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!
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.
Never tried making stuffed cabbage before? It’s a little bit of work, but the steps themselves aren’t too difficult.
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.
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.
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.
The cabbage rolls take about 35-45 minutes to bake. They’re worth the wait, I promise!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once made, the rolls can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days.
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.
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.
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!