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. In years past, it’s been shepherd’s pie, lentil and sweet potato loaf, or savory polenta stacks. This year, it’s these delicious stuffed cabbage rolls with rice, lentils, and currants. The dish brings back memories of one of the first celebratory vegan meals I ever made, and in spite of the fact that it demands a little elbow grease, the hearty, flavorful results are well worth the time you’ll spend creating it.
Yep, this recipe is a little bit of a project. There are rice and lentils to cook, filling to prepare, cabbage leaves to boil and then to stuff. The work, though, pays off in the form of a filling meal that serves a crowd or leaves you with a lot of leftovers. I made it on Sunday, had it for lunch yesterday and today, and there’s still plenty to go. There’s a lot to be said for quick, easy, weeknight dinners, and come January, that’s my focus. During the holidays, though, it’s nice to create something that’s a bit of an undertaking, but oh-so-rewarding to savor.
In the meantime, there are a bunch of shortcuts you can take when preparing this dish. I include my recipe for stress-free homemade marinara sauce, but you can use your favorite store-bought marinara instead. You should also feel free to use canned lentils for the filling, which will save you some time. You can prepare the filling and the sauce (if you’re making it at home) a day in advance, so that all you have to do the day of serving is boil and trim your cabbage leaves, then stuff and bake. Whatever works for you!
Quick note about preparing the cabbage leaves: if you try to peel whole leaves off the head of cabbage before boiling them, you’ll end up with a ton of torn leaves. Instead, the easiest way to get whole cabbage leaves is to submerge the whole head (stem attached and all) in boiling water, leave it there for a couple minutes, then rinse it under cold water. The outer leaves will slip off intact without any fuss, and you can keep repeating as needed. Once you have the leaves, you’ll want to treat them exactly the way you treat collard leaves for raw wraps: by using a paring knife to shave down the thick center rib. You can use this post as a tutorial, just substituting cooked cabbage leaves for raw collards.
Don’t worry if it takes a few tries for your leaves to roll up neatly, and don’t worry if they’re perfectly rolled. This dish is meant to be rustic, and it’s all getting smothered in marinara and baked in the end, anyway!
A little fun backstory: stuffed cabbage rolls are actually one of the first “fancy” vegan recipes I ever made at home. That version featured bulgar and raisins, but it had a similar combination of slightly Middle-Eastern flavors in the filling (cumin, lemon, currants) and a rich marinara topping. The first time I made it, I wasn’t sure that flavor combination would work, but I loved the way it turned out, and I still do.
I remember distinctly my feeling of pride at looking at my rows of neatly stuffed cabbage leaves, and being so happy that I’d created something a little more ambitious than tofu scramble or brown rice stir-fry (my first vegan suppers). Years later, I’m still really smitten with this dish, and I’m so happy to have prepared it in time for the holidays. I hope you try and enjoy it, too.
I know that this is a very hectic week for many of us, but if you get a chance, tune in on Thursday to get an easy, low-fuss, and ridiculously tasty breakfast recipe that’s slow-cooker friendly! It may be exactly what you want to wake up to on a holiday morning. Till then,