Not Your (or My) Mother’s Stuffed Cabbage

December 7, 2008

When I was a kid, my mom cooked a lot of 1970’s fare. Meatloaf, spaghetti and meatballs, corned beef and cabbage, bbq’ed chicken, stuffed cabbage. As my brothers and I grew up and really started to appreciate food (she is a good cook), she got more adventurous. She started reading cookbooks and branching out. Once I became a vegetarian (at age 16), she branched out even farther and started making more ethnic food and eventually became a vegetarian herself.

All along, my dad never complained. He is an enthusiastic eater and loved whatever she made. I think if you asked him, though, he would love to have one of those old dishes again. Especially stuffed cabbage. Her recipe was sweet, sour, and substantial. Cabbage parcels stuffed with a meat and rice mixture flavored with lots of cinnamon, and all bathed in a piquant tomato sauce. It makes me laugh to think that she used to take the meat out of the cabbage so I didn’t have to eat the cabbage part. Now it would be the other way around.

Up until recently, I never attempted a vegetarian stuffed cabbage recipe. Perhaps I was haunted by the memories of that meat mixture, or perhaps I was just lazy. Sometimes I am funny that way. I’ll spend hours making a cake but the idea of making a filling and then preparing a vegetable wrapper, and then doing the actual wrapping just sounded like too much. Until the time I actually tried it and realized that it is easy and makes for a delicious dinner.

For this recipe you use collard greens instead of cabbage. Really, any of the leafy greens make good wrappers. I removed the vein in each leaf and used two roughly same-sized halves, slightly overlapped, for each roll. That way, you can make dinner sized parcels and don’t have to worry about the filling spilling out. As yummy as the filling is here, the sauce is what makes it. If you have left over, it makes a delicious salad dressing or sauce for tofu, or really just about anything.

Middle Eastern Lentil Rice Rolls with Lemon Tahini Sauce
Loosely adapted from
The New Whole Grains Cookbook
Serves 4

cup Le Puy lentils (can use plain brown lentils)
cup short grain brown rice
1 small onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

olive oil

bunch parsley, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of cayenne

1 tsp. dried oregano

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp. mild vinegar (such as apple cider)

2 bunches large-leaved collard greens, about 24 leaves

cup tahini
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

cup lemon juice
cup water
tsp salt, or more to taste

Place the lentils in a small saucepan and cover with cold water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and reduce heat slightly so the water stays at a gentle boil. Cook lentils until tender, but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Taste to make sure they are done. Drain and set aside.

Bring a medium size pot of water to boil. Add about a teaspoon of salt and then add the rice. Give it a good stir, then allow to cook, keeping the water at a boil, until done but with a little bit of a bite, about 30 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Place a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add just enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan and add the onion. Cook until beginning to soften, then add the garlic. Cook for 3 minutes, then add a good pinch of salt, the cayenne, the oregano, and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Cook 1 minute. Add the parsley, give it a good stir and remove from the heat. In a bowl, mix the saute with the rice, lentils, lemon juice and another good pinch of salt. (This mixture can be made one day ahead and refrigerated, covered.)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add the vinegar and a teaspoon of salt. Cut the collards in half along the stem, removing the stem and discarding it. Drop the leaves in the boiling water and stir for 2-3 minutes, until softened and bright green. Drain and rinse in cold water immediately. Shake each leaf off and lay on a kitchen towel to blot dry.

Take two roughly same-sized pieces and overlap them slightly. Scoop a couple of tablespoons of the rice mixture and place right where the leaves overlap. Fold the sides in and then roll up the leaves, cigar-style. Place on a serving platter seam-side down. Serve at room temperature.

For the sauce, put the tahini, garlic, and lemon juice in the work bowl of the a food processor. Process until smooth, stopping and scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the water and the salt and process to make a pourable sauce. Serve with the rolls.


  1. Oh my gosh! I saw a middle eastern cabbage roll on Top Chef last week and have been looking for a recipe! I have a head of cabbage sitting around (but i think collards is a great idea, they are easier to work with compared to cabbage).

    Comment by veggie belly — December 8, 2008 @ 6:12 am

  2. I LOVE stuffed cabbage. It’s funny that you should post this because I’ve been thinking about veg-ifying the Hungarian version (slightly different flavors than the Middle Eastern, but same general concept).

    Comment by Beatrice — December 8, 2008 @ 2:11 pm

  3. Wow, these look amazing. I’m going to try them as soon as I can get my hands on tahini again.

    Comment by Mrs. Mordecai — December 9, 2008 @ 3:04 am

  4. This sounds delicious! Love your blog.

    Comment by saltygirl — December 9, 2008 @ 3:18 am

  5. wow this sounds amazing! tahini lemon sauce?! I love this idea!

    Comment by Emily Rose — December 10, 2008 @ 4:11 am

  6. I love my mom’s stuffed cabbage, a recipe passed down from my great grandmother. But I would equally love to try this veggie version since I’m a bit off red meat lately. These look so flippin’ good!

    Comment by Andrea — December 11, 2008 @ 3:32 am

  7. We just made cabbage rolls yesterday — and it is the cabbage that makes the dish. In fact, the meat mixture has become the more the delivery vehicle for the cabbage rather than the other way around.

    Working with collard greens is a great idea. Have to try that sometime. I am also drooling over the lemon tahini sauce.

    Comment by [eatingclub] vancouver || js — December 19, 2008 @ 2:58 am

  8. Oh SO glad that your current post pointed me to this one (that cake is outrageous by the way!). This sounds great and I will be making it very soon. I am only missing the greens and then I’m in business. One question, how do the rolls hold up as leftovers? I’m wondering if it is best to keep the leftovers disassembled and to assemble them just before eating?

    Comment by The Ordinary Vegetarian — December 8, 2009 @ 3:36 pm

  9. […] and my new limitation of bacon consumption, that method just seemed wrong. Browsing through recipes online I came across several that used collard greens like grape leaves- to wrap around a savory filling. […]

    Pingback by Phoo-d » Collard Rolls in a Spicy Tomato Sauce – Vegan — May 25, 2011 @ 10:30 pm

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