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, until these Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce manifested on my table. They were just the thing this cold spring day. The long, slow braise warmed up my kitchen and the smell wafting through the house was fantastic…
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce was so common when I was growing up in Northwestern Iowa, that they were just that kind of down-home meals that was too often taken for granted. At least until you’ve grown up and inadvertently distanced yourself not just from loved ones but from so much of the heritage of home. Tasting these again after so many years really was like going home, back in space and time, and neither my son or I could stop eating them. We even warmed up a couple for a late night snack.
About Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce:
These Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are filled with the classic mixture of ground beef and rice, a little onion, and salt and pepper; just good plain cooking. But they have just a few raisins that all but dissolve into that filling, giving it a rich, indescribable flavor and a slight touch of sweetness. Don’t be tempted to leave out the raisins – just trust me on this one!
What really takes your Stuffed Cabbage Rolls over the top is that sauce, which has the classic German sweet & sour flavors. Tomato sauce (I like to use tomato soup, obs a more recent substitution, just because it’s so incredibly smooth) with a touch of brown sugar and a little acid, lemon, and vinegar. It’s a beautiful thing and downright addictive. And then there’s a good pinch of allspice for that haunting “What’s in it?” finish.
Making Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce:
The thing with making Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce is that once you prepare the cabbage by boiling or freezing, you’re basically committed to using the whole head. Traditionally the leftover cabbage is strewn in the bottom of the pan and the top of the pan is covered with a few more leaves.
The problem I have with this is that the sauce clings to the shredded cabbage and is difficult to spoon over the rolls, which I hate because I love love love that sauce and so often the pan will overflow in the oven. Of course, if you do love all the tomato cabbage mixed with the sauce that you’ll get when you add the shredded cabbage to the bottom of the dish, go for it. I’d suggest using a larger or higher sided pan, something like what I call a lasagne pan.
This recipe makes 16 cabbage rolls packed in a 9 x 13″ pan. Changing pan sizes is iffy – sometimes the sauce is too thick, other times, spread too thin. My solution is to put the extra cabbage in the fridge and make a meal using Apple Braised Green Cabbage as a side later on – and that coos much more quickly than usual because cabbage is already softer.
Some people, when they’re ready to roll their cabbage rolls, trim the heavier veins in the cabbage by shaving them off horizontally, so they’re the same thickness of the leaves. If you have a good sized cabbage, which you should, it’s a little faster, I think to just trim them out. It’s fine when the roll is finished.
Some Variations on Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce:
Feel free to use canned tomatoes, their juices and a touch of water to replace the soup; Directions are in the recipe.
A mix of ground beef, pork and/or veal can be used instead of all ground beef, and even ground turkey could be used. If you’re wanting to, brown rice can be used instead of standard white rice.
Some heritage recipes use sauerkraut on the bottom and top of the cabbage rolls, and instead of using lemon or vinegar, blend the juice from sauerkraut into the tomato for the sauce.
A much fancier version of the sauce call for about 1/4 cup of vermouth added to the tomato, then after the cabbage rolls are removed, the sauce is blended with about 1/4 cup of sour cream.
Saving Money on Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce:
With careful shopping, the Cabbage Rolls cost around $6.26; I first made this recipe in March 2012 and repriced March 2014. Since it makes 16, I freeze half, dividing the cost and labor over two meals. I added budget sides: very creamy mashed potatoes are so perfect with the sauce and if you’re looking for another vegetable, my favorite Carrots with Parsley Butter complement the rolls nicely.
Buy your ground beef on sale; there’s never really any reason to pay full price. If it comes in large packs, break it down into sizes that work for your family and chuck it in the freezer. You do have a deep freeze, don’t’ you? If you’re looking to be frugal, you should.
You’ll want the largest cabbage you can find to make cabbage rolls with. You can fudge two leaves together, but they just look so much nicer made with one large leaf. Make sure your head of cabbage is priced by the head, not the pound, though or you could be paying through the nose. I find the best prices on cabbage in early fall and there are usually great sales around St. Patrick’s Day; sometimes it drops down to 29 cents a pound in my area. Pick up more than one because they keep well and you can have Corned Beef & Cabbage and use the other for this dish or something else.
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce
- 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) filled with water to boil; leave enough room for the cabbage to be added. 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!)
- Core and 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 intact, leaves but try for 16. If you can’t get 16 whole ones, you’ll need a couple more to piece together.
Meanwhile, mix tomato soup (or tomatoes, see note) 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 bowl 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 slip between the rolls. 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 any 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. The prepared Tomato Sauce in a can is quite a bit thicker than the soup/water combination, so don’t use those. For a closer consistency, use a large can of tomatoes, with the juice and blend in the blender. Measure it and add water to make up the slight difference.
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.