around the stem. Try to hold the knife at an angle so you end up with a cone-shaped core. Pull the fork out with the stem attached.
- In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Add the whole head of cabbage to the pot and let it boil for 5 minutes or until the outer leaves start to pull away. Use tongs to carefully peel off the outer leaves until you have 10-12 large leaves. Let them cool and dry on a dish towel on the counter.
- In a large pan over medium heat, saute the diced onion until it's soft and translucent. Add the tomato paste, garlic, Italian seasonings, paprika, salt, and pepper. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the cooked lentils and brown rice to the pan. Stir to combine and let the mixture cook for 5 minutes to help the flavors meld.
- Spread ½ cup of tomato sauce on the bottom of a large casserole dish.
- Spoon ¼ - ½ cup of filling (the amount depends on how big the leaf is) into each leaf. Fold the sides in, and then roll the bottom up. Place the roll seam side down in the casserole dish. You should be able to make 10-12 large cabbage rolls.
- Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the top of the rolls. Cover with foil or parchment paper and bake for 1 hour or until the rolls are tender.
- Pick out a large head of cabbage so you'll have enough big leaves to use.
- When you're peeling the outer leaves off in the boiling water, they should come right off. If the leaves start to rip and feel stuck, let it sit in the boiling water for an additional minute or two. This will soften the cabbage a little more and make it easier to remove them without tearing.
- Store the leftover rolls in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days.