“Are You Sure There Is No Meat In This!?!” Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Stuffed cabbage rolls, despite a vegetable-specific name, are usually all about umami; rich tomato sauce and lots of meat filling. Our recipe is vegetarian but we try to stay true to this tradition by using a filling that is rich with roasted veggies, barley cooked with mushrooms and mushroom stock made from rehydrating umami-rich dried mushrooms, and a rich, thick red sauce made with caramelized onions and eggplant, our homemade tomato puree, red wine, garlic and dried herbs. The combination is so rich in umami that you will have a difficult time convincing your dinner guests that there isn’t any meat in the dish.

Preparation Time:  1 hour total (15 minutes total time to prep the cabbage leaves; 15 min to prep the barley and mushroom stock; 15 min. to prep the veggies; 15 minutes to prep the red sauce)

NOTE:  The cooked barley with mushroom stock, roasted veggies and the red sauce can be made a day or two ahead.

Cooking Time:  2 hours total (45 minutes to cook the barley; 10 minutes to blanch the cabbage leaves; 15 minutes to roast the veggies; 30 minutes to cook the red sauce; 1 hour to bake the stuffed cabbage rolls)

NOTE:  The individual components may be made separately and a day or two ahead.  Even if you decide to make this dish, including all the individual components, the same day, several of the individual components can be made at the same time.  For example, while the barley is cooking you can blanch the cabbage leaves, roast the veggies and make the red sauce.

Serves:  8-12 pieces (will depend on how much filling you use in each roll)

Miz and steps for making stuffed cabbage rolls in red sauce lr-7867


Blanched cabbage leaves (whole)

  • 8-12 large cabbage leaves
  • 3 qts water
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt

Barley, mushrooms, and roasted veggie filling (makes 5-6 cups)

  • Cooked barley with mushrooms in mushroom stock
    • 3 cup cooked barley (requires 1 cup uncooked barley)
      • 3 1/2 cups water
        • 6 dried mushrooms rehydrated in this water, removed, then diced into 1/4 inch pieces and returned to the water
        • You may replace the mushrooms with roasted diced eggplant!
      • 1 tsp garlic powder
      • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
      • 1/2 tsp black pepper
      • Note:  You may replace the barley with gluten-free ingredients such as brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, or quinoa.
  • Roasted veggies
    • Veggies; all 1/2 inch dice
      • 1 cup spring onions with greens
      • 1/2 cup eggplants
      • 1/2 cup red bell pepper
      • 1/2 cup celery
      • 1/2 cup carrots
    • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 tsp dried basil
    • 1 tsp dried oregano
    • Kosher salt to taste
    • Black pepper to taste

Red sauce (makes 2 quarts)

  • 1/2 cup diced (1/2 inch) spring onion with greens
  • 1 cup diced (1/2 inch) eggplant
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp toasted fennel seeds
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup medium body red wine
  • 1 qt tomato sauce/puree
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste


Barley, mushrooms, and roasted veggie filling (can be made a day or two ahead)

Note:  Both of the following components can be made at the same time.  Roast the veggies while the barley is cooking, when done cool both to room temp, combine, test for seasoning and reseason if necessary, store in the fridge until you are ready to move to the next step of filling and rolling the cabbage leaves.

Cooked barley with mushrooms in mushroom stock

  • Bring the 3 1/2 cups of water in a medium sauce/soup pot to a boil then remove from the heat.
    • Note:  Use the same pot that you will be cooking the barley in so make sure it can hold at least 4 cups.
    • Note:  You may also heat the water in a separate bowl in the microwave and add the dried mushrooms to the bowl to rehydrate.
  • Add the dried mushrooms, place a small saucer on top of the mushrooms to ensure they stay submerged, let soak for at least 30 minutes, remove the mushrooms, cut away and discard the woody stem, cut the mushroom cap into small dice, add back to the sauce/soup pot, return to a boil, add the barley, stir, reduce to a simmer, cook for 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
    • If cooked ahead, this may be stored for a day or two in the fridge.

Roasted veggies 

  • Preheat the oven to broil, place a rack on the topmost level.
  • Wash all the veggies really well, dry, peel the onions and carrots, dice all veggies 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces, place on baking tray, drizzle the olive oil, and sprinkle the salt, dried basil and oregano over the veggies, give the veggies a couple of turns of a black pepper mill, stir with a spatula or mix well with you hands to ensure all the veggies are coated in the oil and that the seasonings are evenly distributed; set aside.
  • Place the tray on the topmost rack of a preheated oven (broil), cook for 7 minutes, carefully stir the veggies, cook for another 7 minutes but check after a couple minutes during this last bit of roasting to make sure they don’t get too charred.
  • Carefully remove the tray from the oven, spoon the roasted veggies into a heat-proof bowl to cool; set aside.
    • If cooked ahead, this may be stored for a day or two in the fridge.

Red Sauce (can be made a day or two ahead)

  • Peel and dice the Spring onion; set aside.
  • Wash, dry and dice the eggplant; set aside.
  • Peel and mince the garlic; set aside.
  • Toast the fennel seeds; set aside.
  • Heat a large saucepan on medium-high, add the olive oil, wait a minute or two for the oil to heat up, add the onions and eggplant, cook until caramelized, add the garlic, cook for another minute, deglaze with the red wine, cook for two to three minutes, add the tomato puree, water, fennel seeds, and dried herbs, stir, reduce to a simmer, stir occasionally, cook for 30 minutes.
    • Note:  If cooked ahead, cool to room temp then store in the fridge until you are ready to make/bake the stuffed cabbage rolls.

Blanching the cabbage leaves

Note:  Removing the individual leaves from a fresh head of cabbage can be difficult to do without breaking the leaves but we found a way to do this, albeit it does require a little extra blanching.  We first blanch the entire head of cabbage for three minutes at a time, cut the base of the two outer leaves and remove them after each three minute period.  By doing this we are able to remove individual leaves whole without cracking or breaking them.  We save the remaining cabbage head to make soup so there’s no waste.

  • Add the water and salt to a large soup/stock pot, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
  • Wash the head of cabbage, remove any discolored outer leaves.
  • Place the entire head of cabbage in the pot of simmering water, cook for three minutes, carefully remove the head, cut the base of the two outer leaves away from the base of the head, carefully remove the two outermost leaves; set aside.
    • Repeat until you have your desired number of unbroken, whole cabbage leaves.
  • Place the individual leaves back into the pot of simmering water (you may have to do this in batches), blanch for another 5-6 minutes, remove, cool in cold water, drain; set aside.


  • Preheat the oven to 375F, place a rack on the second from the bottom level.
  • Combine the barley and mushroom mixture with the roasted veggies and season to taste if not already done.

(refer to the above photos showing the steps in rolling the stuffed cabbage rolls in preparation for baking)

  • Pour 1 quart of the red sauce into a baking dish, preferably 9 inch by 11 inch.
  • Place one of the blanched cabbage leaves on a cutting board, stem side closest to you, spoon about 1/4 cup of the filling into the leaf just below the center of the leaf.
  • Fold the base of the leaf over the filling.
  • Fold one side over the folded base, then the other side.
  • Roll the folded portion over the unfolded in the direction away from you.
  • Place crease side down onto the red sauce in the baking dish.
  • Repeat until you have filled all the leaves or until the baking dish is full.
  • Spoon 1 cup of the red sauce over the stuffed cabbage rolls.
  • Cover with aluminum foil, place in the preheated oven and on the second from the bottom rack.
  • Bake for 1 hour, after 45 minutes, carefully remove the foil and spoon some of the red sauce in the baking dish onto the cabbage rolls, carefully place the foil back on and cook for another 15 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven.
  • Your stuffed cabbage rolls in red sauce is done!
  • Serve immediately with more of the red sauce on the side!


Stuffed cabbage rolls in red sauce lr-7885-2


Plated stuffed cabbage rolls in red sauce lr-7890

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