This hearty vegan stuffed cabbage is the ultimate in healthy comfort food. Cabbage rolls are filled with lentils and cauliflower rice, covered in a homemade sweet and sour sauce and baked to perfection.
This post has been updated from the original posted October 20, 2020.
As a child, I loved the stuffed cabbage my grandmother made. I’ve wanted to create a recipe for vegan cabbage rolls for a long time…but I always thought it would be too much work and not worth the effort.
But, I was so wrong…on both counts. O.M.G. these are insanely good…and easy to make. Plus, they’re so filling and satisfying, yet I never feel sluggish after eating them. You’ve definitely gotta make them. STAT!
Don’t worry, I’ve got tips and tricks to get this done in no time. Easy peasy frozen method for softening the cabbage. Check. Healthy and hearty plant based filling that is super tasty. Check. Delicious sweet and sour sauce that’s mouthwatering tangy. Check.
Of course, you do need to have some patience while the heavenly aroma filters through your home and you sit and relax waiting for your stuffed cabbage rolls to bake. Who’s in?
Why these work
- Hearty plant based dinner.
- Meal prep friendly. Make it when you can, reheat when you need it.
- Tasty, tangy, mouthwatering sauce made with pantry ingredients.
- Fancy and easy to make. Both are true!
- Perfect for Thanksgiving or a holiday meal.
- Super healthy comfort food.
Plus, they are impressive when you serve them. You don’t have to tell people how easy these stuffed cabbage rolls are to make. They’re totally holiday meal worthy. You know, people just love when they think you fussed over making something special for them! Shhh…I can keep a secret, can you?
What kind of cabbage is best for rolls?
It’s traditional to use green cabbage for rolling and stuffing. Red will also work, but the beautiful purple color will turn dark and inky looking. Savoy cabbage is my first choice because it has variegated leaves that add texture and beauty.
How to soften cabbage for rolling
- Why choose the freezer method? If the whole idea of putting cabbage into and out of boiling water doesn’t appeal to you….this method is much easier and safer too. Freezing breaks down the structure of the leaves making them pliable and easy to roll. When the cabbage defrosts, it naturally wilts as it rids itself of the water.
- Prep cabbage for freezing: Remove the tough outer leaves of the cabbage. Rinse cabbage, then pat it dry. Sounds obvious, but it’s important. Any water residue will just turn to ice. You do not need to core the cabbage now. It will be so much easier to do once it softens.
- Place in plastic bag and freeze. Zip-top bags are the best way to freeze. Before sealing, remove as much air as possible. If you have more than one head of cabbage to freeze, place each in a separate bag.
- How long to freeze? 1-2 days, or as long as 2 weeks.
- Thaw cabbage. Let the cabbage thaw out a few hours (or overnight) at room temperature before you plan to stuff the leaves. Place the head of cabbage on a kitchen towel, since it will release water as it wilts and softens.
- Use a chef’s knife and/or a small paring knife and carefully remove the core.
- Bring a large pot of water, with a pinch of salt to a rolling boil.
- Use a large pair of tongs to carefully place the whole head in the boiling water, core side down.
- Allow water to come back to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer.
- Cook until leaves are tender. It will take 8-10 minutes, depending on size of cabbage, until the leaves can be easily peeled off and are soft enough to roll.
- Remove from water with tongs and place on a dish towel to drain.
Sweet & Sour Sauce
- Tomato sauce. Look for organic, in glass and with only one ingredient: tomatoes.
- Pineapple juice. I always keep a bottle in my fridge so I can make sweet and sour vegan meatballs on a whim.
- Raisins. A great natural sweetener. I keep them around to make oatmeal raisin cookies.
- Apples: I love the way the chunks of apples taste after cooking in the sauce. Or, you can grate the apples for a more subtle effect.
- Red wine vinegar. Good substitutes include lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, unseasoned rice vinegar, white wine vinegar.
- Legumes: I like to use cooked lentils for plant based protein plus extra fiber. Cannellini or pinto beans would be another good choice because they’re soft and would be easy to mash into the rest of the ingredients.
- It takes just a couple minutes to mix together the chopped onions, green peppers, cauliflower rice, ground flax, garlic and spices with the legumes.
- No need to pre-cook the filling. The stuffed cabbage rolls will steam in the oven making the filling rich with flavor.
How to make vegan cabbage rolls
- Place softened cabbage leaf on a flat surface. Add a heaping spoonful of filling onto the center of the leaf.
- Fold bottom of cabbage up towards center, covering filling.
- Fold both sides into the center.
- Roll with seam side facing down.
- Spread sweet and sour sauce onto the bottom of a deep baking dish.
- Lay one cabbage leaf down. Load 1-2 Tablespoons filling into leaf. Fold bottom up, sides in and roll. Place cabbage roll seam side down onto sauce in dish.
- Continue to roll until the baking dish is full. Spoon remaining sauce over cabbage rolls
- Pour on water and cover tightly in preheated 350 degree oven. Bake for 90 minutes, until soft.
Meal prep and storage
- Prep ahead: Filling can be made in advance and kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. Same with sauce. Cabbage can be frozen up to a week in advance and then defrosted in the fridge overnight for easy rolling.
- Store: Store stuffed cabbage casserole, tightly covered in fridge for 5 days or freezer for 3 months.
- Freeze: I like to use glass containers with lids to freeze casseroles. Otherwise, cool completely, then cover with foil and freeze for 3 months. Defrost overnight in the fridge.
- Reheat: Reheat in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.
Debra’s Pro Tips
- Don’t be alarmed at the TOTAL time to make these. Most of it is passive.
- A large head of cabbage has enough leaves to make a double batch. One for this week and one to freeze.
- In a rush? Use canned beans and frozen cauliflower rice. Mix and fill.
Savoy cabbage is my favorite to use for cabbage rolls. The savoy has texture that really lends itself to rolling and in my experience it softens and becomes tender with less cooking time than regular green cabbage.
You can boil or freeze the cabbage to soften it and make it pliable for rolling. I prefer the freezer method because it’s safe and passive. You do have to plan ahead to have it in the freezer for 2 days and then overnight to defrost. But, that is passive time. The cabbage will release all that water as it defrosts, wilting it so it will be easy to roll.
If you don’t have time for the freezer method, you can boil the entire head of cabbage for 8-10 minutes and the leaves will be soft enough to roll.
Absolutely! The filling can be made with a combination of veggies, legumes and spices. Lentils or beans are a good substitute for meat.
Yes. Traditional stuffed cabbage is stuffed with meat and rice, which makes it gluten-free. You can substitute cauliflower rice for the regular rice for a grain-free version. Make sure the sauce you use is also gluten-free.
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Vegan Stuffed Cabbage
- 1 head cabbage green or savoy
Sweet and sour sauce
- 2 15-oz cans tomato sauce
- ½ cup raisins
- 2 small apples peeled and diced small or shredded
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar*
- ½ cup pineapple juice
- 1 ½ cups cooked lentils*
- 1 medium onion grated or finely diced
- 1 small green pepper small dice
- 1 cup cauliflower rice
- ¼ cup ground flax seeds
- 3 cloves garlic pressed
- 1 Tablespoon dried Italian spices
- ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
- PREPARE (SOFTEN) CABBAGE: Pull off outer leaves to cabbage. Rinse and pat dry. Freezer Method: Place cleaned cabbage head in a zip-top freezer safe bag and freeze 2-3 days (or up to 2 weeks). Defrost at room temperature for a few hours, or overnight. Cabbage will release water as it defrosts (I recommend placing it on a dish towel) and naturally wilt. Carefully cut off stem. Remove leaves carefully. If necessary, trim any thick stems with kitchen shears or a sharp knife.
- Cook lentils….according to package. This recipe call for already cooked lentils. You can do this step up to 3 days in advance.
- MAKE THE FILLING: Place lentils, onions, green peppers, cauli-rice, flax seeds, garlic, spices into a bowl and mix well. If using beans, mash a bit with a fork before blending with remaining ingredients.
- MAKE THE SAUCE: Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350
- Spread 3/4 cup sauce over bottom of casserole dish.
- Pull leaves of cabbage off head. Spread one leaf out and spoon 1-2 Tablespoons filling in center of leaf. Fold bottom up and around filling, then fold the sides in and finally pull the top over it all to form a tightly rolled log. Place rolled cabbage leaf, seam side down on top of sauce in casserole dish.
- Continue to roll leaves and place in casserole until dish is full. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover will remaining sauce. Pour 3/4 cup water over entire dish, cover and bake for 90 minutes.