Nana’s Cabbage Rolls 3

I had the luxury of spending the weekend with my 87 year-old grandmother, Mary.  This woman is the queen of all things cabbage!  The daughter of two Russian immigrants, her traditional family recipes include cabbage soup, galuska, creamed cabbage, and our topic of discussion today, the almighty cabbage roll.  As the cabbage is simmered for hours next to a delicious mixture of meat and rice, I believe these rolls will pass the “cabbage hater” test for sure!  (As an aside, my husband is a fellow cabbage hater, but he likes these rolls.  He suggests that it’s the smell of cabbage cooking that’s off-putting for him, but the dish itself tastes good.  If possible to have your cabbage haters out of the house while cooking these, that may make a difference.  If you are the cooker and the cabbage hater, I hope that the taste of this dish will make it worth your while.)

So a couple of decades ago, I decided to preserve some of my grandmother’s recipes.  As nothing was ever written down before, I shadowed her as she cooked and attempted to recreate the magic in written form.  The result was Nana’s Amazing Cookbook.  

The cabbage roll recipe as she makes it takes some time.  It was a nice Saturday afternoon visiting and reminiscing with Nan, but not something I could fit into my schedule everytime a cabbage came across my sharebox.  I was of course seeking short cuts along the way, and have a few ideas I’ll test at a later date (and I’ll be sure to report back to you).  However, for the purposes of the blog, we went “old school” and took our time.  I am grateful that we did!

As we prepped the cabbage, we hit one snag along the way.  “Where are the cans of tomato soup?” she said.  I proudly pull out my jars of canned Springdell tomatoes and say “we don’t need them, we have these!”  Let me just say I came quite close to being sent to the store.  I was puzzled…  “But what about the olden days?  Before tomato soup cans?  Isn’t this how they were originally made?”  It turns out my great grandmother also used the tomato soup from a can to make her rolls. Oops.  At any rate, we settled on using my tomatoes and a small squirt of ketchup to mimic the “sweetness” we’d be missing from the tomato soup can.  


Seperate the first few “tough” leaves and set one or 2 aside. We first core the cabbage using a sharp knife (please be careful!) You do not have to remove the entire core, but “get it started” as shown.


We cover the cabbage in water and bring to a boil. As the leaves start to separate, we remove them. Once you get enough leaves to work with (about 20 or so), turn off the water and set the remaining cabbage aside.


I removed (and snacked on) the more fibrous part of the leaves. This will help to facilitate easier rolling later on. This one was cut a tiny bit deeper than I prefer, be sure to leave enough to “roll” a complete center so the goodness won’t escape during cooking.


In the meantime, Nan mixed the meat, onion, rice and (sigh..) ketchup. I swear it only tastes this good when she makes the mixture!


Put in a little meat…


Fold in the sides and tuck the leaf under to catch the meat.


And keep on rolling! If you are having trouble try a little less meat. Also make sure you are starting with the meat nearest the “stem” part of the leaf.




Put a few of those “tough” outer leaves you had set aside in the bottom of your pan (to prevent the rolls from burning if your simmer goes awry). Layer the rolls with some tomatoes (or tomato soup) poured in between. End with the soup (tomatoes) on the top, and a little dab of Amish Roll butter for good luck!


They may not be the prettiest recipe on the blog, but they are tasty!


Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 2-3 hours (until it’s clear that the meat is cooked and the cabbage is tender).  Call your cabbage fearing friends back into the house and tell them to give these a try!

Below is the recipe exactly how it was written many years ago in Nana’s Amazing Cookbook.  As you can see, there are liberties that can be taken (both the soup and home canned tomato options are good, Nan even throws a carrot or two between the cabbage rolls sometimes “just because”).  Have fun with it, keep us posted, and we hope you enjoy it!

The rest of that cabbage can be used in Galuska, a dish featuring sautéed cabbage with egg noodles.  I’ll post the recipe for that soon as well.  


Nana's Cabbage Rolls
The recipe exactly as it was written in Nana's Amazing Cookbook, shared with permissions.
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  1. 1 head of cabbage, medium
  2. 2 parts ground hamburg, 1 part ground pork (roughly, we did about 3/4 pound of pork and about 1 1/2 pounds hamburg)
  3. 1 medium onion, diced
  4. 2 eggs
  5. sprinkle of bread crumbs (optional, we left these out)
  6. 1 cup cooked rice
  7. salt and pepper to taste
  8. sliced carrots cut lengthwise (optional)
  9. 3 cans of tomato soup (editor's note- or apparently a quart or so of canned tomatoes with a squirt of ketchup)
  10. splash of milk
  11. margarine (editor's note- let's face it, the 80s are over, let's get back to tried and true butter!)
  1. For the filling, mix meats, onion, eggs, milk, rice, bread crumbs (if using) and salt and pepper until the texture of meat loaf is achieved (sticking to hands).
  2. To prepare the cabbage, core the cabbage, take off raw outer leaves or later. In a large kettle of boiling water (with a sprinkle of salt) place the cabbage in the water head down, core facing up. Bring the cabbage to a boil (medium heat). Turn the cabbage several times. Start parting the leaves they must be flexible. Start peeling off the leaves, put them on the plate. When getting to the core, if any body is left to the core, you can keep these to line the bottom of the pan. Roll the rolls "like a cigar" (editor's note, about 2-3 tbsp or so in each). Use the thicker raw outer leaves to line the bottom of the pan. Layer the kettle as follows: A little tomato soup, pinch of water, raw cabbage, little margarine, least flexible-leaved rolls, soup, rolls, soup, rolls, soup, and top with a little margarine. Cook low to medium heat simmering for 2 hours or so until meat is cooked and cabbage is tender. Check from time to time along the way.
Adapted from Nana's Amazing Cookbook
Adapted from Nana's Amazing Cookbook


About Jess

Jess Anderson is the creator of CSA|365 and is passionate about the local food movement. A long time member of Springdell and a busy mother of two, Jess loves keeping her family fed by honest local food.

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3 thoughts on “Nana’s Cabbage Rolls

  • Kathleen Spaeth

    Thank you Jess, and your lovely and patient Nana, for sharing this great Recipe. I am still giggling at the squirt of Ketchup. Who knew that the Canned Tomato Soup was such a used product (for all these years). I must carve out some time on a Sunday afternoon to make this Recipe. I appreciate the directions on how to Core the Cabbage and how to cook its outer leaves. It is so wonderful that you have put together a Cookbook with your Nana and that you spend quality time cooking together.

  • Sharon M

    I’d never made cabbage rolls before, but I’ve made this twice now this summer. The second time, I layered the rolls in the crock pot and cooked all day on low. Turned out great! Thanks for the detailed instructions, too 😉

    • Jess Post author

      Thanks for sharing, Sharon, so happy you enjoyed them! Twice, even! Nan is so happy to hear about this, too- she is totally beaming right now, you made her night. 🙂