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 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.
I just made this for dinner tonight and it turned out amazing! I added shredded brussel sprouts and mushrooms to the filing because I had some I needed to use up, but it still turned out great. Thanks for the recipe!
I'm so happy you enjoyed the recipe! Adding mushrooms and brussels sprouts is a great idea! YUM!
I made this and it turned out AMAZING!! I added miso to the lentil mixture to add more of a umami flavor. Turned out delicious! One of my favorite recipes ever!!!
Great idea, Michaela! I'm so happy that you enjoyed the recipe. Thank you for the feedback!
Haven't made them (they look tasty|)b yet but would like to know, how long do you cook them for in a dutch oven?
Thank you! I would put 1 cup of the tomato sauce in the bottom of the dutch oven (along with the cabbage leaves to act as a barrier). Then put all of the cabbage rolls seam side down into the pot. Pour the rest of the tomato sauce over the cabbage rolls, cover it, and bring it to a low simmer. Once the sauce starts bubbling, immediately reduce the heat to medium-low, cover it again, and let it cook for 45-60 minutes or until the cabbage is soft. The filling is already cooked so you really just need the cabbage to soften. Enjoy!
I just made this recipe. I usually fail miserably cooking this kind of things but this turned out SO AWESOME. The color and the taste are definitely so good. Because my cabbage was still very hard while I was rolling them, I
couldn't even roll them properly but somehow they stick in the oven. Thank you very much!
You're welcome, Tutko! I'm so happy you enjoyed the recipe! Thank you for the comment =)
Hi this recipe looks great and I am keen to try it for dinner tomorrow night as I have all the ingredients on hand apart from one which I will pick up tomorrow. .but is it 350 degrees Celsius or Fahrenheit? Please let me know ☺
Hello! It's Fahrenheit. Enjoy!
This is a perfect recipe - just what I was looking for and a delicious result. Your filling amount was precisely the right amount for the number of cabbage leaves you recommended.
I'm so glad you enjoyed it, it's one of my favorite recipes!
I'm excited to try these.... I've never made cabbage rolls before! Quick question... if substituting quinoa for the lentils, should I still use 1 cup of dry quinoa, or should I use less? Thank you!
Hello! One cup of dry quinoa should be fine. Do you have tri color or red quinoa? Plain quinoa will taste fine but it will blend right in with the brown rice. Let me know how it turns out for you!
Hi there! I made this last night and we really enjoyed it. I did just use plain quinoa (just what we happened to have on-hand and I'm trying to use it up!). It turned out very tasty, but I'm looking forward to trying it again with lentils to see how that changes the appearance and texture. I would say that 1 cup of dry quinoa yielded a bit too much cooked quinoa... I used most, but kept out about 3/4 of a cup because I was worried the quinoa would completely take over the filling! Now I'm looking forward to our next CSA delivery of cabbage, whereas I used to dread it! Thanks for the great recipe and advice! 🙂
Awesome!!! Is foil required to bake properly?
Hi, Dora! The foil helps to keep the steam in and stops the cabbage rolls from drying out. I don't use foil often, only when I think it's really necessary. You could try laying un-waxed parchment paper over the top of the dish but the rolls still might dry out. Let me know what you end up doing! =)
I have 2 heads of purple cabbage. I googled recipes and came across yours. I am going to make this recipe as I have all the other ingredients. Thanks for posting this.
I hope you enjoy it, it's one of our favorites! =)
Never had cabbage rolls before, but these pictures sure are tempting! What an interesting recipe.
I can hardly wait to make this dish. Don't know why I never thought to make it with red cabbage!!! Healthier and prettier!!! What a great idea to make a vegetarian version!!! I know Im gonna love it.
Ahemm, don't you mean purple cabbage? Hehe I need to know why they call is red cabbage!!!
This dish looks so beautiful and filling. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you! I just had leftovers for dinner, I'm stuffed!
Hi Stacey, these cabbage rolls are beautiful! i love the purple cabbage color with the tomato sauce red. My daughter has been asking for my rice stuffed cabbage rolls and I think you have inspired me to make it for her soon!
Thank you, that's so sweet, Kris! You're daughter is so lucky!
These photos are lovely! I love that you made your cabbage rolls with purple cabbage - what a great color boost! My mother-in-law just shared her traditional old family favorite cabbage rolls recipe with me last year - and I have to say that stuffing them with lentils sounds terrific! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you! I know right, I love the bright purple color, Its so pretty! Old family recipes are the best! =)