Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

Stuffed cabbage is a classic Ashkenazi Jewish dish, and everybody seems to have their favorite way of making it. Also known as holishkes or prokes, stuffed cabbage leaves were a central part of the Eastern European Jewish diet. When we talk about these types of dishes, it nearly always comes down to one question:

“How did Bubbe make it?”

We all have a fondness in our heart for the dishes we grew up with, and the way our parents or grandparents cooked them. Often, we find ourselves wishing that our grandparents had written their family recipes down. After they’re gone, we struggle to capture that traditional flavor, the one we remember so well from our childhood.

Because I don’t have a Jewish “bubbe” (grandma), I have to create my own favorite way of making these iconic Jewish dishes. Sometimes I am influenced by my husband’s family, but I also like to see what other family traditions are out there. Whenever I want to learn a Jewish recipe, I try many, many different recipes to see what I like best in each one. That means I’ve made stuffed cabbage over a dozen different ways. I’ve tried recipes from Polish friends and Israeli friends. I’ve tried it the Sara Kasden way, the Molly Goldberg way, the Fanny Engle and Gertrude Blair way (Jewish cookbook authors from my vintage cookbook collection). I’ve tried the wonderful versions from Joan Nathan and Arthur Schwartz and 2nd Avenue Deli. I’ve made it with V-8 juice and tomato soup, cranberry sauce and apricot preserves, raisins and crushed gingersnaps. They’re all terrific, and each has something that makes it special. My challenge is to take the thing I like best in each recipe and create something new, something fresh– my own take on the classic.

One thing I’ve found is that I like a stuffed cabbage that is less sweet and more tart. Polish versions tend to be extremely sweet, often with raisins. I prefer a tart sauce with a slight sweetness, as well as a savory filling full of flavor. I add sauerkraut for that extra bit of tartness. The filling is key– a stuffed cabbage filling can easily be bland if you don’t give it lots of seasoning and care.

At any rate, this is my version of stuffed cabbage, the one my husband loves and asks me for on a regular basis. Your bubbe may have done hers differently. That’s what is so fun about Jewish food… every family has their own way, and every bubbe’s way is the best way. The sauce’s flavor can be adjusted by adding more brown sugar or lemon juice to taste, if desired.

Stuffed cabbage is a wonderful dish for the autumn and winter months. It’s cozy and satisfying, and it’s also pretty healthy. It’s gluten free (when using certified GF packaged products), low in carbs, high in protein and full of fiber.

For an easier version of this dish, my Unstuffed Cabbage, click here.

Did your bubbe make stuffed cabbage? What’s your special family version of this classic dish?

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Stuffed Cabbage Leaves


  • 1 large green cabbage (3.5-4 lbs.)
  • 1 lb ground beef, ground chicken, or a mixture (I use half and half)
  • 1 cup cooked long grain rice, white or brown
  • 1/3 cup finely minced onion
  • 2 tbsp fresh minced dill
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups sauerkraut, divided
  • 2 cans (14 oz) tomato sauce, divided
  • 1 can (14 oz) diced or crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (or more to taste)
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar (or more to taste)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock or water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Prep Time: 1 Hour
Cook Time: 2 Hours
Servings: 12-16 stuffed cabbage leaves
Kosher Key: Meat
  • Rinse the cabbage clean, then immerse it in a large pot of boiling water and cook it for 4-5 minutes until leaves are soft and pliable, but not overly soft.
  • Drain the cabbage in a colander and let it sit until cool enough to handle.
  • Alternatively, you can freeze the cabbage overnight (or up to 3 days). Defrost the cabbage for about three hours. This will make the leaves pliable in the same way that parboiling does.
  • Prepare your filling. In a bowl, mix together ground meat, cooked rice, minced onion, minced dill, egg, ½ cup sauerkraut (drained of juice), 1/3 cup tomato sauce, salt and pepper to taste. I use about 1 ½ tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper—kosher meat needs less salt. To test the seasoning of the meat, you can fry up a small portion in a skillet or pop it in the microwave till it’s thoroughly cooked, then taste it. It’s easy to under-season the filling, so err on the side of adding extra pepper and salt.
  • Tip: You can make this filling ahead and refrigerate a few hours to overnight; this will allow the flavors to marinate and make it firmer and easier to handle.
  • Peel off the large cabbage leaves from the head of cabbage, keeping only the leaves that are whole/intact and big enough to stuff. Chop up the remaining smaller leaves along with the core of the cabbage. Reserve.
  • Place your large leaves on a cutting board.
  • Take a leaf and pat it dry with a paper towel.
  • Shave down the tough, thick part of the stem at the base of each leaf using a paring knife, being careful not to cut through the leaf itself. Repeat process for the remaining leaves.
  • Now it’s time to stuff the leaves. Place a leaf on the cutting board, stem end closest to you. The leaves tend to curl in one direction, so make sure that the curl is facing upward—in other words, it should have a bowl-like shape with edges that curl up, not down.
  • Place 1/4 to 1/3 cup of filling at the base of the leaf, centered, about 1/2 inch above the edge. Do not over-stuff the leaves; you want a substantial amount of filling, but a good amount of cabbage leaf around the edges makes for easier rolling.
  • Fold the base of the leaf up and over the filling till it’s completely covered.
  • Fold the left edge of the leaf inward. Leave the right side of the leaf open.
  • Continue rolling the leaf till it’s completely rolled up (with the right end still loose/open).
  • Tuck the loose end of the leaf inward, pushing it into the filled center of the leaf.
  • This will create a neat package that has a better chance of holding together in the pot.
  • Continue the process for the remaining leaves. Depending on how many useable leaves your cabbage has, you may find you have some leftover filling. Simply roll that filling into meatballs; you can place them into the pot along with the stuffed leaves, so you don’t waste anything.
  • In a small saucepan, combine the rest of the tomato sauce with the diced or crushed tomatoes, lemon juice, brown sugar, tomato paste, paprika, garlic and allspice. Warm up over medium heat till bubbly and fragrant. Taste the sauce; season with salt and pepper and more brown sugar or lemon, if desired.
  • Put remaining 1 cup of sauerkraut and the chopped cabbage leaves/core into the bottom of a pot. Spread the mixture out to create an even layer, then pour ½ cup of chicken broth or water over the top of the leaves.
  • Place half of the stuffed cabbage leaves on top of the sauerkraut mixture.
  • Pour 1/3 of the warmed tomato sauce over the first layer of stuffed cabbage leaves.
  • Put another layer of stuffed leaves on top...
  • and top with the rest of the sauce.
  • Heat the pot over medium high and bring the sauce to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to a slow simmer and cover the pot. Let the cabbage leaves cook for 2-2 ½ hours till the thickest parts of the leaves are tender. Check the pot periodically to make sure it’s not boiling too vigorously—this can make the leaves fall apart. A slow, even simmer works best.
  • When finished cooking, remove the stuffed cabbage leaves from the pot carefully with tongs. Top the stuffed cabbage with some of the sauce and a very generous sprinkle of black pepper. Serve hot. Leaves can be refrigerated for 4-5 days or frozen and reheated before serving.



Comments (202)Post a Comment

  1. Sounds good. I always buy a big, green cabbage with loose, large green leaves. I cut them off at the base and then I steam them in a large pot till they’re cooked and soft. I remove them a cool them. I saute an onion in a little bit of oil and then shred the rest of the cabbage till soft. Then I add about a cup of apple cider vinegar and a cup of balsamic vinegar and 2 large cans of crushed tomatoes. When the cabbage is soft, I add some sugar till I get a sweet and sour taste. I add some of the sauce to my chopped meat and then wrap in large leaves. I cook the cabbage rolls in a large, rectangular pan with the sauce covering it because it is less likely to fall apart.

  2. I’m drooling! That looks so so good! My mother would make stuffed cabbage (known as cabbage rolls in my family), but she would bake them.

  3. Oh wow! they look so good, I going to make them but I will also do some with soy protein instead of meat, yummm I can’t wait. Thanks Tori :-)

  4. I grew up with a Polish version, but it was never sweet.

    Last time I made them, I found that cutting out the core of the cabbage, filling with water (after a good rinse) and putting core side up in a plastic colander (over a microwave safe plate with a good size lip) allowed me to microwave the cabbage heads instead of boiling. A bit easier to deal with IMHO.

    Gotta try the tucking method next time I roll them. Thanks for that tip!!

  5. My Grandma made the best stuffed cabbage!
    The meat mixture was a hamburger/pork mix with long grain rice, an egg for binding, diced onions, plenty of garlic salt and pepper, and a spoonful or two of tomato paste for moisture. roll into the leaves like you show, we would also stuff a few green peppers…then we would put polish or hungarian sausage into the pot with saurkraut (a must) and petite diced tomatoes on top of the rolls with enough water to cover, bring to a boil, turn it down and let it cook all day! Just writing this takes me back to any given holiday when we would always have a huge pot of stuffed cabbage for the meal. Thanks for taking me down memory lane…Both my Mom and Grandma are gone, but their Stuffed Cabbage lives on!

  6. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I also grew up with my Polish grandmother’s version and it did not have raisins and was more on the savory side. It was very close to how you make yours. My mother also made it like that too. Oh how I miss it!! Thank you so much for writing about this! You have brought back a wonderful memory and I am going to make this!!

  7. Aloha again Tori,
    Being that my mother was Sephardic and my dad’s side is from Russia, I love my stuffed cabbage! Your ingredients sound yummy and I’m going to make them this week, now I cook mine with sour salts lol!!
    ps I can’t wait till Nov. when I will be traveling to California and cooking a Thanksgiving feast with my daughter samantha! “the little Ferraro kitchen”

  8. I found this recipe in an old, old cookbook and had to give it a try. It didn’t include sauerkraut, and I don’t think it included brown sugar. Probably some other differences, as well. Anyway, I made it a few times, and it was so difficult working with the cabbage, and going thru all the rolling, I decided to try making it into a casserole. Pretty easy to do, just chop all the cabbage, and layer it into a meat layer and a cabbage layer. I put a little of the tomato sauce on the bottom to help prevent sticking, and topped with the majority of the sauce. Not as impressive, of course, but easier. After that, I made it more often as an everyday dish. Glad to see it again, and learn it’s history. It’s always nice to rediscover an old favorite! Thanks, Tori! Love your site!

  9. Tori, you’re missing the KEY ingredient..sour salt..which, along with sugar gives the best sweet and sour flavor. Sour salt is what my Bubby and my mother used and what I use and have taught my daughter to use. It is nothing more than citric acid and should be used sparingly. The bottle I bought in the 70’s still has a little left. It used to be available in super markets in the Jewish foods department.

    1. My mother made cabbage rolls much like this Tori’s but she had a friend who used a bottle of chili sauce and a jar of grape jelly, mixed and simmering, in which to cook meatballs. It was so bizarre I had to try it and I’m embarrassed to say… delicious meatballs. I never would have thought of it for cabbage rolls. So though I came for Tori’s recipe I have the terrible feeling that I’m leaving with Ted’s mother’s…

  10. Wow girl….that is some gorgeous looking stuffed cabbage. You pics look amazing….fabulous color!
    My Bubbe came from Poland and the way we always make it, is with uncooked rice mixed into the meat with some grated onion and of course seasoning…tomato sauce or tomatoes and a little bit of brown sugar, not too much and lots of lemon juice and yes, raisins in the sauce. It is definitely a sweet and sour dish. We never used the sour salt, although I do know many people who do.
    I am definitely going to give your recipe a try sometime. I usually put my cabbage in the freezer…works like a charm.
    BTW….your tutorial is wonderful!
    Have a lovely holiday!

  11. My mom was from Minsk,and she made Cholopchi using raw brown rice,more tomato( 1 28 oz. can whole Italian tomatoes ,crushed in your hand )and more liquid ( 2 cans beef stock). Her rolls were not sweet but sweetish,slightly sour and very savory.The sour she got from sour salt. My friend Mortys mom,also a Minska,used chopped raisins instead of sugar,and vinegar as sour. Both used raw brown rice,as it does not get mushy and tastes better. Both cooked the rolls slowly in the oven at 275 degrees.

    1. Jerry: I think our families were neighbors! My grandparents came from what is now Belarus, which I believe is where Minsk is too! They were from the Jewish section of a town called Gomel. My Bobbe and mother made Cholopchkes that were sweet and sour – Sour salt AND lemon juice, and white sugar, because I don’t think they had brown sugar back before the Revolution! They used tomato juice and canned whole tomatoes, and NO raisins. The sugar was to soften the tartness without being TOO sweet. And they both used an oval roaster in the oven, because they usually made triple the recipe above! In later years, my mother adjusted the recipe from putting the cabbage in boiling water, to putting it in the freezer a couple of days ahead of cooking day, and taking it out the night before. The leaves were wilted, and easy to roll! They also made a cabbage borscht with flanken that had similar seasoning. Tart with some sweet, and still, NO raisins! I think maybe your mother and my grandmother had the same cooking background!!

  12. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    My grandmother passed away before I could try her cabbage rolls. A friend of hers made them once for me when we were home visiting family. My grandmother was from Slovenia and she called them Pigs in a Blanket. (There must have been pork in the rolls?) My partner’s family is from Poland and she makes them very close to your recipe. She uses hamburger and turkey. Thanks so much for the post! I LOVE hearing about other families versions of classic dishes. Ever hear of potica? That’s another family traditional food of my families. It’s a thinly rolled sweet bread with a walnut filling. Very delicious – very Eastern European.

    1. My grand parents came from Poland and Russia so we had similar versions of this great comfort food. Does any one have a recipe for what my Aunt Ettie (from Poland)called “onion cookies”? They were really a savory biscuit that contained flour, corn meal, and poppy seeds. I’ve never had them from any one else.

  13. Your stuffed cabbage is beautiful. I make it as well. My mother also made the dairy version and stuffed it with rice, raisins, chopped apple, a little sugar, an egg. Every thing else the same. So good.

  14. We have a similar Turkish cabbage dish as well, similar filling. I also heard from another Turkish lady that there is a chestnut filling version without the meat… This brings back memories :)

  15. Yours look wonderful. You have an interesting way of sealing the second end, I will have to try that. My Bubbe used sour salt and sugar for all things sweet and sour. And raisins in her chalupches. And she used uncooked rice and lo! it always turned out cooked. Go figure. Try and find sour salt today!

  16. Others have mentioned “sour salt” which my mom…and her mom, who was from Lithuania….insisted was the best. “Zoyer Zalts” which as was mentioned earlier is citric acid. My dad was a pharmacist and would bring home “pharmaceutical grade” zoyer zalts. Thanks for the recipe.

  17. I love stuffed cabbage leaves, I make a veggie version with rice, feta, raisins, almonds, mint and cinnamon. You’ve just reminded me, it’s going on my list for this week, thanks!!

  18. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I make stuffed cabbage once or twice a year, but I make three large heads at once. I feed my family, my daughter-in-law takes some home for the next day, and I eat it again the next day. Then I freeze the rest in a few containers to enjoy at other times during the year. The thing I learned today is about freezing the cabbage first. I’d never heard that before and I’m definitely going to try it because I have to boil the cabbages a whole lot longer than five minutes, and there’s a lot of cabbage. Having it defrosted and ready to stuff would be a great help. Thanks for the tip. Your website is great.

  19. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Tori, I made your cabbage rolls and they were fantastic! I saw the photos you posted (was drooling), and with the weather getting chilly, figured it was the perfect dinner to make and it was! Thank you for posting it, and all your other fabulous recipes. I have made several of them and they have all been winners!! Your ‘audience’ always provides such great tips, ideas and suggestions in their feedback too! I learn a lot from them!

  20. My Nana always made us the Polish version of stuffed cabbages. I live in a remote village in Alaska now. I had the good fortune of having all the ingredients to make this wonderful dish. I enjoyed reading all the comments on this topic on your blog. The last time I made stuffed cabbages, I did include “delish salt” which was citric salt. I think the vinegar in my recent venture with this recipe worked really well. My recipe is on the sweeter side, but not overly sweet. Here it is…
    link to
    P.S. I will be tackling some of your other recipes on your site. Thanks for sharing.
    Barbra Donachy

  21. I love stuffed cabbage. We have a Vietnamese version of it as well. Your post is great showing the step-by-step to make it! Love it with such vivid and vibrant coloured pictures. Would you mind if I mentioned it on my blog post for my stuffed cabbage recipe? I would also love to tweet about it 😉
    Thank you for sharing!

  22. I love (p)brokes. The only real differences in the recipes from yours is that my grandmother used sour salt to give it its zest and she used uncooked rice and let it cook in the meat juices so that it wasn’t too watery.
    Either way…………….I make it all the time!

  23. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Wow, I can’t believe there is all this cabbage rolls talk and no real comment on the real cabbage – soured! I am an American who went to live in former Yugoslavia in the time of communism and am now in Japan. I learned from the locals in Croatia, just over the hill from Slovenia, how to make the real thing. There is no taste like what soured cabbage gives. It is no more than sauerkraut but the whole head is the sauerkraut! Because I am not in Europe, I have to make the heads of cabbage sour in my Japanese kitchen. I scoop out the beginning of the stem part, fill it with salt to about two inches down, and put the heads down in a new trash bin and cover with water. I add a little more salt to do the job. The heads are pushed down under the water so they do not spoil in the pickling process. Plastic bottles filled with water over a firm object to keep the heads under are a good way to get the weight needed to keep them under. Put the lid on top of the plastic container. After two weeks you can surely smell that they are in a procedure of change! After two months they are ready to pull out and are naturally soft and pliable. They are now ready to use in all of the above instructions. I started late this year after cold set in so they have been sitting in my kitchen the last two weeks where it is warmer. They are now ready to put in the covered outside to continue fermenting. Japan is not as cold as Europe so they can be in an outside area rather than in a cold basement. They are good all winter. In the Spring what is left can be placed in the freezer for Spring ad Summer use. Try it and you will see the difference!

    1. During the pickling process is the cabbage in the refrigerator?
      The way I interpret what you wrote makes it sound as tho the cabbage is simply sitting in the kitchen or somewhere for the whole time it is pickling. Please reply back as I feel as tho I must be reading this wrong.

    2. Harold,

      I ferment and pickle all the time. The fermentation process is done at room temperature. Though if you are uncomfortable with that, it can be done in the fridge it just takes a LOT longer, and I wouldn’t use heads whole for that method. The key is the salt and keeping the cabbage fully submerged.

  24. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I too, love stuffed cabbage! But my family (half Polish, half Russian) made them different than any other recipe I have ever found. The making of the rolls themselves is all basically the same. The filling is what up in northern Ohio is called “meatloaf mix” which is ground beef, ground pork and ground veal. So, its the meatloaf mix, uncooked rice, chopped onion, garlic, dried parsley, salt and pepper. The rolls are wrapped using boiled cabbage leaves. The rolls are layered in a pot or electric roaster (thats how my moms sister cooked them). They are layered with chopped cabbage and sauerkraut. All mostly the same. But here is where my family differed. No tomatoes at all were added. A little water was added to the pot, and then just slow cooked. When the rolls were done, and there was a goodly amount of natural juice in the pot, we then make a zapraska, or roux. The zapraska is thinned with the juice from the cooked rolls, and then to this (basically, a white sauce) is added sour cream. Then this absolutely fabulous tasty gravy is poured over the rolls, and the rolls and their juicy sourcreamy gravy is served with mashed potatoes. The first time I had stuffed cabbage with tomatoes on them, I didnt know what they were. I still really only like them the way my family made them. Where my grandmother came up with that recipe, I have no idea. But it is the absolutely best way to eat them!!

    1. Bonnie, my Nana used a similar meat mix and did not use tomatoes either. However she stuffed the whole head of cabbage. I never knew what the gravy was, but you may have found it for me.

  25. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    I grew up eating the stuffed cabbage made by my Slovenian American mom, who grew up in Cleveland, which sounds very similar to what Bonnie posted above. (Maybe she’s a member of our tribe :-) But after many years of marriage to a Jewish man, and lots of Ashkenazi cooking, I’ve grown more accustomed to that sweeter style. But it’s all good! Now I’m back to exploring my Slovenian roots through cooking. Great blog!

  26. My Grandmother’s slovakian recipe is similar with the “meatloaf mix” filling but we definately had the tomatoes and added sauerkraut and either polish or spicy hungarian sausage, as well as a few stuffed green peppers to the pot!

  27. I follow my Yiddishe Mama’s version (she came from the Soviet Union but learned to cook here)–
    Sour salt-scant teaspoon
    Grape jelly 2-3 tablespoons
    Chile Sauce – 1 bottle
    Tomato soup
    Golden Raisins

    I use ground sirloin, and also, I start by preparing a beef broth.

    I’m making them right now—yum.

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