Learn to make stuffed cabbage rolls without a recipe | Food/Recipes

Learn to make stuffed cabbage rolls without a recipe | Food/Recipes

The idea behind Kitchen Improv: No Recipe Cooking video series is about asking cooks in the kitchen (and wannabe cooks too) to focus on the possibilities of flavor combinations and teach people more about preparing foods without a recipe.

Tasting-as-you-go is a big part of no-recipe cooking — learning to recognize complementary flavors and to enhance or build on existing flavors.

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Jan Risher prepares cabbage rolls. 

Some might argue that making stuffed cabbage rolls without a recipe takes a bit more experience, since you can’t exactly taste as you go. The magic of stuffed cabbage rolls is that incredible melding of flavors between the cabbage, the meat and other vegetables. 

So, if you’re less comfortable freewheeling recipe-less in the kitchen, give the following recipe for stuffed cabbage rolls a try.

It’s a recipe with lots of flexibility — substitute vegetables to your family’s taste. 

Pro tip: The “steam your head of cabbage first” tip in the recipe below will save your cabbage leaves from breaking as some of mine did in the video. 

Stuffed cabbage rolls

Recipe adapted through the years by Jan Risher

Serves 6-8 people


1 large head of cabbage, about 2-2.5 lbs.

1 cup medium grain rice (or, short grain rice)

1 lb. lean ground beef

2 medium onions, grated

2 spring onions, minced

3 small carrots, grated

1/2 cup fresh, flat-leaf parsley, minced

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Ingredients for the braising liquid:

4-6 cups tomato bouillon stock

1 cup hot water as needed

1 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper


Lemon slices

fresh, chopped dill

freshly ground pepper

1. Prepare the rice mixture by mixing together the rice, ground beef, onion, spring onions, carrot, olive oil, parsley, salt and pepper in a large bowl. If time allows, cover the bowl and refrigerate for half an hour.

2. To make removing your cabbage leaves easier, bring a large pot of water to a boil and stir in a teaspoon of salt. Remove the entire core of the cabbage using a sharp knife. Immerse the cabbage in the boiling water, cored side down. The water should be almost to the top of the cabbage. Continue cooking over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, or, until the leaves can be easily separated. Use tongs to remove each leaf from the pot, as soon as they become soft and flexible, and place them on a drainer to cool. Set aside and reserve any hard, torn, or very small leaves to line the bottom of your pot later.

3. To assemble the cabbage rolls: place a cabbage leaf on a work surface. Place a tablespoon of the filling (about a quarter cup) near the bottom of the leaf. If necessary, cut into the leaf’s stem (in a V shape) to remove the hard and thick spine. This will make it easier to roll up like a burrito. Roll the leaf up to enclose the mixture, making sure not to roll it too tight because the rice filling will expand while it cooks. For smaller leaves, overlap two to form a larger leaf before filling, or, you can also patch up any tears the leaves might have. For the leaves that are too large, cut them in half along the hard stem.

4. If you’d like, line the bottom of the pot with extra or broken leaves. Arrange the rolls seam-side down in the pot. Make sure they are placed all cozy against each other so they do not move during cooking. If you’d like, you can create a second layer of rolls and top with more of the leftover harder cabbage leaves (optional).

5. Pour the stock and water over the cabbage rolls. Bring to a boil. To keep rolls as tight as possible, you can cover the top of the stuffed cabbage rolls with an inverted, heatproof, shallow plate or bowl. The plate should be large enough that it covers the rolls, but small enough to not touch the sides of the pot. This will keep the rolls in place while cooking and will ensure that they cook properly. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 40-45 minutes. 

6. Test one roll to make sure the rice is tender. Turn off the heat and uncover the pot.

NOTE: This is a dish that can be largely prepared in advance. Prepare the cabbage rolls and store in the refrigerator for up to two days.