stuffed cabbage (because of Stella!)

Winter storm Stella is poised to drop a huge amount of snow on our region.  Or not.  Depends on the wind and the flow and who knows what else.  The weather people are predicting big snow totals for our area (or not)…but I believe them.  I think tomorrow will be a big snow day.

Today I’m making stuffed cabbage.  Delicious.  Warm.  Homey.  And always better then second day.

The first thing to do is choose a leafy head of cabbage.  This recipe calls for loose green leaves of cabbage.  This week is Saint Patrick’s Day so stores will have inexpensive, green cabbage for sale.  Many grocery stores (and even farm stands) “clean up” their heads of cabbage by cutting off the outer greener leaves.  I have been lucky to find loose leaves other shoppers have cast aside.  I even have asked the produce manager if he has any.  He will often provide a bag of them.  You may have to buy several heads of cabbage if you can’t find one with enough loose leaves.  You can stockpile your outer cabbage leaves by pulling any off that come with a head of cabbage you’ve purchased and put them in a plastic freezer bag and freeze them until you have enough.  Then thaw and use.

Most people stuff cabbage leaves with ground beef or the standard  meatloaf mix of ground beef, pork, and veal, and white rice.  I stuff my cabbage with ground pork (pasture raised) and pre-soaked pearl barley.

Peel the cabbage leaves and break or cut them off the head.  Do not tear the leaves.  You want whole leaves.  Continue until you can no longer peel the leaves without ripping them.  Then take a knife and core the cabbage head and peel as many more as you can.  Save the leaves you cannot peel off the head.

Put the loose cabbage leaves that are to be stuffed in a steamer basket or a large pot with about an inch of water at the bottom.  Place the loose leaves in the pot and steam them, with the lid on, for about ten minutes.  The leaves should be pliable but not floppy.

While the cabbage is steaming in a lidded pot, make the tomato sauce in which the rolls will be cooked.  This sauce is also good for cooking stuffed peppers.

For the sauce:
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup of chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 can of tomato soup
1 1/4 cups water
2 Tablespoons dried parsley
the juice of a whole lemon
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Directions for the sauce:
1. Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a Dutch oven (I used cast iron)
2.  Add 1/2 cup of chopped onions and a 1/2 cup of chopped celery.  Cook until tender
3.  Add 1 can of tomato soup (I use Amy’s organic Tomato Bisque), 1 1/4 cups water, 2 Tablespoons of chopped parsley, the juice of a whole lemon, 1 teaspoon sugar, and salt and pepper to taste.
4. Turn off the heat and set aside.  You will put the stuffed cabbage rolls into this pot and sauce.


After making the sauce, prepare the cabbage leaves.  Take each leaf and trim the thick stem if needed.


Mix the ground pork and barley.  I generally use one pound of ground pork to 1/4 cup of pearl barley.  You can certainly use more meat or more barley (or uncooked rice) to suit your taste.  Remember both the barley and the uncooked rice will expand in cooking.

Add salt to taste and mix the meat and barley until blended.  Take a steamed, trimmed cabbage leaf and a flattened meatball size ball of the meat mixture and place on the leaf closest to the stem end.  Gently roll the cabbage leaf with the meat mixture inside.  With your pointer finger, gently tuck in the ends.  Be gentle so as not to rip the cabbage leaf.  Place the cabbage roll, seam side down, into the pot of cooking sauce.  Repeat the stuffing and rolling until you’ve used all the leaves and meat.  If you run out of meat mixture, toss the extra leaves into the pot on top of the rolls.  If you run out of cabbage leaves, make balls of the meat mixture and put them on top.

When you have finished making the rolls and placing them in the Dutch oven, take the rest of the cabbage head you didn’t steam, cut into wedges, place the wedges on top of the cabbage rolls.


Put a tight lid on the Dutch oven filled with cabbage rolls and bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 to 2 1/2 hours.


Many people cook their stuffed cabbage on top of the stove.  I have found that low and slow baking makes the flavors marry and makes the cook happy because she doesn’t have to check everything a hundred times.  In the oven, this is a fix and nearly forget recipe.  About an hour into the cooking time, check the liquid level.  Add water as necessary.


My father was not fond of stuffed cabbage so my mother would put kielbasa (Polish sausage) or hot dogs on top of the cabbage leaves.  They will steam and impart some of their flavor to the pot.  I still do that.

My mother served stuffed cabbage with kielbasa on top, mashed potatoes on the side, and rye bread.  True comfort food.



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