Have a Cabbage Roll, Mikolai

Back in the days when “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was new — or at least recent, one of Carol’s favorite dishes was Chou Farci, stuffed whole cabbage.

Here’s what Julia had to say:

“To stuff a whole cabbage you first make a delicious [stuffing] mixture. You then pull off the cabbage leaves, boiling them until pliable, and re-form the cabbage into approximately its original shape with your delicious mixture spread between layers of leaves. Finally you braise, sauce, and serve it up, and it looks just like a beautiful, decorated, whole cabbage sitting on the serving platter.”

We did it — just that way — once. And what a presentation it was. But that method is fraught with peril. One thinks of a cabbage as orderly layers of leaves formed around a core. In reality, the layers have wrinkles that clench to one another, and are a bitch to separate without tearing. Second, putting the head back together and holding it together while braising is a culinary feat of some majestic proportion.

But I like the idea of meat stuffed cabbage with a nice tomato sauce to round out the flavors. So we simplified to a wedge version. Cut the cabbage into wedges, let the leaves be connected at the core, stuff your meat mixture between the leaves, braise and sauce, etcetera. Not as impressive a presentation, but easier by a factor of about 10, and tastes about the same… and nice looking in its own way.

Fast forward to 2010. Influenced by our Ukranian daughter-in-law, we purchased the brand-new Veselka Cookbook, Recipes and stories from the landmark restaurant in New York’s East Village by Tom Birchard with Natalie Danford. From that, we made their version of Meat-Stuffed Cabbage, I call them cabbage rolls.


“At least one day before you want to make the stuffed cabbage, core the head of cabbage, place it in a large freezer bag and freeze. When you are ready to stuff the cabbage… place the cabbage in a large bowl of warm water to defrost.”

This works beautifully; the leaves are pliable and separate easily. Too bad, that in my opinion, the cabbage loses all of its flavor in the process.

Otherwise, the Veselka cabbage rolls are steamed, not braised, and sauced separately during serving.

Armed with that experience and information, I set out yesterday to make my own cabbage rolls. I looked to the more recent Julia Child and the master-of-technique, Jacques Pepin for their inspiration.

my desk with source books

my desk with source books

Indeed, there is a recipe for stuffed cabbage in their book, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. The dish is called Jacques’s Stuffed Cabbage, but its much like Julia’s Chou Farci from Mastering the Art. Whole head, deconstructed, stuffed and reformed, but Jacques uses different stuffing and saucing ingredients, uses the frozen cabbage technique, and uses heavy duty aluminum foil to hold everything together once stuffed. Good for him. He also suggests as a “Cook’s perquisite,” using the odd leaf and leftover stuffing to make “Jacques’s Stuffed Cabbage Rolls.” THAT’S the way I wanted to go.

I went for taste over pliability and eschewed the freeze method for the blanche method. I found that if I cored the cabbage, I could remove the first couple of leaves unfettered. I submerged the remaining head in a pot of hot water — it doesn’t have to be boiling — for a few minutes, I could peel off a few more leaves. Re-submerge and so on until I had my nine leaves (8 to use, one to break somehow). During the pauses, there are plenty of vegetables to chop.

cabbage leaves laid out to dry

cabbage leaves laid out to dry

Chop, chop… essentially the same chopped vegetables go into the stuffing and the sauce, so I started apportioning to separate bowls.

cabbage onions carrots celery for stuffing and sauce

cabbage onions carrots celery for stuffing and sauce

While all of that is going on, I cook up some rice. I like to use the old James Beard “boil it in water like pasta” method, rather than rice cooker or measured water methods. Boil 10 minutes in plenty of water and strain. Couldn’t be simpler.

cooked rice and chopped tomatoes

cooked rice and chopped tomatoes

Once the stuffing is cooked, it needs to rest in a bowl and cool, awaiting the addition of the rice and meat.

stuffing mixture cools awaiting meat and rice

stuffing mixture cools awaiting meat and rice

While that’s happening, I started cooking the sauce. Pretty darned simple once everything is chopped. Saute the vegetables… add broth and wine and tomatoes and simmer for a few minutes.

sauce cooks

sauce cooks

I’ve been on my feet for a while now, blanching and chopping and all. I took some time and put my feet up and read some New Yorker. Lead story about Rick Perry’s good idea for Supreme Court term limits. Pretty interesting. In about half-an-hour I was refreshed and got back in the kitchen for the fun part; actually making the damn rolls.

making the first cabbage roll

making the first cabbage roll


Jacques — the master of technique — had a good technique:

Fit one leaf into the bowl of a 6-ounce soup ladle. Press 1/2 cup of stuffing into the ladle, then fold over the overhanging flaps of the leaf. Compress lightly and invert to drop a perfectly shaped roll into your palm. Place it folded side down in your baking dish. Repeat to make more rolls.

Freakin’ brilliant. The Veselka Cookbook “folds it envelope style.” They both work.

Once the casserole is full of rolls, you can rest again until an hour or so before dinner.


When you preheat the oven to 375°F, go ahead and warm up the sauce and ladle over the rolls. Into the oven “for a good hour,” plate ‘em and eat ‘em.

plate the cabbage rolls and sauce

plate the cabbage rolls and sauce



So, here’s my recipe, amalgamated from those sources:

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
by Marcus, referring to?Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume Two
The Veselka Cookbook
Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home

The INGREDIENTS here are for a stuffed whole head of cabbage — 2 1/2 to 3 pounds — to serve 6 to 8. The METHOD is for Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. It made enough for 8 rolls with about a cup each of stuffing and sauce left over.

1 3-pound head green cabbage (or Savoy cabbage)

For the stuffing
4 cups coarsely chopped center leaves from that cabbage.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cup chopped onion (about 3/4 of a large onion)
1/2 cup diced celery in 1/2 inch pieces
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons salt, or more
1/2 teaspoon pepper, or more
1 teaspoon caraway seed
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 1/2 cups plain cooked rice
1 pound raw ground beef

For the sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup diced celery in 1/2 inch pieces
1 cup diced carrot in 1/2 inch pieces
3 cups fresh or canned diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 bay leaves
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup white wine

Preparing the cabbage leaves
Just before cooking, core the cabbage and separate as many leaves as you want rolls.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and blanch the leaves for several minutes until wilted.
Drain them, cool under running water, then cut a notch at the base of each leaf to remove the tough part of the central rib. Lay the leaves flat on a paper towel and pat dry.

Preparing the stuffing
preheat oven to 375°F
Chop the cabbage center into pieces about one-inch square.
Heat the olive oil in a saute pan, add the chopped onion and celery and saute over high heat for a couple of minutes, tossing. Add the garlic and cabbage and cook for another minute stirring and tossing to mix. Season with salt, pepper and caraway seed. Pour in the stock, cover and bring to a boil. Cook steadily for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables are soft. If there is still a lot of liquid in the pan, cook it off. Turn the vegetables into a large mixing bowl and let cool to lukewarm.

Dump the ground beef and cooked rice on top of the vegetables and mix thoroughly with your hands. (To check the seasoning, fry up a spoonful of stuffing and taste.) [I used my Kitchen Aid mixer with the stir paddle. Beautiful.]

Preparing the sauce
In the same saute pan, over high heat, add the remaining olive oil, the chopped onion, diced celery and diced carrot and saute for 4 or 5 minutes to soften. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and the salt and pepper and add the bay leaves. Stir in the chicken stock and wine. Cover and bring to a simmer and set aside while you stuff the cabbage.

Stuffing the Cabbage Rolls
Use 1/2 cup of stuffing and one leaf for each roll.

In a baking dish large enough to hold your rolls in one layer, pour in enough sauce to cover the bottom.

Fit one leaf into the bowl of a 6-ounce soup ladle. Press 1/2 cup of stuffing into the ladle, then fold over the overhanging flaps of the leaf. Compress lightly and invert to drop a perfectly shaped roll into your palm. Place it folded side down in your baking dish. Repeat to make more rolls.

Ladle sauce over the rolls. Cover tightly with foil and bake for a good hour in a 375° oven. [My baking dish has a lid, so I used that.]


1– This sauce is a bit light and not very tomatoey. I remembered the Chou Farci sauce as being much richer. Carol said she used a can of tomato bisque to gussy up the sauce.
2– These rolls use ground beef. The Chou Farci uses a mixture of ground pork and chopped ham. Veselka uses ground pork. Use whatever meat you like (or mushrooms if that’s your bent).

4 thoughts on “Have a Cabbage Roll, Mikolai

  1. We made them last weekend! They were great!


  2. Why did you go to all that work? Every time we go to CT to visit the in-laws, the dish that awaits us is Golumpki – Polish stuffed cabbage. There are a million recipes. Ann (my mother in law) uses a very simple sauce (with a Campbell’s condensed Tomato Soup base, of all things). She then cooks them slowly on a stove-top instead of baking. They are delicious – especially after 14 hours on the road. The smell of Golumpki when we walk in the door is worth the trip!


  3. I love stuffed cabbage. My father’s parents came to the USA from Czechoslovakia so my mother learned to fix some of their dishes. She too used a Campbell’s condensed Tomato Soup base in her receipe. I’m sure they didn’t do it that way in the “old country”, but it was yummy! And that’s how I learned to love stuff cabbage.

    Later in life mom developed a receipe she called “Lazy Man’s Cabbage.” This did away with the rolls and she just cut the raw cabbage in pieces and layered all the ingredients in a casserole, covered it with sauce and baked. Tasted the same as the stuff ones to me.

    I know, Marcus, too simple for you.


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