Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet 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, 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 and Sour Tomato Sauce

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauce


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 but you can use actual tomato sauce instead) 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.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauce

Scoops portion and make even shapes for rolling & stuffing.

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 if you do that.

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 this recipe for Apple Braised Green Cabbage as a side later on – and that cooks much more quickly than usual because cabbage is already softer since it’s been “wilted” for this recipe.

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.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauce

flatten the mixture into a log, fold both sides over, then fold the outside portion of the leaf up and over the roll.

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.

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.

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 like this recipe!

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce


Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce

  • Author: mollie
  • Total Time: 2 1/2 hours
  • Yield: 16 rolls 1x
  • Category: Main Dish Beef
  • Cuisine: German


  • 1 large head cabbage
  • 1 cup long grain white rice, uncooked
  • 11/2 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


There are several ways to deal with the cabbage 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 one of 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.

Keywords: Bargain Meal of the Week, Cabbage, Canned Soup, Family Recipe, Freezes Well, German, Ground Beef, Heritage Recipe, Tomatoes.

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16 thoughts on “Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with Sweet Sour Sauce

  1. JC

    This is such a good recipe! It’s hard to find recipes for cabbage rolls with sweet sour sauce. I’ve made this as written and everyone loved them. I’ve also stuffed peppers with the meat mixture and topped with the sauce. I’ve also had some left-over cabbage, so I chopped it up with some onions, mixed with sauerkraut and put in a baking dish. I made the meat mixture into patties, browned them and put them on top of the cabbage and poured the sauce over and baked them. So good. The only thing I do is chop the raisins up a bit. Thank you so much for the wonderful recipe!!

    • FrugalHausfrau

      JC, I’m so glad you enjoy them and thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I love love love your variation on the theme! I might have to work that one up with credit to you of course! It seems to be getting harder these days to find large cabbages at the store, at least where I live and this would solve that issue as well as make this much easier to toss together. You have really given me an AHA moment!! L)

      Also, I do have a Cabbage Roll Soup that have posted here that I based off of these flavors. It makes a big pot, which I love because I can eat it for days and never get tired of it and it freezes well, too. Here’s the link if you want to take a peek.

      Thanks again! Mollie

    • FrugalHausfrau

      Alice, I personally have not although I’ve used them before in other German dishes. Maybe someone will chime in! Mollie

  2. Tena Meyers

    Just put this in the oven. Doubled the sauce, added minced garlic, and put it on a bed of rinsed sauerkraut. I’ll let you know how it tastes.

    • Fern Barrett

      I’ve always put my cabbage rolls on a bed of rinsed sauerkraut..its delicious!! I will be making this recipe since I had cabbage rolls at a Jewish deli..this recipe is so close, with the golden raisins..Cant wait to try it..

      • FrugalHausfrau

        So we have two votes for sauerkraut! Next time I’ll try it – I do love sauerkraut, especially when it’s cooked long and slow! Thanks Fern! Hope you love them as much as we do!


  3. Sue R

    I either do the freezing the cabbage thing or cook it in the Instant pot for about 15 minutes whole. Last time I didn’t even bother rolling them and layered it in a springform tin then into the pressure cooker. I made two so had the second one a week later. I’ve done the rolled version in a slow cooker too and that worked great.

    • FrugalHausfrau

      I love these hints! Thanks! Especially the layers – like a cabbage lasagna! I made this into a soup yesterday, so I’ll be writing that up soon. I loved it!

  4. bethanie

    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!

    • 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 recipe, and the stories I tell them about the recipe when we’re making things together.

  5. Pingback: Cabbage rolls “romanian style” « Chef Doru's Blog

  6. 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?

  7. kathryn

    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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