Cabbage Rolls for St. Patrick’s Day


When is the last time you made cabbage rolls from scratch? Living as we do in a city like Toronto we can so easily pick up delicious ready made cabbage rolls from any number of Eastern European neighbourhoods, like Little Poland on Roncesvalles. Making the cabbage rolls at home means you can decide on exactly how you like them done. Some like them with rice, some with oats, some are made with beef, some with a mix of beef and pork and some have sweet and sour elements while others are strictly savoury. Make them the way you like and throw together a big batch, then they can be portioned and frozen so that you’re well stocked with rolls for a while. 


My biggest hurdle to making cabbage rolls at home was how to prep the cabbage. I was always told that you softened the leaves by boiling the whole head of cabbage but in order to soften the inner leaves wouldn’t the outer leaves be mush? Then I came across a tip that made great sense and didn’t necessitate a pot big enough to boil a giant head of cabbage – freeze it!

Don’t believe me? Listen to what these enthusiastic cabbage freezers had to say.

Just stick the cabbage in the freezer a few days before you want to make your rolls. Let it freeze fully overnight, then remove and let defrost. Once defrosted you’ll have wonderful limp leaves that are all the same degree of limpness, none overdone and none underdone. Cabbage? Check. Now on to the filling.

Here’s a recipe by a Hungarian grandmother that uses balsamic, honey, jasmine rice and grass fed beef in the filling. This recipe is vegetarian and more traditional, just rice, tomato sauce, onions and garlic, but it makes for a hearty meal nonetheless. Here’s a Romanian recipe that uses sour, pickled cabbage leaves omitting the need to freeze or boil the cabbage at all.

The Mennonite Girls use tomato soup and V8 in their recipe, begging the question Mennonite Girls can cook, but who taught them?

Now these little Italian cabbage rolls are adorable and beautifully prepared, this is a recipe I’d like to try soon. Basically meatballs scented with rosemary, sage and a little parmesan wrapped up in wilted Savoy leaves, skewered and simmered in a hearty tomato sauce.

Italian Cabbage Rolls by Smitten Kitchen

Here’s another one with tomato soup in the recipe, my apologies to the Mennonite Girls, apparently tomato soup use is rampant in the cabbage roll recipe world. Regardless, this recipe has very good step by step photos to take you through the rolling process. Go ahead and use tomato soup and V8 for your sauce, see if I care.

Please don’t! I was bluffing, I do care. Make a real tomato sauce!!!

This is my favourite recipe, posted in the community recipes on Nigella’s site. It is a little bit out of the ordinary but I like the use of oats and cream, and molasses (!). This is the one I turn to especially when a holiday like St. Patrick’s Day is coming up.

see what I mean about the green food colouring?

There are so many other traditional recipes that one could whip up for the Irish holiday but if you don’t want to deal with pastry (steak and kidney pie) or sourcing a sheep stomach (haggis) or drowning in green food colouring (everything else), then cabbage rolls are the way to go. Make a big batch well before your guests arrive, put a lot of (local Ontario microbrewery) beer on ice and pop the pan of cabbage rolls back in the oven to warm up. After the first round of cheer hand out plates and start dishing up your rolls to give everyone a good solid foundation for more beer. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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