Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce . $6.26

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are so old-fashioned they’re probably just out fashion, but they make a fantastic, hearty meal on a cold, dreary wet spring day.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet and Sour Sauce
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet and Sour Sauce

My sister suggested Stuffed Cabbage Rolls for a blog post, and yeah, I turned up my nose at the idea at first. Then the idea slowly percolated, and these Stuffed Cabbage Rolls were just the thing this week when I was reluctant to turn on the furnace and hoping the sun would come out. The long, slow braise warmed up my kitchen and the smell wafting through the house was fantastic…

Thanks, Sis, I owe ya one. Not the healthiest meal, as many “heritage” recipes are meant to feed hard workers, but wonderful all the same. I was worried about using a recipe with canned soup, but it was the right call. Use tomato sauce if you’d rather avoid the canned soup version. Neither my son or I could stop eating these. We even warmed up a couple for a late night snack. Don’t be tempted to leave out the raisins – just trust me on this one!

The thing with cabbage rolls is that once you prepare the cabbage, you’re basically committed to using the whole head. This recipe makes 16 cabbage rolls packed in a 9 x 13″ pan. Traditionally the left over cabbage is strewn in the bottom of the pan and the top of the pan is covered with a few more leaves.

Problems with this:

  • the sauce clings to the shredded cabbage and is difficult to spoon over the rolls.
  • the pan will badly over flow in the oven.

Changing pan sizes is iffy – sometimes the sauce is too thick, other times, spread too thin. I put the extra cabbage in the fridge and make a meal using Apple Braised Green Cabbage as a side later on – I use a shorter braising time since the cabbage is partially cooked.

With careful shopping the Cabbage Rolls cost around $6.26, but since it makes 16, I freeze half, dividing the cost and labor over two meals. For one meal the cost is $3.14, and (sorry, not shown here) I added budget sides: Lovely mashed potatoes to sop up the sauce and my favorite Carrots with Parsley Butter. A few mashed potatoes for four runs well under a dollar and the carrots about 60 cents, bringing the meal total to about $4.75.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet and Sour Sauce
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet and Sour Sauce

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce, 16 rolls, allow 2 to 3 per person.

  • 1 large head cabbage
  • 1 cup long grain white rice, uncooked
  • 1-1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped or grated
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoons pepper
  • 1 cup golden raisins (they look better in the dish, but the plain old brown variety is fine, too.)
  • 2 cans tomato soup (see note)
  • 1 soup can of water (see note)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar (plain or flavored)
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (this is strong – add some, then taste as the strength can vary depending on age.)
  • 1 soup can of water
  • Salt to taste

Bring a large stock pot (12 quart) of water to boil. Core the cabbage by running a knife at an angle around the stem end. (Just like one would take the lid off a pumpkin for Halloween)

There are several ways to deal with the leaves:

  • Freeze the cabbage overnight (I have not tried this, myself, but there is a sound endorsement on the notes at the bottom of this post and next time I will!)
  • Place in boiling with a heavy plate to hold it down. Blanch about 3 – 5 minutes, remove promptly and drain upside down. Separate the leaves carefully, keeping them intact. The cabbage may need to be returned to the water when the inner leaves are reached.
  • Place in boiling water and as each leaf softens, remove it with a pair of tongs, very carefully…

You should get about 15 to 18 leaves intact, but try for 16. If you can’t get 16 whole ones, you’ll need a couple more to piece together if the 16 whole doesn’t work out.

Meanwhile, mix tomato soup (or tomato sauce, see note, below) with brown sugar, lemon juice vinegar, allspice, salt and one can of water. Feel free to taste and make sweeter or more sour by adding more sugar or vinegar/lemon. Set aside.

In another small saucepan, bring water to a boil. Pour in rice and raisins and simmer briskly for 5 minutes. Drain. Cool slightly. In a large bow mix rice and raisin mixture with ground beef, onion, eggs, salt and pepper.

Roll mixture in cabbage leaves – one by one, take a cabbage leaf and cut any hard core at the bottom of the leaf out by making a small, narrow triangle. Place about 1/3 cup of the filling on the leaf, and roll and tuck from the top down.  Place in rows in the pan, nice side up. If you need to, put two smaller leaves together and roll together as one.

Pour the sauce over the cabbage rolls. Nudge the rolls around a bit so the sauce can permeate the casserole. Cover tightly with foil and bake for two hours at 325 degrees. You may want to place a sheet of foil larger than the pan on a rack just below the pan to catch drips.

Note: A can of soup holds 11 fluid ounces, so substitute with a can of tomato sauce and enough water to come to a total of 33 fluid ounces. That’s about 4 cups, one ounce. The prepared Tomato Sauce in a can is quite a bit thicker than the soup/water combination – for a closer consistency, use a large can of tomatoes, with the juice and blend in the blender. Measure it (I haven’t done this so I don’t know how many fluid ounces that is) and add water to make up the slight difference.

A scoop like this makes it so easy and all the meat is used, equally portioned
A scoop like this makes it so easy and all the meat is used, equally portioned
flatten the mixture into a log, fold both sides over, then the top
flatten the mixture into a log, fold both sides over, then fold the outside portion of the leaf up and over the roll.
Roll up the cabbage roll into a bundle. Don't worry about the little "v" just put the best side "up" in the pan
Roll up the cabbage roll into a bundle. Don’t worry about the little “v” just put the best side “up” in the pan. When rolling, keep the “stem” ends (the tails) tucked in towards the center.

 Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips, as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

  • Time:  Divide and Conquer. These freeze and reheat beautifully. Large dishes like this are often eaten well the first night, then left overs are appreciated for a lunch or two, then they languish, eventually to be tossed. Always leave them wanting more, and freeze half right off the bat – they’ll be much more appreciated later.
  • Cabbage: Pick the largest cabbage you can find. Mine was almost 4 pounds. Cabbage is always less expensive in the fall/winter and usually there is a great sale around St. Paddy’s day. While you’ll want to pay attention to the sales, per head or per pound, they can often be picked up in my area for very cheap. It makes sense to pick up an extra if you have room in your fridge when you see a rock bottom price and using it for Braised Cabbage or Cole Slaw. Try using the core in a stock or in a green smoothie. I paid 68 cents for mine (17 cents a pound.)
  • Ground Beef: I always buy on sale and freeze – I don’t think there is ever a reason to pay full price. If I have a bit left over because the sale price doesn’t allow me to always choose the quantity, I put the remainder in a Ziploc and freeze, noting the weight on the package. I’ll add to it until I get enough to make something. Cost $1.99 a pound, a pound and a half is $2.99
  • Rice: I was lucky to pick up Riceland on sale with a coupon through most of last fall, so my cost was free. If you don’t have a coupon, buy in a larger bag. Check in the “ethnic” areas of your store, too, where prices are sometimes lower - a good price if you have to pay is about 8 cents a cup.
  • Onion:  At 66 a pound, a half an onion is about 12 cents. Store in a dark, cool place away from your potatoes.  I keep mine in a paper grocery sack by my kitchen door. Pick them up in quantity when you see them on sale, or if you have an Aldi’s near you, they may be less expensive there.
  • Eggs: Stock up on eggs when they’re inexpensive, normally during Holiday weeks. Low prices in my area range from free (often with other purchases) to anywhere from 50 to 88 cents. They last for weeks in the fridge – The date on the container is a ‘buy’ date, and you can expect them to last a good six weeks past that date. If you pick up two or three packages when they’re at their low, you’ll rarely need to pay full price.
  • Refrigerate right away and never store in the door; eggs keep best in a colder part of the refrigerator, in their own box. (Then put your partially used vegetables in the door where you’ll see them and remember they need to be used ASAP – the half a bell pepper or onion, etc.)  In doubt about an egg? If it floats in water, discard, just to be on the safe side. Cost for 2 at 44 cents a dozen? About 7 cents.
  • Raisins:  Buy these at Christmas, if possible, when dried fruits and nuts of all kinds go on sale for some of the lowest prices of the year. I keep them in their box, but I put them into a Ziploc so they stay moist for a long time. Cost per pound $1.89 on sale, you’ll seldom see coupons for them. One cup is about 72 cents.
  • Tomato Soup:  Substitute canned tomatoes pulsed in the blender or food processor if you’d like, but there is something a little magical about the way the smooth, creamy soup makes this sauce. I try to stock up on a few basic canned soups in the fall, and with coupons and sales I often buy them at no cost.  My cost was free, but a good sales price with a coupon is about 50 cents, so I’ll count a dollar toward the soup.
  • Brown Sugar:  Both Brown Sugar and Powdered Sugar go on sale before Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter – just the time there are great coupons out there. You may find lesser sales around other holidays, too. I generally pay between 60 and 99 cents for the two-pound bags – I don’t like to run low because the regular price is around $2.39. Cost for 1/2 cup is 10 cents.
  • Lemon Juice:  Look for lemons to drop in price from January to April, stock up a bit when the price is really great as they keep for several weeks. If the recipe doesn’t use all the rind, I’ll grate off the rest before I squeeze it and put it in small snack sized Ziplocs in the freezer for another use. To get more juice out of your lemon, press down on it and roll it on your counter, or place in the microwave for just a few seconds to barely warm. Last bought 69 cents for a lemon, I just used the juice of one, which is about 3 tablespoons.
  • Vinegar:  Buy it now at Easter – often unadvertised, you’ll find both regular and apple cider on sale as well as the fancier varieties - often with a coupon.  I used apple cider here, cost negligible.

Put Your own Spin on It:

  • As mentioned before, if you don’t wish to use the Tomato Soup, just pulse a like amount of canned tomatoes with some of the juice for a substitute, but you can also use brown rice instead of regular rice.
  • You can change-up the meat in this recipe – use all or a combination of any good quality ground turkey, pork or beef.
  • I don’t make this recipe often – it takes a LONG time to cook, although the preparation really isn’t as bad as you’d think – so I enjoy it for its plain, simple taste.  If you get too fancy, you might find yourself with something like meatloaf, which is fine, but then why not have meatloaf?
  •  I’ve seen many recipes using sauerkraut on the bottom and top, with a bit of the sauerkraut juices blended in the sauce.
  • I’ve also made a fancier version in the past that had a bit of vermouth (about 1/4 cup) in the sauce, then the cabbage rolls were removed, and the sauce was blended with about a 1/4 cup of sour cream.  Delicious…

Kitchen & Cooking Hacks:

I love to use scoops for measuring, but sometimes it can be confusing to figure out what size is needed – the two I use most are the 1/3rd cup and the 1/2 cup for things like cupcakes, muffins, portioning for a recipe like this. The other one I use a lot is a smaller one that’s just right for cookies.

Nutrition per Roll: 

Cal 193, Cal fat: 83, 44%; Tot fat 9g; Chol 49mg; Sod 192 mg; Pot 211mg; Carb 18g; Fib .82g; Sug 12g; Prot 9g.

 Heritage Recipe

Many old recipes like this, recipes that got our families through hard times in generations past, passed on through the years have their places, even today. They do, however, often represent an “old-school” way of thinking about budgeting and cooking. They were developed at a different time, when goals were often to use up, make do, and keep a little meat on the bones in a time when people worked hard, lived without modern conveniences and often went through times of lean and plenty.

When compared to a more balanced meal full of vegetables, light on the meat and starches, Heritage recipes often fall short. While not necessarily “expensive,” Heritage recipes do not necessarily allocate our funds towards the most balanced, nutritious meals we can have for around the same price. Have them now and then, enjoy them, pass down cherished memories – but remember that a Heritage Recipe may not offer the most “bang for the buck” on the nutritional level.
Made in March 2012, repriced March 2014

6 thoughts on “Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce . $6.26”

  1. I love the way you really explain the prices and when you have a recipe that’s different you explain everything. Like on your white sauce post and your Runzas.

    I just wanted to comment and let you know the details are appreciated!

    1. Thanks much Bethannie! I appreciate the kind words. I guess I assume that most people can do the basics like sauteing onions, etc., but there are some things that are especially tricky.

      Even if it gets long, I’d rather know EVERYTHING I need to know on one post instead of searching around. I try to think what I would tell my kids when I am explaining how to make a history, and the stories I tell them about the recipe when we’re making things together.

  2. Kathryn, that’s a great idea! The parboiling is the worst: I can’t imagine the sounds coming out of my kitchen as I do it – the groaning over lifting the heavy pot full of water, the jumping hissing and expletives as it splashes over the sink, (and sometimes the counter and floor) the ooooh, oooh, oooh….hot hot hot hot comments as I peel apart the leaves! Next time: I’ll freeze. So what part of the world are you in these days?

    Even overnight doesn’t damage it?

  3. If you freeze the cabbage, even overnight, then thaw it out, the leaves are limp and you don’t need to parboil. I always found that was the worst part of making cabbage rolls. Now it is a breeze.Just core the cabbage and use.

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