Vegetarian Middle Eastern Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Vegetarian Middle Eastern Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
For years I have been meaning to make a vegetarian version of cabbage rolls — shortly after starting my blog back in 2007 in fact. As my mother never made cabbage rolls, and because I adopted a vegetarian diet when I was 18, I never did eat a traditional cabbage roll as far as I can recall, as they are usually made with pork or beef for the cabbage stuffing. As I enjoy coming up with vegetarian versions of meaty classics, and in this case, a vegan-friendly version too, it's a wonder it took me so many years to get around to doing so. Looking for something to make with a mushroom soup I had been craving for a while, cabbage rolls seemed like just the thing.

Vegetarian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
My dinner guests were delighted that I came up with a recipe, and so was I. For the filling, I decided upon short grain brown rice and brown lentils, as I like the texture and earthy flavor of both, but one could just as easily choose quinoa, barley or jasmine rice, and other types of lentils, such of Puy or green. For additional flavor and variation, I added sun-dried tomatoes, Kalamata olives, chopped walnuts and a variety of herbs and spices to give the cabbage rolls a Middle Eastern flair. The addition of nutritional yeast adds a bit of a "cheesy" element to the rolls, but you can omit it and use more chickpea flour for the sauce and in the filling as well so that it is firmer and easier to work with. The tomato sauce is an easy one to make, and although you can use jarred tomato sauce instead, if you are going to the trouble of making these rolls, which aren't very difficult once the prep is done and you get the hang of rolling the cabbage leaves, I highly recommend making a fresh tomato sauce for the dish so that it really shines. It's a fine dish for special occasions, and a good choice for a comforting and filling autumn or winter meal.

As I wanted to keep the dish vegan, I did not add sour cream to the rolls, but if you choose, scoop some over each portion for additional flavor and creaminess for serving.

Vegetarian Middle Eastern Stuffed Cabbage RollsVegetarian Middle Eastern Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Recipe by
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Published on October 22, 2020

No-meat Middle Eastern style cabbage rolls stuffed with lentils, rice, spices and herbs and cooked in a homemade tomato sauce

Preparation: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 55 to 65 minutes

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Tomato sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 fresh red chili, seeded and minced
  • 2 tablespoons chickpea flour (besan) or spelt flour<
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon coconut or brown sugar (optional)
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 3 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 5.5 oz (150 mL) can tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Cabbage rolls:
  • 6 to 8 sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in hot water for 20 to 30 minutes, drained and finely chopped<
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
  • 1 medium carrot, shredded
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill, trimmed and chopped
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked brown lentils (1/2 cup dried)
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked short grain brown rice (1/2 cup dried)
  • 1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
  • juice from 1 lemon (3 tablespoons)
  • 1/3 cup nutritional yeast (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  • 12 outer leaves from a large savoy cabbage
  • To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the shallot, garlic, bay leaf and chili, and sauté for a few minutes. Stir in the flour until the vegetables are coated. Now add the cumin, paprika, chili powder, thyme and sugar if using, and stir for another minute.

  • Stir in the nutritional yeast and tomatoes, whisk well, and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes to thicken. Add the tomato paste and vegetable stock, and simmer for another 5 minutes or until thick and creamy. Stir in the salt and black pepper, remove from heat, and set aside.

  • To prepare the filling for the cabbage rolls, heat the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and sauté until softened. Now add the garlic and carrot and sauté for another 5 minutes. Stir in the turmeric, paprika, thyme, allspice, cayenne, fresh dill and parsley, and cook for another minute. Stir in the cooked rice and lentils, walnuts, olives, sun-dried tomatoes and lemon juice. Stir well to combine and cook for another few minutes.

  • Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl, mash slightly with a potato masher, and stir in the nutritional yeast if using, salt and black pepper to taste. Let cool. If not making the cabbage rolls right away, cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight when the mixture is cool.

  • To complete the dish, lightly grease an 8 × 8 inch baking dish or casserole dish with olive oil. Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce over the bottom of the dish. Preheat an oven to 350°F.

  • Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Blanch the cabbage leaves for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain, and rinse with cold water. Pat the leaves dry on a kitchen towel or paper towels.

  • Lay a blanched cabbage leaf on a cutting board and place about 1/3 cup of the filling into the center. Fold the sides over and roll up the ends so you have a tight parcel. Transfer to the prepared baking dish, seam side down, and repeat with the remaining leaves and filling. It's okay to pack the leaves snugly into the dish. Spoon tomato sauce over the stuffed leaves so that the tops of the leaves are just showing (you may have extra sauce which can be saved for another use).

  • Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the cabbage is tender and piping hot. Spoon additional sauce over the cabbage leaves part way through the cooking time if the dish seems to dry.

Makes 12 cabbage rolls or 4 to 6 servings
Vegetarian Middle Eastern Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Other cabbage dishes to enjoy from Lisa's Vegetarian Kitchen:
Baby Potato, Red Kale and Cabbage Subji
Cabbage Poriyal
Chopped Cabbage with a Crumbly Chana Dal Sauce
Whole Cabbage Stuffed with Coleslaw

Audio accompaniment: Nils Frahm - Empty


Chris said...

These look awesome. If savoy cabbage is not available would you recommend either plain green cabbage or nappa?

Lisa Turner said...

Thank you. Plain green cabbage would work just fine if you can't get savoy cabbage.