Vegan Cabbage Rolls in Tomato Sauce

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These vegan cabbage rolls in tomato sauce are hearty, wholesome, and flavourful. They’re the perfect dish for the cooler months that the whole family can enjoy. 

Have them with a side of bread, mashed potatoes, or enjoy them simply on their own. Being freezer friendly, you can make a big patch and enjoy them whenever you don’t feel like cooking.

Cabbage rolls are typically made with minced meat; however, this vegan recipe is made with vegetables, rice, lentils, herbs, served with a simple tomato sauce. 

Using staple ingredients makes this dish so approachable and something you’ll be making time and time again.

Tips for making these vegan cabbage rolls

Here are some tips for making these stuffed cabbage rolls:

  • I wanted to make this recipe easy to make, so I used fresh cabbage leaves and canned brown lentils instead of fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) and dry lentils.
  • You can use collard greens, savoy cabbage or even vine leaves with these rolls. If using the collard greens or vine leaves, you don’t need to cook them for as long, just enough time to cook the rice inside. 
  • If you’d prefer to bake them instead, you can do so for 1 hour instead of cooking on the stove. Make sure to add more liquid to the oven-safe pot and place cabbage leaves on the top to prevent the dish from burning and keep the moisture in. I haven’t tried this method personally, but I’ve seen others do it with great success. 

  • You can use this recipe as a base and adjust the seasoning and filling to your own taste. Mix up whatever veggies you have on hand with spices that you like. Get creative! 
  • Don’t skimp on the cooking time. Your cabbage rolls won’t be as soft and flavourful if you do. This is also important for the rice to cook.
  • If you don’t have a food processor, chop all the veggies super fine by hand. If you do this method, you can add the olive oil to your pan straight away. Using a food processor extracts the moisture from the vegetables quicker, so this is why I cook them first and then add in the oil. 
  • Depending on how big your cabbage leaves are, the amount of filling you use will vary. Through all the testing that I did, I found that ⅓ -½ cup is required. The bigger the leaf, the more filling you add-in. If your cabbage head is slightly smaller, you’ll have some filling leftover. Use the rest of it for a soup, stew or stuff other vegetables with it. 

What is the best type of cabbage for cabbage rolls?

The best type of cabbage for this recipe is just a simple green cabbage. 

You can also use savoy cabbage (as mentioned above) or even red cabbage. It will be a sweeter dish, and the colour will obviously be different, but I’m sure enjoyable nevertheless!

Can these cabbage rolls be frozen?

Yes, they certainly can! 

After rolling them, line them up on a sheet pan and freeze them separately. Then you can store them in a sealed bag without the rolls sticking to each other. 

Thaw them out in the fridge and cook them as you would in the recipe from step 16 (having prepared the tomato sauce and shredded the cabbage).

They should keep in the freezer for up to two months.   

What is the best method of removing cabbage leaves?

There are a few different ways that you can remove whole leaves from the cabbage head. 

I’ll outline the three different methods that I’ve successfully used. It all starts with coring the cabbage by removing the thick core that holds the cabbage leaves together. Using a paring knife, cut on an angle around the base and remove as much of the core as you can. 

At this point, you have three options: 

  1. Freeze the whole cabbage and let it thaw out at room temperature. This will essentially make the cabbage limp enough for you to separate the leaves one by one without tearing them. The cook in boiling water as instructed in the recipe from here. 
  2. Once the core is removed, sometimes the leaves are easy to remove by peeling them away from the base. If this isn’t working, try one of the other methods. This works for me most of the time. From there, cook in boiling water as instructed in the recipe from here. 
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and place the whole head of cabbage inside, ensuring that the whole head (or as much of it as possible) is under the water. Boil it for 10 minutes before removing carefully and letting it cool before removing the leaves. If you use this process, you don’t have to boil the leaves again before rolling them. 

So there isn’t really the best method for removing leaves, but three different methods of doing the same thing. I’ve tried all three, and for me, option two is normally the easiest. This is also the best option if you don’t have a large enough pot to fit a whole head of cabbage into it.  

Note: This recipe has been updated from the original recipe that was posted back in May 2015. If you’d like the original recipe, please find it here. 

Other recipes you’ll love:

  1. Anna’s Rustic Eggplant Patties in Tomato Sauce
  2. Vegan Sweet Potato Gnocchi
  3. Turkish Stewed Green Beans
  4. Vegan Stuffed Peppers
  5. 3-Ingredient Cabbage Pasta

If you try this recipe, let me know! I would love for you to leave a comment and rating below. If you want to go that extra mile, tag us on Instagram or share your photo of the recipe on Pinterest

Ingredients

  • 1 large green cabbage head

Filling:

  • 1 large brown onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 can (425g/15oz) lentils, or 1 ⅓ cup cooked lentils
  • ½ cup oats
  • ⅓ cup medium-grain white rice, washed and drained
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ½ cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • Pepper to taste

Sauce:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small brown onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cans (400g/14oz x2) diced tomatoes
  • 2-4 cups vegetable stock or cabbage water*
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • Salt (optional)

Instructions

    1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
    2. Using a paring knife, cut on an angle around the base of the cabbage head and remove as much of the core as you can.
    3. Gently remove 8 leaves from the base by peeling back each leaf by the rib. As you do so, make sure that the leaf you’re peeling back is the outermost leaf so that it comes away easily. Set the rest of the cabbage aside for later.
    4. Place the leaves in the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes.* I place my tongs open in the pot to keep the leaves completely submerged in the water.
    5. Using tongs, remove the leaves from water and let them sit in a colander to drain excess water and cool. Set aside.
    6. While the cabbage leaves cook, place the onion, bell pepper and carrots in a food processor with the S blade and pulse until you have a finely chopped consistency. 
    7. In a large skillet on medium-high heat, add in the veggies and saute until all the water has evaporated. 
    8. Add in the olive oil and saute for a further couple of minutes.
    9. Then add in the rest of the filling ingredients and mix well. Take off the heat and set aside.
    10. Now we’re ready to make the sauce. In a large pot on medium-high heat (and one that will fit 8 cabbage rolls, I use my cast iron pot), add in the olive oil and onion, saute for a few minutes until translucent and fragrant. 
    11. Pour in the cans of tomatoes, stir well and let it simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes while rolling your cabbage rolls. Stir occasionally.
    12. Take one leaf, and with a pairing knife, cut the rib off. Place the leaf on a flat surface with the rib side facing you. 
    13. Scoop ⅓-½ cup (depending on the size of your cabbage leaf) of the filling mixture and place it at the end closest to you with a couple of inches left so you can roll it. Make the filling nice and compact and roll the rib side of the leaf over the filling and slightly tug it towards yourself to make it nice and compact. Bring in the sides of the leaf over the middle, and then roll it tightly. Think about how you would roll a burrito; it’s the same method. 
    14. Repeat this process for the rest of the cabbage and filling. 
    15. With the remainder of the cabbage head we set aside earlier, cut it in half and shred it nice and fine. I chop it very thinly. This step is totally optional but adds a lovely texture to the sauce. 
    16. Once the tomato sauce is done, scoop out half of it and add a generous layer of shredded cabbage to the pot. Now place the cabbage rolls in nice and snug and add the rest of the tomato sauce on top. 
    17. Pour enough vegetable stock or cabbage water just to cover the cabbage rolls and add in the bay leaves. If you’re not using stock, season with salt to taste. Slightly push a couple of the cabbage rolls to the side so that some of the stock reaches the bottom of the pot and doesn’t burn when cooking. 
    18. Cook on low for 1 hour with the lid on and then for another 30 minutes with the lid off. 
    19. Serve with bread, mashed potatoes or on its own. Two cabbage rolls are ideal per serve.

Notes

* My biggest pot can only fit 2-3 leaves in at a time, so I do it in four separate batches. 

* Save the cabbage water from cooking the leaves. If you’re not using stock, make sure to season with salt.

Nutrition Information:

Yield: 8
Serving Size: 1

Amount Per Serving:
Calories: 178Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1196mgCarbohydrates: 23gFiber: 6gSugar: 6gProtein: 6g

Nutrition information is a rough estimate calculated automatically. The accuracy of this information is not guaranteed.


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