Stuffed cabbage rolls, stuffed peppers, stuffed grape leaves – with so many things to stuff how do you decide on what to put in each one and does it really matter? I grew up with stuffed cabbage leaves, the fermented cabbage leaves to be precise, and the result called “sarma” is a bit of a staple, tradition and highlight of the Serbian and other Balkan cuisines.
The most common stuffing ingredient is a mix of rice and meat, with some onions and carrots, all sautéed together. There’s also a tradition to make vegan versions during the weeks of lent that precede both Christmas and Easter. Most vegan versions either skip the meat or replace it with chopped walnuts.
The key to perfect stuffed cabbage rolls is to have nice, large cabbage leaves that are soft and pliable. Traditional recipe uses fermented cabbage leaves that fit these requirements well, but if you don’t have a barrel-full of fermented cabbage heads don’t worry. There’s a way to go around this problem.
The best way to do this is to pick a cabbage with softer leaves to begin with. I recommend savoy but Napa would work.
No. 2: discard 2-3 leaves that are right on the surface as they can be tougher, and then gently peel off 8-10 large leaves without ripping them.
No. 3: bring a large pot of water to boil and blanch the leaves unto softened then rinse under cold water to prevent them from getting too soggy.
Once you have your leaves ready, it’s time to fill them up, and roll them into tight little packages. My stuffing here is simple – I mixed some store-bought ground beef substitute (Trader Joe’s in this case but you can use any kind you like or make your own), and mixed it with some tomato paste to make a stuffing that sticks together.
Place your leaf on a flat surface, spread it out, place about one to two tablespoons of stuffing at the base of the leaf, fold one side over, roll it up, tuck the other side in, and you are done (see pictures below).
Finish rolling the rest, then place your rolled cabbage into a simple tomato sauce – you can find the recipe for my go to tomato sauce below, but you can also use a jar or two of pre-made marinara sauce as well. Let everything simmer for some time, then enjoy!
Stuffed Savoy Cabbage Rolls
What you’ll need:
10-12 leaves (1 large head) Savoy cabbage
24 oz. (680 g) ground beef substitute (homemade or store-bought)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes, chunky style
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup parsley, flat leaf, chopped
What you’ll do:
- Starting from a large head of Savoy cabbage, remove 2-3 outermost leaves and discard, then carefully remove the next 10-12 leaves. Wash the leaves a pat dry.
- Bring 8-12 cups of water to boil in a large pot. Once the water is boiling, submerge the cabbage leaves and boil for 3 minutes or so.
- Place the softened yet still not fully cooked leaves into a strainer and quickly rinse with cold water. Leave in a strainer to continue to drain.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix the ground beef substitute with the tomato paste.
- Taking one leaf at a time, place them on a flat surface, add 1-2 tablespoons of the stuffing, fold one side over, roll into a tight roll, then tuck the other side in to form the tightly packaged roll. Set aside and continue to roll until all the cabbage and stuffing are used up.
- Place a large Dutch oven or a heavier pot over the medium high heat. Add olive oil and sliced garlic. Sauté for 1 minute, which should be enough for garlic to start releasing its aroma without burning.
- Add tomato sauce, stir well and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
- Gently place your cabbage rolls into the tomato sauce. Spread them into a single layer and Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer, cover and let everything cook for 15-20 minutes.
- Sprinkle in fresh parsley and serve. Some complementary sides are freshly baked bread, basmati or cauliflower rice, or classic mashed potatoes. Enjoy!
Copyright © Eat the Vegan Rainbow, 2018