Cabbage Rolls with Mushroom Risotto Stuffing

November 5, 2013 Published by Dina

Let’s face it. Making Cabbage rolls can be quite a production and rather intimidating. Just boiling the cabbage to get the leaves apart seems bad enough but then you have to make the filling and sauce and roll them properly. Oye. Most people would be reluctant to go through all that and there are good Ukrainian places to buy cabbage rolls without all this fuss. But, we are foodies and we like to make our own, don’t we? At least once. And really, once you have made a few it’s not so bad.

Cabbage rolls are usually more of a cold weather comfort food and now is a good time to experiment with it. Here is a system for making them with risotto filling that’s flavourful and easy to make. You can make the filling and sauce the day before the assembly, so it’s not so overwhelming. The recipe’s instructions are long but think about it: you make the risotto, prepare the tomato sauce, soften the cabbage leaves in boiling water. After that it’s just rolling and baking. Not as bad as it sounds. You can also use a good prepared tomato sauce to shorten the process, who would know?

I am not going to tell you that these are the best cabbage rolls that you have ever tasted, I am sure your Ukrainian grandmother or neighbour makes the best ones. Still, here is a twist on the traditional and I think they are pretty good and gratifying to make yourself.

To make the risotto:

2 tablespoons butter

Arborio rice

1/2 small onion, or 1 shallot, minced

2 cups mushrooms, chopped

1 cup Arborio rice

1/3 cup white wine

4 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)

1/3 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest, minced
Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup grated cheese (parmesan, pecorino)

Place stock in a small pot and bring to a boil, reduce to low.

Wild mushrooms

Melt butter in a 2 quart pot, add onion and cook until softened.

Add mushrooms and cook until they soften.

Add rice to the onion-mushroom and stir to coat the grains with the butter, cooking about 2 minutes.

Add the wine and cook, stirring, until liquid evaporates.

Start adding a bit of stock, a 1/4 cup at a time, stirring well between each addition and waiting for the rice to absorb the liquid before adding more.

Add lemon zest and continue adding stock slowly until rice grains are nice and plump. The rice may not require the full 4 cups of stock. Taste it and stop when it is done. Cooking time should be at least 20 minutes or more.

Add some salt and pepper, keeping in mind that the cheese at the end will add some salt.

Remove from heat and sit aside or refrigerate until the next day.

Tomato Sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

Tomato sauce

1 small onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

A handful fresh oregano

A handful fresh thyme

A few flakes hot dried red pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 28 oz canned tomatoes, whole or crushed

1-2 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock

Salt and pepper



Heat oil in a large pot. Add onion and cook until translucent.

Add garlic and cook until fragrant.

Add spices, hot pepper, sugar and vinegar.

Add the tomatoes (if you use whole tomatoes break them down with a knife to smaller pieces).

Bring to a boil, add one cup of the stock and continue cooking at a simmer for 30 minutes, adding the second cup of stock if needed.

Taste and add salt. depending on how salty the tomatoes are.

Puree sauce in a blender.

Cooking the cabbage leaves 

1 savoy cabbage

Nappa cabbage

First, if there are nice and large leaves that are easily accessible remove them now (see image of cabbage below).

Fill a large pot that can contain the whole cabbage with water 1/2 way through. Bring water to a boil and lower cabbage into the water. Let cook for a few minutes.

With tongs start removing outer cabbage leaves as they become soft and pliable. Lay on  towel  to cool. Continue to cook extra cabbage leaves to use for the base  and top of the casserole.

When you have removed all the leaves that you can work with drop the outer leaves you pulled apart from the cabbage into the water until they are soft and pliable.

When cool enough to handle slice off some of the hard vein from the outside of the leaves so it’s not so thick. Do it this way:  Lay the leaf flat on the cutting board and slice the core off horizontally, in a way that thins it out. Alternatively, cut it off in a V shape.

You need to end with leaves that can be rolled from the stem end up over the filling.

Lay leaves on a towel to cool while you continue with the recipe.

Assembling the cabbage rolls

Risotto stuffed Napa Cabbage leaves

Lay the cabbage leaf on a plate and spoon some of the risotto stuffing mixture onto the inside base of the cabbage (the thicker part). Spoon a little tomato sauce over the rice.

Roll the cabbage base over the filling, then fold over the sides to envelope the stuffing and continue to roll, jelly roll style towars the outer part of the leaves. Continue stuffing leaves until all filling is used up.

You should have some extra cabbage leaves, softened. Lay half  these leaves on a bottom of a  baking dish and spoon some sauce over the leaves. Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange the cabbage rolls on top of the cabbage layer.

Warm up the tomato sauce on top of the stove. Pour  2/3 of the warm sauce over the cabbage rolls.

Top casserole with remaining softened cabbage leave and pour remaining sauce over. The sauce should barely cover the cabbage rolls. Have some extra vegetable stock on hand in case you need to add some during cooking.

Bake, covered, at 350º about an 1 or 1.5 hours. Add more stock if mixture seems dry.

To serve, remove the top layer of cabbage leaves.

Serve 1-2 cabbage rolls per person with extra sauce to spoon over the rolls.



Risotto stuffed Napa Cabbage leaves


Nappa cabbage




  • bellini says:

    I have heard from Ukranian babas that you freeze the cabbage and that make its easy to remove the leaves. In this case you have used Savoy cabbage which has much more supple leaves. Excellent choice. I love cabbage rolls!!

    • Dina says:

      I have never heard of freezing them, interesting. Next spring I will post my summer cabbage rolls in broth instead of tomato sauce, need summer cabbage with more tender leaves for that.

  • J says:

    Looks Delish!