Classic stuffed cabbage rolls are an Eastern European dish that is often associated with countries like Hungary and Poland, though you can find variations of them all over Europe and even parts of Northern Africa and Asia. The traditional Polish stuffed cabbage recipe is often made with standard green cabbage and has a sweet and sour tomato-based sauce with raisins in the sauce. Taking inspiration from the classic version, I simplified preparation for an easy cabbage roll recipe by using savoy cabbage, which is thinner and easier to work with, and swaps the raisins for chopped golden figs to give the dish an extra layer of complexity.
What makes this Stuffed Cabbage recipe different?
Classic polish cabbage rolls are often stewed in a rich tomato sauce that is made with a sour vinegar and a touch of sugar and raisins.
I simplified the process a bit by first using savoy cabbage instead of regular green cabbage. Savoy cabbage is a little more delicate than green cabbage, and only requires a quick 2-minute cook in boiling salt water to make it pliable. It’s thinner and easier to manipulate and roll as well.
I upped the complexity and shifted the flavor profile by using sherry vinegar, which has a sharp, nutty and oaky flavor to it, a little bit more nuanced than the typical apple cider vinegar which is found in a lot of recipes, though you can certainly swap it out for ACV if you wish. Instead of sugar or brown sugar, which is common in a lot of cabbage roll recipes, I used pomegranate molasses. Pomegranate molasses is a common middle eastern ingredient that is made from boiling and concentrating pomegranate juice into a thick syrup. It’s tangy, sweet, sharp, and fruity, the perfect complement to the sharp acidic tomato sauce. I’ve also used grape molasses (called pekmez, a common Turkish ingredient) instead of pomegranate molasses and it is equally delightful in this recipe. But if you don’t have either, brown sugar will work as a good substitute.
Finally, I swapped out dried golden figs for the usual raisins in the dish. They are nutty, have a slight honey caramel flavor and go really well with wine and savory food. The addition of using dried golden figs adds another layer of flavor to these cabbage rolls that you can’t get with just raisins.
How do you make this cabbage roll recipe?
Making the cabbage rolls seems like a daunting task but it’s fairly easy. First remove the leaves from the savoy cabbage. I find that cutting the thick center stem from the base of the head makes removing the leaves easier. Then boil the leaves in a pot of salted water for 2 minutes, until they are pliable. Move to a rimmed baking dish lined with paper towels or a cooling rack.
Then make the sauce by first sauteing chopped onions and then garlic. Add chopped tomatoes and tomato sauce, along with sherry vinegar, pomegranate molasses, chopped golden figs, thyme, paprika, salt and pepper. Let simmer while you make the filling.
Make the filling by combining ground beef, rice, chopped shallots, minced garlic, an egg, paprika, salt and pepper together. Then form a 3-inch long 1-inch thick log and place it in one of the cabbage leaves. Roll it up, and then repeat with the remaining filling and leaves.
Nestle the rolls in the tomato sauce, spoon some of the sauce over the rolls, cover and let simmer. If you are using cooked rice, cook for 30 minutes. If you are using raw rice, simmer for 50 minutes.
What sort of figs should you use?
I used dried golden figs in this recipe. Dried golden figs have a slightly more savory complexity to them, with a nutty, almost buttery flavor with some slight honey caramel undertones. They’re naturally sweet and have a great chewy texture (not too chewy, but with a nice toothsome bite). They are a great ingredient to add to savory dishes like this stuffed cabbage rolls recipe.
If you can’t find golden figs you can easily substitute the same amount of chopped dried black mission figs. Expect a deeper, earthier flavor with the black mission figs, with notes of chocolate and red wine. Dried black figs also have a meatier texture as well. But both types of dried figs work well in the tomato sauce for the cabbage rolls.[IL1]
What sort of rice should you use?
I prefer to use long grain rice, specifically basmati rice in this recipe as it is fragrant and is less sticky than jasmine or other rice varieties. But you can use whatever regular white rice you have on hand. Avoid glutinous rice however, as it is too sticky and the bouncy, chewy texture isn’t optimal for this recipe.
I have instructions on using raw rice in the recipe, as well as fresh cooked rice, leftover rice and instant minute rice. The main difference is time simmering the cabbage rolls, as the raw rice takes longer to cook. If you are using freshly cooked rice or leftover rice, make sure to break up the rice, as most rice has a tendency to stick together when cooked.
If you are using brown rice, you should cook it first. Brown rice takes significantly longer to cook than white rice, and the amount time you would need to cook the filling with raw brown rice would be so long that your filling meat would be become rather dry and overcooked.
How do you store leftovers?
Leftovers can easily be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in the oven or on the stove over medium heat, until warmed up thoroughly.
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Golden Figs
This stuffed cabbage rolls are adapted from the classic Polish cabbage rolls with a complex layered flavor using pomegranate molasses, sherry vinegar and golden figs. The use of savoy cabbage instead of green cabbage makes them easier to prepare as well. Don’t be daunted by the recipe ingredients, as the preparation comes together fairly fast, and the recipe is surprisingly easy.
Stuffed Cabbage Recipe
- 12 Savoy cabbage leaves , about 1 large head
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion , about 1 medium onion
- 2 TBSP chopped garlic , about 4 medium cloves
- 15 oz canned tomato sauce
- 14 1/2 oz canned chopped tomatoes
- 8 medium dried Orchard Choice Golden California Figs , stems removed + figs finely chopped (1/2 cup)
- 2 TBSP sherry vinegar , or apple cider vinegar
- 2 TBSP pomegranate molasses , or dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/2 cup basmati rice , or 1 cup freshly cooked rice / leftover cooked rice or Minute rice
- 3/4 cup chopped shallots , or minced red onion
- 1 TBSP chopped garlic , about 2 medium cloves
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Prep the Leaves
- Place a large stock pot filled with salty water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Cut and remove the leaves from the cabbage head. You won’t use the entire head of cabbage. Reserve the remaining center section for another recipe.
- Boil the leaves (in batches if necessary) for 2 minutes, or until the leaves have wilted and are pliable. Move them to a baking sheet lined with paper towels or a wire cooling rack.
Make the Sauce
- Place the olive oil and the onions in a large 12-inch wide sauté pan, skillet or Dutch oven. Cook on medium heat until the onions start to turn translucent, about 4 minutes. Do not let the onions brown. Add the garlic and cook an additional 30 seconds, or until they start to smell fragrant.
- Add the tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, chopped figs, sherry vinegar, pomegranate molasses, dried thyme, paprika, salt, and pepper to the pan. Stir and bring to boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, and let cook uncovered,stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes.
Make the Filling
- While the sauce is simmering, make the filling by placing the ground beef, rice, shallots, garlic, egg, paprika, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Mix until ingredients are well blended.
Form the Cabbage Rolls
- Using your hands, scoop up about 1/4 cup of the mixture and form 3-inch logs that are about 1-inch thick. Place the meat mixture inside one of the leaves.
- Fold over the edges of the leaves into the center, then roll the leaves up. Repeat with the remaining filling and cabbage leaves.
Cook the Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
- Once the cabbage rolls are formed, nestle them into the tomato sauce, and spoon some of the sauce over the rolls.
- Cover and let the rolls cook, checking and stirring the sauce occasionally to make sure the tomato sauce hasn’t scorched or burned. Simmer the sauce and rolls for 30 minutes if you are using cooked rice, leftover rice or minute rice, removing the lid for the last 5 minutes to let the sauce reduce and thicken. Simmer the sauce and rolls for 50 minutes if you are using raw rice, again removing the cover in the last 5 minutes.