Mom’s Classic Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

No summer cookout is complete without a tray of stuffed cabbages! Tender cabbage leaves stuffed with rice, seasoned ground meats and a rich tomato sauce make this the perfect summer comfort food. Plus these freeze beautifully!’

This dish, God this dish brings back so many childhood memories that I literally sat here for 30 minutes in a daze just remembering some of them. Like there was the time we were harvesting cabbages from our garden and we each got to pick a single plant that we were in charge of to take care of. Whoever grew the biggest cabbage won. The prize was Mom would cook our favorite dessert to go with her famous stuffed cabbages. That summer I ended up winning. This cabbage was so huge that I couldn’t lift it. I know I have a picture of me trying to hold it on my lap. I’ll dig it out to share the pic once my arm is better.

Then there are the countless memories where our kitchen was soooooooooooooo hot (we didn’t have AC growing up and we only had window fans) and Mom had 3 large canning pots on the stove with boiling water making hundreds of stuffed cabbages. I can still remember that hot cabbage smell and hot/wet air in the kitchen. Dad would use the tongs to pull out the leaves, put them in the colander and my Mom, sister and I would each trim the stems.

When Mom made stuffed cabbages it was never just a pan for dinner or just enough for a single meal. Oh no, not in my house. You made enough for dinner, leftovers, enough for company to take some home and enough for the freezer. Mom’s kitchen and cooking style are you cook in bulk and never, ever waste anything.


Now depending on where you grew up or even what your background is you either called these Stuffed Cabbages, Pigs in a Blanket or Halupkies. The only real ingredient difference I’ve found between these is the use of either all beef or the omittance of rice and usage of potatoes instead. Once I did go to a restaurant where they served brown gravy with them and I’m sorry but that’s just wrong. In my world, these are only ever to be served with a rich tomato sauce. Brown gravy is just weird. I mean you can’t mix ketchup with brown gravy. That’s just gross.

Yes… even though these have a rich tomato sauce on them I still use ketchup. Don’t judge…

Growing up in Pittsburgh most of the weddings I went to as a kid were ones where the families made the food. We were poor people and hiring a caterer was unheard of plus honestly, no one could match my Mama’s cooking. At these receptions, you had your mandatory staples – fried chicken, rigatoni, ham, potato or macaroni salad and stuffed cabbages. Mom always was asked to make her cabbages (along with cookies for the cookie tables).

Pittsburgh weddings “require” a cookie table at receptions. Oh sure there’s a cake, but there must also be 1-2 cookie tables with copious amounts of cookies.

But back to these cabbages…

These to me mean summer. Gardens are growing, families are having cookouts and kitchens are full of people making these. As I was saying earlier, there were at least 4 of us making these as it was a job. Often my Mom’s best friend (and neighbor) would come over and help us. Often they’d split the bounty and ingredients. Mom would make the rice, cabbage, and other stuff while Mrs. H. would bring the ground meat(s).

The meat mixture was all ground beef or a mixture of ground beef and pork. I tend to personally like the addition of the ground pork as it gives the dish a bit more richness to it however you can totally go with all ground beef if you wish.

And yes you can totally go with ground turkey/chicken but you may want to up the fat in it (add some ground dark meat) to the mix.

To make these, well they aren’t hard but they do take a little bit of time to make. Cabbage leaves, unlike lettuce leaves, you just can’t peel off of the head. They are hard and if you try to peel them off they’ll crack and or tear. You don’t want that. For these, you want luxurious full leaves. Now everyone has their favorite method to remove the leaves.

Some folks use the freezer method where you put the cabbage head in a brown paper bag and put it in the freezer. Then once it’s partially frozen you remove it and as it softens the leaves pull off. I personally don’t like that as I find freezing the leaves messes with the composition of the cabbage leaf. It makes it almost mushy and it’s integrity is compromised.

For mine, I go with the way Mama taught me. I core it and then boil the head. Oh sure it’s hot as hell but that’s why you use tongs to pull the leaves off and put them in a colander to drain. Once they drain they are just warm to the touch. Man up… you can do this!

Now this dish, if it was served as a meal always, ALWAYS was served with creamy mashed potatoes. Nothing I tell you beats cutting off a piece of this rich, tomato sauced glazed cabbage roll and swirling it in some creamy mashed potatoes. It truly is the PERFECT BITE!

And if that wasn’t enough you need a big fat piece of warm buttered bread to wipe your plate clean. Mmmm God that sounds sooooo good right now!

Now when Mom made hers she had a huge free-standing roaster oven that held I swear like a hundred of these at once. She would fill that thing up plus pans for the oven.

One thing to keep in mind when making these is that they will need to cook for a few hours for the cabbage to get super tender. You don’t want the cabbage to have firmness or bite. You want to be able to pretty much cut it with a fork.

Nowadays I make a big tray like this just for the two of us but half of them I freeze. To freeze, once baked and cooled I’ll put some tomato soup in a freezer pan, add the cooked (cooled) cabbages), top with some more soup and double wrap is plastic then foil. To cook later on, I just unwrap to remove the plastic wrap, re-cover with foil and stick the cold pan in the oven. Set the oven to 350F and bake for 30 minutes or until the center is hot.

Mom's Classic Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Serves: 8-12

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Ingredients
  • 1 large size head cabbage (about 3-5 pounds)
  • 1 lb ground beef (or 1 1/2 lbs if not using pork)
  • 1/2 pound ground pork (omit if using all beef)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped small
  • 3 Tbl minced garlic
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp parsley flakes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 Tbl tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked, cooled white rice
  • 3 10.75 ounce cans tomato soup (if using a deep dish pan with a 3” side use 4 cans)
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, rack in the center.
  2. Remove core from cabbage. Place whole head in a large pot filled with boiling, salted water.
  3. Cover and cook 3 minutes, or until softened enough to pull off individual leaves. If the leaves do not pull off easily, return the cabbage to the pot to boil a minute or two more.
  4. When the leaves are cool enough, use a paring knife to cut away the thick center stem from each leaf, without cutting all the way through.
  5. In a large bowl, add in the ground beef, pork, rice, onion, garlic, salt, pepper, eggs, ketchup, tomato paste, and parsley. Mix gently to combine. Add in 2/3rd of a can of tomato soup (almost 3/4 of a cup) and mix.
  6. In a large deep dish (4” at least) baking pan (or two 9x13” glass pans), spread out the remaining soup from the open can on the bottom of the pan. Open up a 2nd can and pour out 1/2 of it and spread out until the bottom of the pan in covered in a light coating.
  7. To stuff the leaves lay down a single large leaf with the cut edge facing you (where the stem was) and place about a 1/2 cup of the meat mixture in the lower third of the leave. If the leaf is huge add more, if smaller add less meat. Fold the sides of the leaf over the meat and roll the cabbage up (like rolling a burrito). Repeat until all of the leaves are stuffed. If you have extra meat just roll it up as meatballs and place it in the baking pan with the stuffed cabbage.
  8. Place a single layer of stuffed cabbages on the bottom of your pan. Add the remaining half of the 2nd can of tomato soup. If you have leaves that are too small to stuff or are badly torn, add them on top of the soup.
  9. Add the 2nd layer of stuffed cabbage (you must make sure you have a 1/2” gap at the top of your pan and stuffed cabbage. It cannot go over the top of the pan. Top with the remaining can of tomato soup and spread out evenly.
  10. Spray the underneath of a large piece of foil. Place foil side down on the pan and close tightly around the dish.
  11. Place the pan on a larger cookie sheet to catch any spillovers.
  12. Bake for 3 – 4 hours or until the cabbage is tender when pierced with a knife. (I start to check mine after 2 hours 45 minutes).
  13. Remove from the oven, uncover and allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.
Notes
To freeze, once baked and cooled put some tomato soup in a freezer pan, add the cooked (cooled) cabbages), top with some more soup and double wrap in plastic then foil. Freeze for up to 3 months.

To cook later on, unwrap to remove the plastic wrap, re-cover with foil and stick the cold pan in the oven. Set the oven to 350F and bake for 30 minutes or until the center is hot.

 

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12 Responses to “Mom’s Classic Stuffed Cabbage Rolls”

  • Mary Dorsey says:

    Instead of ground pork my Hungarian Mom used mild Italian sausage mixed with the ground beef and ingredients and when served always put a dollop of sour cream on top and of course home made bread. I make it occasionally especially for my brother’s birthday.

  • Granny says:

    I’m hungry
    Granny

  • Jackie Watkins says:

    Is the tomato soup condensed, or ready to eat? Thanks!

  • Granny says:

    I make enough of the meat and rice stuffing to fill scooped out-potatoes. Then add to the pot of stuffed cabbage rolls. Also add zucchini. Just slice in half and lay on top of cabbage rolls. Also I cut up some polish sausage for favor. Just stick it all around inside the pot.I cook it all on top of stove. For sauce I use tomatoes crushed, some tomatoe sauce, brown sugar , a handful. Shake some mrs dash on It. Just let it cook till done.

  • Annette says:

    Tomato soup???? Really? Not very authentic.

    • TKWAdmin says:

      Um in my house it was. Coming from a Slovak and German heritage that’s how my Mom, her Mom and my other Grandmother made it. Tomato sauce alone was too acidic but the addition of tomato paste gave it the rich tomato depth without the heavy acidity.

      True authenticity depends on ones heritage. Some don’t use rice at all but rather potatoes in place, some use lamb,

      Best Kitchen Wishes!

      Best Kitchen Wishes!

      • Annette says:

        Try this sauce. I think you will like it. This is how my Polish Grandma made it. The brown sugar alleviates any acidity and you avoid all of the preservatives in the canned tomato soup.

        2 cans (8-oz size) tomato sauce
        1 can (1 lb, 12 oz) tomatoes, broken up in pieces
        1/3 cup lemon juice
        1 teaspoon salt
        1/8 teaspoon pepper
        1/4 cup light-brown sugar

        In large bowl, combine tomato sauce, tomatoes, lemon juice, 1/4 cup water, the salt, and pepper. Pour over cabbage rolls.

        • TKWAdmin says:

          Hmmm interesting! Great suggestion and thank you for sharing!!!

          Best Kitchen Wishes!

        • Granny says:

          I make my sauce that way too. Even some cut up onion. Kielbasa cut in chunks are good dropped in the sauce also. Adds flavor. I also sonetimes stuff potatoes with the filling and add to the pot. I lay zucchini on top also. Even stuff green peppers and put in the pot. Yup big pot. I cook them on the stove. If you had a big enough baking pan you could cook them in the oven. It just makes a great family dinner. Yum granny

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