I was recently looking through my grandma Didi's book of recipes and I came across a recipe for her 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 plant-based.
My colorful version of vegan cabbage rolls features vibrant red cabbage, meaty lentils, onions, garlic, brown rice, and tomato sauce. It's super flavorful and I think my grandma would be very proud of my twist on her recipe!
How to Make Vegan Cabbage Rolls
First, cook the rice and lentils in separate pots and then set them aside for later.
Next, you need to remove the core. 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 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 dry seasonings. 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.
How Do I Remove the Cabbage Leaves Without Tearing It?
Do the following things to avoid any tears:
- Cut out the core so each leaf can pull away without anything holding on to it.
- Boil the cabbage so it becomes soft, tender, and easy to peel.
- Use silicone-tipped tongs to gently pull on the leaves until they come off. If your tongs don't have any padding on the end, be extra gentle because they can easily pierce a hole.
Since these rolls are filled with rice and lentils, I like to serve a vegetable side dish or salad with it. Any of the following recipes would be a delicious side dish.
- Lemon Garlic Asparagus
- Maple Balsamic Brussels Sprouts
- Lemon Turmeric Roasted Cauliflower
- Lemon Tahini Courgette Salad
How Long Does it Last in the Fridge?
Put the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge and it should stay fresh for 4-5 days.
Can I Freeze It?
Yes, you can freeze the rolls. They reheat perfectly! Assemble the meatless rolls with the cooked filling, but don't bake them yet. Put them into a freezer-safe container and freeze for 3-4 months for the best quality. You can freeze cooked rolls, but the texture of the cabbage will be much softer and it may fall apart when you reheat it.
How To Reheat It
Take the container of frozen vegan 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.
Substitutions & FAQ
- Brown Rice Substitutions: Quinoa, cauliflower rice (low-carb), farro, or einkorn wheat berries can be used instead of brown rice.
- Lentil Substitutions: 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, walnut meat, jackfruit, or any kind of beans.
- Can I use canned lentils? Sure! Use (2) 14 oz cans of cooked canned lentils instead of cooking the dried lentils from scratch.
- What can I do with the leftover center of the cabbage? You only need the large outer leaves to make these vegan cabbage rolls, so the core will be leftover. I like to chop up the rest of the core and use it to make vegetable barley soup.
- What if the cabbage rips while I'm rolling it? It's ok! If it rips, just do your best to tuck the edges under and roll it up. Put the roll rip-side down in the casserole dish and it will meld together while it bakes.
- Pick out a large cabbage so you'll have enough big 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.
- Put tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish so the rolls won't stick while baking.
- Cover the vegan cabbage rolls with parchment paper or foil while they're baking so they won't dry out.
- Store the leftover vegan cabbage rolls in an airtight container in the fridge for 4-5 days.
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
- ¼ cup vegetable broth (to saute)
- 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 in vegetable broth until it's soft and translucent. If the pan gets too dry, add more broth. 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.
- Pick out a large cabbage so you'll have enough big leaves to use. The smaller leaves 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 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 leaves a little more and make it easier to remove them without tearing.
- Store the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 4-5 days.
*This recipe was originally published on 9/29/15, but I updated it on 12/10/20.