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Cabbage Rolls for Now & Later

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Classic cabbage rolls are an easy and comforting meal. They are also a super simple dish to freeze and have ready for meals later in the winter.

It is this make now and freeze for later idea that makes baked cabbage rolls a great way to preserve the garden harvest in a freezer ready meal.

A glass baking tray full of cooked cabbage rolls covered in tomato juice with text overlay reading how to make & freeze cabbage rolls.

There is a bit of hands-on time here. Cabbage rolls don’t pull together in 5 minutes. But that time now is well worth it when you find them in the freezer later on in the year.

Don’t let the time involved stop you from trying, the more you practice, the better and more efficient you’ll become. 

How to Make Cabbage Rolls

There is a fairly exact recipe at the bottom of the article for folks that need it. However, cabbage rolls are more method than exact recipe, feel free to get creative with the basic process. 

Boil the Cabbage

Start with a fresh head of cabbage, cored.  Put that head of cabbage into a pot of boiling, salted water and let it blanch for a few minutes.  

A pair of metal tong separating a cabbage leaf from the entire head in a pot of boiling water.

The outer leaves will start to come loose from the head.  I use a pair of tongs to remove these outer leaves and stack them on my cutting board.  I continue this process until all the leaves are loose and ready to be filled.

Make the Filling

The leaves are now ready for filling. My method is a cabbage roll recipe with rice, however one could easily skip the rice. 

Use a filling of your choice but my cabbage rolls generally include:

  • raw ground meats (a combination of Italian Sausage and chicken is nice, plain ground beef, regular sausage, veal, ground turkey, etc. all work)
  • cooked rice (brown or white)
  • sauteed veggies (usually I start with basics of onion, celery, garlic, and green pepper but often add carrots and sometimes peas)
  • seasoning (salt, pepper, parsley, etc.)
  • vegetarians feel free to use cooked lentils or buckwheat instead of meat

How to Fill the Leaves

Place the cabbage leaf onto a board so that it’s a bit of a bowl shape. 

A cabbage leaf with a mixture of raw meat, rice, and vegetables inside.

Place a spoonful of the filling in the middle of your cabbage leaf. How much filling will depend on the size of the cabbage leaf. Use bigger scoops for bigger leaves. Don’t overfill.

Roll up the cabbage leaf like a burrito.  It’s easiest to roll from the core edge, tucking the ends in as you roll.  Place the roll into a baking dish, seam side down.  Continue until you’ve used up all the leaves / filling. 

Depending on the size of the cabbage, you may need multiple pans. It is okay to pack them tightly into the baking dish.

Finishing & Baking the Rolls

Cabbage roll sauce is nothing more than tomato juice in most cases. Though a thin tomato sauce could also be used.

Feel free to use store-bought or fresh juice (even tomato juice cocktails would work).

Pour some tomato juice over all of the rolls, making sure I have about 1/2″ of tomato juice at the bottom of each pan.   

Cabbage rolls in pans ready to be baked.

Cover the pans, aluminum foil works if your baking dishes don’t have lids.

Bake in a 350 degree fahrenheit oven for about an hour.

Uncover the rolls and serve immediately the ones you want to eat now. 

How to Freeze Cabbage Rolls

To freeze rolls for later, allow them to cool to room temperature.

Place the cooked and cooled cabbage rolls into containers, freezer bags work just fine as do containers. Pour a little of the tomato juice into each container and freeze.

A glass baking tray full of cooked cabbage rolls covered in tomato juice.

To Reheat Frozen Cabbage rolls

Place frozen rolls and their frozen tomato juice into a saucepan, cover, and simmer until heated through. Probably about 20-30 minutes. 

It’ll go faster if the cabbage rolls are thawed before reheating, naturally. 

Alternatively, place the thawed rolls into a casserole dish, pouring the tomato juice on top. Cover the pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, until heated through.

What to Serve with Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage rolls are almost a complete meal in and of themselves. They have veggies, grains, and protein all rolled up together. Admittedly, that’s a rather plain and simple meal. 

Elevate the rolls by serving them with whole grain breads or toasted garlic bread.

Pierogies make a nice and even more comforting meal.

Add more vegetables to the meal and serve them with salad. A tossed green salad is nice but so is bean salads or a cucumber salad. A bit of sauerkraut on the side is lovely, too.

A side dish cooked apple & sauerkraut is amazing.

Want to add some cooked vegetables to the meal? Try some mashed potatoes. Roasted veggies like carrots or Brussels sprouts are quite nice.

Yield: Approximately 24 rolls

Old-Fashioned Cabbage Rolls

A glass baking tray full of cooked cabbage rolls covered in tomato juice.

Bake these easy and delicious cabbage rolls to eat now or freeze them to quickly reheat and eat later.

Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 Large Head Cabbage
  • 1 Large Onion, Chopped
  • 3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1 Large Bell Pepper, chopped
  • 1 1/2 Cups Cooked Brown Rice
  • 1 Pound Ground Beef
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
  • 2 Cups Tomato Juice

Instructions

  1. Saute the onion, garlic, and bell pepper until onion is translucent. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  2. In a large pot of boiling salted water, blanch the head of cabbage until the leaves separate.
  3. Drain the leaves and stack on your work surface.
  4. In a mixing bowl, combine the sauteed veggies with the brown rice and raw ground beef. Mix until thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. On your cutting board, place a cabbage leaf. Put a spoonful of filling in the middle.
  7. Roll the cabbage leaf up around the filling, tucking the ends in.
  8. Place the cabbage rolls into a baking dish, seam side down.
  9. Repeat until everything is used up. It is okay to pack the baking dish tightly with the rolls, but you may need two dishes to bake the rolls.
  10. Pour tomato juice over all. You want about 1/2" of juice at the bottom of each baking dish, a little more or less isn't going to hurt anything.
  11. Cover the baking dish.
  12. Bake in preheated oven for about 1 hour.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

24

Serving Size:

1 roll

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 74Total Fat: 3gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 17mgSodium: 82mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 1gProtein: 6g

We try our best but cannot guarantee that nutrition information is 100% accurate.

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Kareen oosterhart

Sunday 11th of April 2021

Angie, I had so much Swiss chard last year that I used it instead of cabbage. You don’t have to blanch the chard. Make your filling then take your chard leaves, smash (with a meat tenderizer) down the center stem. If the laves are small use two. Roll them up, I payed them on wax paper froze them then vacuum sealed how many I wanted per meal. Thawed and then covered with our homemade tomato soup. They were delicious.

Shelley

Monday 24th of August 2020

Sorry, freeze them uncooked all the time.

Margie

Sunday 20th of December 2020

@Shelley, Do you freeze them uncooked without the sauce? I want to freeze the cabbage roll then when I’m ready thaw, add sauce & bake. Will they still be yummy for a family celebration?

Shelley

Monday 24th of August 2020

I make ahead all the time and freeze them in zip lock bags (sucking the air out of the bag as mentioned above). That way I can pull out a bag to take to a family dinner or a friends or just for us to have at home when we feel like it. I have kept them frozen for several months and it has never been a problem.

Cynthia

Saturday 14th of March 2020

Is there an alternative to tomato juice? Would tomato sauce thinned with chicken broth work?

Kathie Lapcevic

Saturday 14th of March 2020

I've never tried it but I can't see why chicken broth (or any broth for that matter) wouldn't work. You just need some moisture in there.

kathy

Wednesday 4th of December 2019

can i freeze them unbaked with the sauce on in a foil pan and then the people i'm giving it to can just pill them out thaw them and bake it. I have 3 pans full.

Kathie Lapcevic

Thursday 5th of December 2019

I've never tested it or tried it that way. I suppose you could but I can't say definitively.

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