Vegan Cabbage Rolls in Tomato Sauce
These vegan cabbage rolls in tomato sauce are hearty, wholesome, and flavourful. They’re the perfect dish for the cooler months that the whole family can enjoy.
Have them with a side of bread, mashed potatoes, or enjoy them simply on their own. Being freezer friendly, you can make a big patch and enjoy them whenever you don’t feel like cooking.
Cabbage rolls are typically made with minced meat; however, this vegan recipe is made with vegetables, rice, lentils, herbs, served with a simple tomato sauce.
Using staple ingredients makes this dish so approachable and something you’ll be making time and time again.
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Tips for making these vegan cabbage rolls
Here are some tips for making these stuffed cabbage rolls:
- I wanted to make this recipe easy to make, so I used fresh cabbage leaves and canned brown lentils instead of fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) and dry lentils.
- You can use collard greens, savoy cabbage or even vine leaves with these rolls. If using the collard greens or vine leaves, you don’t need to cook them for as long, just enough time to cook the rice inside.
- If you’d prefer to bake them instead, you can do so for 1 hour instead of cooking on the stove. Make sure to add more liquid to the oven-safe pot and place cabbage leaves on the top to prevent the dish from burning and keep the moisture in. I haven’t tried this method personally, but I’ve seen others do it with great success.
- You can use this recipe as a base and adjust the seasoning and filling to your own taste. Mix up whatever veggies you have on hand with spices that you like. Get creative!
- Don’t skimp on the cooking time. Your cabbage rolls won’t be as soft and flavourful if you do. This is also important for the rice to cook.
- If you don’t have a food processor, chop all the veggies super fine by hand. If you do this method, you can add the olive oil to your pan straight away. Using a food processor extracts the moisture from the vegetables quicker, so this is why I cook them first and then add in the oil.
- Depending on how big your cabbage leaves are, the amount of filling you use will vary. Through all the testing that I did, I found that ⅓ -½ cup is required. The bigger the leaf, the more filling you add-in. If your cabbage head is slightly smaller, you’ll have some filling leftover. Use the rest of it for a soup, stew or stuff other vegetables with it.
What is the best type of cabbage for cabbage rolls?
The best type of cabbage for this recipe is just a simple green cabbage.
You can also use savoy cabbage (as mentioned above) or even red cabbage. It will be a sweeter dish, and the colour will obviously be different, but I’m sure enjoyable nevertheless!
Can these cabbage rolls be frozen?
Yes, they certainly can!
After rolling them, line them up on a sheet pan and freeze them separately. Then you can store them in a sealed bag without the rolls sticking to each other.
Thaw them out in the fridge and cook them as you would in the recipe from step 16 (having prepared the tomato sauce and shredded the cabbage).
They should keep in the freezer for up to two months.
What is the best method of removing cabbage leaves?
There are a few different ways that you can remove whole leaves from the cabbage head.
I’ll outline the three different methods that I’ve successfully used. It all starts with coring the cabbage by removing the thick core that holds the cabbage leaves together. Using a paring knife, cut on an angle around the base and remove as much of the core as you can.
At this point, you have three options:
- Freeze the whole cabbage and let it thaw out at room temperature. This will essentially make the cabbage limp enough for you to separate the leaves one by one without tearing them. The cook in boiling water as instructed in the recipe from here.
- Once the core is removed, sometimes the leaves are easy to remove by peeling them away from the base. If this isn’t working, try one of the other methods. This works for me most of the time. From there, cook in boiling water as instructed in the recipe from here.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and place the whole head of cabbage inside, ensuring that the whole head (or as much of it as possible) is under the water. Boil it for 10 minutes before removing carefully and letting it cool before removing the leaves. If you use this process, you don’t have to boil the leaves again before rolling them.
So there isn’t really the best method for removing leaves, but three different methods of doing the same thing. I’ve tried all three, and for me, option two is normally the easiest. This is also the best option if you don’t have a large enough pot to fit a whole head of cabbage into it.
Other recipes you’ll love:
- Rustic Eggplant Patties in Tomato Sauce
- Vegan Sweet Potato Gnocchi
- Turkish Stewed Green Beans
- Vegan Stuffed Peppers
- 3-Ingredient Cabbage Pasta
- Vegan Borscht (Beet Soup)
If you try this recipe, let me know! We’d love for you to leave a comment and rating below. If you want to go that extra mile, tag us on Instagram or share your photo of the recipe on Pinterest.Print
Vegan Cabbage Rolls in Tomato Sauce
- Prep Time: 45 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
- Yield: 8 Rolls
These vegan cabbage rolls in tomato sauce are hearty, wholesome, and flavourful. They’re the perfect dish for the cooler months that the whole family can enjoy. Serve on their own, with bread or mashed potatoes.
- 1 large green cabbage head
- 1 large brown onion, roughly chopped
- 1 small red bell pepper, roughly chopped
- 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 can / 425g / 15 ounces brown lentils, (or 1 ⅓ cup cooked lentils)
- ½ cup / 45g rolled oats
- ⅓ cup / 70g medium-grain white rice, washed and drained
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup parsley, finely chopped
- 1 ½ teaspoon salt
- Pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small brown onion, finely chopped
- 2 cans / 400g / 14.10 ounces x2 diced tomatoes
- 2–4 cups / 500ml-1 litre vegetable stock, or cabbage water*
- 2 dried bay leaves
- Salt (optional)
- Prepare the cabbage: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Using a paring knife, cut on an angle around the base of the cabbage head and remove as much of the core as you can.
- Gently remove 8 leaves from the base by peeling back each leaf by the rib. As you do so, make sure that the leaf you’re peeling back is the outermost leaf so that it comes away easily. Set the rest of the cabbage aside for later.
- Place the leaves in the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes.* (I place my tongs open in the pot to keep the leaves completely submerged in the water.)
- Using tongs, remove the leaves from water and let them sit in a colander to drain excess water and cool. Set aside.
- Prepare the filling: While the cabbage leaves cook, place the onion, bell pepper and carrots in a food processor with the S blade and pulse until you have a finely chopped consistency.
- In a large skillet on medium-high heat, add in the veggies and saute until all the water has evaporated.
- Add in the olive oil and saute for a further couple of minutes.
- Then add in the rest of the filling ingredients and mix well. Take off the heat and set aside.
- Prepare the sauce: In a large pot on medium-high heat (and one that will fit 8 cabbage rolls, I use my cast iron pot), add in the olive oil and onion, saute for a few minutes until translucent and fragrant.
- Pour in the cans of tomatoes, stir well and let it simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes while rolling your cabbage rolls. Stir occasionally.
- Make the rolls: Take one leaf, and with a pairing knife, cut the rib off. Place the leaf on a flat surface with the rib side facing you.
- Scoop ⅓-½ cup (depending on the size of your cabbage leaf) of the filling mixture and place it at the end closest to you with a couple of inches left so you can roll it. Make the filling nice and compact and roll the rib side of the leaf over the filling and slightly tug it towards yourself to make it nice and compact. Bring in the sides of the leaf over the middle, and then roll it tightly. Think about how you would roll a burrito; it’s the same method.
- Repeat this process for the rest of the cabbage and filling.
- With the remainder of the cabbage head we set aside earlier, cut it in half and shred it nice and fine. I chop it very thinly. This step is totally optional but adds a lovely texture to the sauce.
- Cook the rolls: Once the tomato sauce is done, scoop out half of it and add a generous layer of shredded cabbage to the pot. Now place the cabbage rolls in nice and snug and add the rest of the tomato sauce on top.
- Pour enough vegetable stock or cabbage water just to cover the cabbage rolls and add in the bay leaves. If you’re not using stock, season with salt to taste. Slightly push a couple of the cabbage rolls to the side so that some of the stock reaches the bottom of the pot and doesn’t burn when cooking.
- Cook on low for 1 hour with the lid on and then for another 30 minutes on medium with the lid off. Check on it every now and then to make sure that the liquid hasn’t completely evaporated. Remove the bay leaves before serving.
- Serve with bread, mashed potatoes or on its own. Two cabbage rolls are ideal per serve.
Water: Save the cabbage water from cooking the leaves. If you’re not using stock, make sure to season with salt.
Cooking cabbage leaves: My biggest pot can only fit 2-3 leaves at a time, so I do it in four separate batches.
Please see tips earlier in the post for some helpful information.
Note: This recipe has been updated in April 2021 from the original recipe that was posted in May 2015. If you’d like the original recipe, please find it here.
- Diet: Vegan
Can you bake this in a casserole dish instead?
You can. I mention it in the tips section 😊 You bake it for 1 hour instead of cooking on the stove. Make sure to add more liquid to the oven-safe pot and place cabbage leaves on the top to prevent the dish from burning and keep the moisture in. I haven’t tried this method personally, but I’ve seen others do it with great success. Hope that helps!
Great recipe! Used my vegan meatloaf recipe (tofu, oats…)plus your spices…yummy!
Sounds delicious! Thank your for the review x
All I have is smoked paprika – would that work in place of sweet paprika? If not what would be a good substitute to avoid going to the store!
Smoked paprika will work fine. You’ll just have a slightly different flavour (smokey) but still delicious 🙂 Let me know how you go!
So delicious. I don’t cook with oil and substituted some broth. Came out amazing
Thanks for the tip and review! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂
I’m not a vegan, but I really liked this recipe….so delicious! Thank you!
You’re very welcome! So happy to hear you enjoyed it 🙂
If you put them in an instant pot to cook, how long would you suggest putting them in for?
I’m sorry, I’ve never used an instant pot so I’m not sure.
So the rice goes in raw, and cooks inside the dish? Is that correct? My Mom used to make a non vegan version of this dish, and I think she lightly cooked the rice, and it finished inside the dish.
Yes, that’s right. As it cooks for 1.5 hours and you have liquid that will help cook it. If you prefer, you can do it using your mother’s method, but in this recipe, it’s a step you can skip.
Made this last night for the second time in a week – BIG hit! Thank you for this amazing healthy recipe, it’ll be part of regular rotation for sure. for our second time, we doubled the sauce ingredients (used a 28 oz can of tomatoes)….. the tomato sauce is so delicious that everyone wanted more!
It would be helpful to know what can sizes are used in this recipe?
For example, canned tomatoes come in different sizes, i.e. 14 oz, 28 oz, etc.
Sorry, Maria. They are 14 oz.
Delicious. My family who is not very accepting of all vegetables raved about them.
So glad to hear it, Michelle 🙂
I tried a dish with chickpeas and bulgur which I am keen to recreate and I was so happy to see that you use whole cabbage leaves instead of boiling a whole cabbage and peeling leaves off as and when which I find quite daunting! I think this is also a better idea -because it means you can still use the rest of the cabbage in any way you want – kimchi, coleslaw, steak etc..so works for me!! Also might just be me on this one but peeling the leaves off the cabbage made me realise what a beautiful vegetable it is!
Do you have any nutritional information for this? Sorry if I missed it… I just couldn’t find any. Thanks!
Hi Sara, I don’t supply nutritional information for my recipes. You can read more on why here.
Hi – this recipe looks great! It is a savory version, and my grandmother always made hers sweet and sour, with golden raisins. What would you add to the sauce for that? Any ideas? Thanks so much, Michele
So sorry Michele! I only saw this comment now. I’m not sure I understand the question. To make it sweet and sour? I’ve never had it like that before. I would imagine adding some form of sugar for the sweet part and then something acidic like lemon or apple cider vinegar for the sour part would do the trick? As I said, I haven’t made it like this before, but this is what I would instinctively try for those flavours. Good luck!
I realize I’m late to the party BUT i made these tonight and it’s the first time I’ve made cabbage rolls that didn’t fall apart! I changed the recipe slightly- along with rice and lentils I added TVP re-hydrated with the cabbage water. I spiced my mixture with thyme, red pepper, and black pepper. I also used purple cabbage, but only because I think it’s beautiful.
Thank you for such a lovely recipe!
Sounds very pretty 🙂 Glad to hear you enjoyed it!
It’s important to note that lentils are kitniyot, which are legumes and are not permitted to Ashkenazim–Jews from Europe. Sephardic and Middle East Jews are allowed to eat kiyniyot.
i believe what you are referring to is at passover time. the rest of the year kitniyot are permitted for ashkenazim. for a kitniyot free version, perhaps one could sub quinoa for the rice and sauted mushrooms for the lentils.
I tried it with a can of green lentils added basil and marjoram. Started the sauce and then put the cabbage rolls and sauce into the crock pot for the day. It tasted great. Thanks for a great recipe
Glad you like it! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Thank you for this recipe, it was delicious! I added garam masala as my seasoning and LOVED it! I will be adding more tomatoes/sauce next time just because I really liked it.
Thanks for sharing your take on it 🙂 Glad you like it!
Can I use red lentils instead and have somewhat similar result?
It won’t be overly similar as I normally use red lentils for more dishes like soups and curries. It won’t mess with the rolls themselves but won’t have the same texture. French lentils would work better. Let me know how you go!
Thank you for the recipe! Any spice ideas? I am adding garlic and thinking cumin and black pepper?
I would add paprika and/or black pepper. Cumin can be nice too but would work better if the leaves were fermented cabbage (sauerkraut). Can’t go wrong with garlic 🙂
Made these for dinner tonight. Next time, I’ll double the sauce and use a 28 oz can of tomatoes.
I put the sauce in a skillet, and then put the stuffed cabbage on top. Would have been nice to put more sauce on top of the stuffed cabbage.
Thank you very much for the recipe. I’ll have to check out more of your recipes!
Thanks J. Rich for the feedback! You’re welcome 🙂
These sound amazing, I am about to make them for my significant other’s birthday. Thank you! Love your site
You’re welcome Bea! 🙂 Hope they like it.
What size of tomatoes? 14 oz or 28 oz can? Thank you
Sorry for the slow response! The can of tomatoes would be 14 oz.
Hi! Thank you so much for posting this recipe! My husband is from Croatia and we eat mostly European foods. I have recently started a plant based food diet with no meat, dairy, or eggs and have been searching for recipes like sarma and pita that are dairy free and meatless. I really appreciate being able to make one of our staple foods minus the meat! I can’t wait to make it for my husband!
Hi Alison, thanks so much for reaching out! Yes, they are sometimes tricky foods to make plant based but there is always a way! If you wanted to make them more like sarma, I would use fermented cabbage leaves (sauerkraut)and maybe even soy mince (organic) to give it a more authentic flavour. This will be nice but if you’re trying to transition, this version may be the closest to the traditional one 🙂 I have to get more recipes and inspiration from my parents 🙂 Hope you both enjoy it and good luck on your plant based journey! Masa x
Hi, I was wondering if these can be frozen? (trying to get ahead on my Christmas cooking) If they can be frozen, would you cook them first, freeze and take them out of the freezer a day ahead and warm in the oven or????
Hi Laurie! I don’t see why not 🙂 Thaw the day before and pop in the oven just like you said. Enjoy!
Where I’m from (well, not me per se, but my Polish anscestors) these are called golabki (say guh-whoomp-key) and they are made with meat, usually ground beef and pork. I don’t like meat but never thought to make them with something like lentils (or I am now thinking minced mushrooms actually). I love the sauce and cabbage, though I also embellish with bay leaf, summer savory or thyme, and usually add some shredded carrot for moisture and color. If anyone is looking for a good brand of diced tomatoes and/or pureed for sauce, I like Pomi. It comes in a box, no BPA or anything artificial, 100% Italian tomatoes. Good stuff. Thanks for this post!
Hi Faith 🙂 I’ve heard that a few times now, people with a Polish background seem to eat them very frequently! Sounds very similar to sarma. Minced mushrooms sounds amazing! Mmmm….drool. Your version sounds delicious also. Thanks for sharing the tip! I always buy BPA free canned foods but a tetra pack is even better. I can get them at one health food store here – Ceres Organics is the brand.
Yum!!! Thank you so much for sharing this and making it so easy to print off or save the recipe. Can’t wait to try it.
Our pleasure Amanda 🙂 Hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!
Can I substitute green peppers for the cabbage? Thank you!
Hi Tina, You sure can! Might be nice to grill them slightly whole over an open flame to get that extra flavour before stuffing them.
What kind of canned tomatoes? Whole? Diced? Crushed? Stewed?
Hi Lisa, I like to get the whole ones and them dice them myself. I prefer to know that I am getting. Either whole or diced would be best 🙂 If tomatoes are in season where you are, beautiful fresh ones are also great!
Can you use quinoa instead of the white rice or brown rice?
You sure can! 🙂
That was my question, and I am making this today!
Made them with quite a few embellishments. Used fire roasted tomatoes, quinoa, safflower oil. Added basil, oregano, a little garlic, Field Roast (vegetarian) sausage, vegetable stock instead of water to the sauce and then I baked them! in the oven now. Cannot wait to taste them; they smell and look delicious!
That sounds delicious! How did they turn out?