These Middle Eastern inspired stuffed cabbage rolls are sweet, savory, and spiced with cumin and a touch of cinnamon. They make a flavorful and filling dish for entertaining or special occasions!

Two stuffed cabbage rolls are laid out, side by side, on a plate. One has been cut into and the filling is spilling out.

Each year, I try to create some sort of new and celebratory holiday dish, be it a casserole, a stew, a stuffing, or a pasta dish.

I’ve tried shepherd’s pie, lentil and sweet potato loaf, and whole roasted lemon tahini cauliflower. This year, I’m making these delicious, Middle Eastern inspired stuffed cabbage rolls with rice, lentils, and currants.

Like all stuffed cabbage dishes, this one isn’t a quick and easy recipe. It’ll take some time to get the leaves off the cabbage, to prepare the rice and lentils, to stuff the rolls, and then to bake them. But the finished dish is well worth it. It’s a great recipe for sharing.

A small, rectangular, white baking dish has been filled with a plant-based entree.

How to make stuffed cabbage

Never tried making stuffed cabbage before? It’s a little bit of work, but the steps themselves aren’t too difficult.

Prepare your filling

In the case of this recipe, that means preparing a savory mixture of cooked rice, lentils, currants, and spices. The lentils and rice cook together, which helps to make the process more streamlined. I like to soak my rice and lentils for a few hours (or even overnight) before I cook them. It helps to reduce the simmering time.

Remove your cabbage leaves

I used to gingerly remove cabbage leaves from the whole head of cabbage to make this recipe. It always resulted in a lot of frustration (and torn cabbage leaves).

Thankfully, I’ve come a long way and learned that blanching a whole head of cabbage is the easiest way to get the leaves off. This post has instructions, along with a microwave option.

Stuff the cabbage

I like to spoon about 1/3-1/2 cup of the rice and lentil mixture into each cabbage leaf, with overhang in all directions. I tuck the top and bottom flaps in fold in one side, and roll.

After the rolls have been stuffed, I layer some pureed tomato in the bottom of casserole dish, arrange the rolls on top, and layer them with more tomato.

Bake

The cabbage rolls take about 35-45 minutes to bake. They’re worth the wait, I promise!

Two stuffed cabbage rolls have been garnished with fresh, chopped parsley and a tomato-based sauce. They're laid out on a white serving plate.

Middle Eastern inspired ingredients

Until I made these rolls, I was only aware of Hungarian and Polish cabbage roll varieties. Those are usually made with rice or barley, ground pork or beef, and seasonings.

I thought about other flavor profiles that might work in the cabbage roll form, which is how the ingredient list in this stuffed cabbage recipe came to be. And I also learned that cabbage rolls are enjoyed in many parts of the world and as part of many different cuisines.

For this recipe you’ll need:

Rice

I like to use long-grain brown rice in the recipe. You can use brown basmati rice or a long-grain white rice instead. If you use white rice, the rice cooking time will be reduced.

Lentils

You’ll need cooked lentils for this recipe. I use pardina and brown lentils in most of my recipes, but black lentils and green lentils will also work! To save some time, you can use a can of cooked lentils as well.

Currants

I love the sweetness that currants add to this dish. If you don’t have (or can’t find) currants, you can use golden or regular raisins instead.

Cabbage

Try to find a medium or large head of cabbage if you can; something that will fit into a pot for boiling but have nicely sized leaves.

Seasonings

I use a mixture of cumin and cinnamon (just a pinch of the latter) in the recipe. You could also add coriander, ras el hanout, or a pinch of sumac to the filling.

Tomato sauce

Once upon a time, I included a recipe for homemade tomato sauce along with the stuffed cabbage rolls. I called the sauce “stress-free.” While it was pretty fast to make, I’ve learned that this dish is time-consuming even without having to make a sauce.

Now, I use two cups of store-bought sauce, or—most often—a 15-ounce can. the rolls only need a light layer of the sauce. I recommend a sauce that’s simple, with really just the flavor of tomatoes shining through (rather than basil, a lot of garlic, oregano, etc.). But a marinara sauce will certainly taste fine if that’s what you have.

A vegetable dish with tomato sauce has been arranged on a small, round dinner plate.

How long will this recipe keep?

Once made, the rolls can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days.

Can the stuffed cabbage rolls be frozen?

I freeze practically everything, but I have to admit that I don’t love the texture of defrosted cabbage. So if I make this dish, I usually plan to finish it or share it with loved ones within 3-4 days.

However, the filling of the stuffed cabbage rolls does freeze well. So, one way to streamline the preparation of the recipe is to make the filling ahead of time and defrost before stuffing and baking your rolls.

Serving stuffed cabbage rolls

I’m a big fan of pairing this dish with a great salad. One of my favorites is my tahini kale mint salad. A Shirazi salad is also a nice accompaniment.

If you’re not in the mood for salad, some steamed or sautéed leafy greens, roasted cauliflower, or sautéed zucchini all make nice side dishes.

If you want to double up on sauces, my every day lemon tahini dressing is also great with this dish!

Two stuffed cabbage rolls are laid out, side by side, on a plate. One has been cut into and the filling is spilling out.
5 from 3 votes

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Rice, Lentils, and Currants

Author – Gena Hamshaw
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups long grain brown rice (soak for a few hours beforehand and drain before using for a quicker cooking time)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, scrubbed and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 3/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked lentils (1 can, drained; if boiling from scratch, this is about 1/2 cup dry)
  • 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup currants
  • 1 medium sized head of green cabbage
  • 2 cups tomato sauce (or 1 15-ounce can)

Instructions

  • Heat the oil in a large sautee pan. Add the onions and carrots. Cook the onions for 5-7 minutes, or until the carrots are soft. Add the garlic. Cook for another minute, stirring often. Stir in the cumin and cinnamon.
  • Add the rice to the pan. Toast the rice, stirring frequently, for a full five minutes; you want it to smell lightly toasted and fragrant. Add the currants and the 2 3/4 cups water. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook for 30-35 minutes, until the rice is tender. Stir in the lentils, salt, a generous dash of pepper, the cumin, and the lemon juice.
  • Preheat your oven to 350F. Oil a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce (about half a cup) over the bottom of the dish.
  • To prepare the cabbage rolls, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Submerge the whole head of cabbage in the water for 3 minutes. Use tongs to remove the head from the pot, and run it under cold water. Slip the first few outer skins off; they should be very easy to remove in one whole piece. Return the cabbage to the pot for 2 minutes, and then repeat the process. Do this until you have 12 whole, par-boiled cabbage leaves. Pat the leaves gently to dry them, and reserve remaining cabbage to toss into salads or slaws.
  • Use a paring knife to trim down the thick stems of the cabbage leaves. Add a generous 1/2 cup of the rice lentil mixture to the center of the leaf. Tuck in the bottom and the top, and then fold one side over the filling tightly. Wrap the other side over and around the roll, making sure to keep things snug, and place the whole roll, seam side down, in the baking dish. Repeat with all twelve cabbage leaves. Top the leaves with the remaining tomato sauce.
  • Bake the rolls for 30-35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and darkened on top of the rolls. Remove from heat and serve.

Two stuffed cabbage rolls, covered in tomato sauce, have been laid out on a plate and sliced into with a fork and knife.

And the work you put into making these stuffed cabbage rolls pays off in the form of a filling, crowd-pleasing meal. Along with plenty of leftovers. Enjoy!

xo

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Recipe Rating




    9 Comments
  1. 5 stars
    Just made these last night and they got devoured by all, including my 5 and 7 year old and my diehard omni father-in-law. I was planning on adding more spices to the rice, didn’t think just cumin and lemon would be enough but those simple additions made it just delicious!

    • Hi Barbara,

      The texture of the cabbage may change a little, but they should freeze pretty nicely for up to a month. I hope you enjoy them!

      Gena

  2. gena, stuffed cabbage rolls are one of my favorites! a sure comfort food from my childhood. the combination of rice, lentil, and currant is so insanely delicious – i will be making these soon. happy holidays to you! xo