Vegetarian cabbage rolls are packed with mushrooms, lentils, and brown rice and simmered in a tomato sauce. They’re umami filled and make a hearty main. This veggie stuffed cabbage roll recipe is make ahead ready and is vegetarian and vegan!
This recipe was first shared 12/2015. I updated the photography and added additional recipe notes 12/2020. The recipe remains unchanged.
As a new vegetarian, holiday gatherings were usually awkward for me. Familiar traditions were set aside for new and not so familiar when it came to food. I quickly realized there were many delicious ways to enjoy the holidays meat free.
Vegetarian stuffed cabbage rolls were one of the first recipes I discovered that easily made the holiday table festive and memorable. They’re a bit of effort, and the dishes required many, but in the end, these veggie cabbage rolls are worth the effort to make the holidays feel extra special.
Trying Something New
Years ago, Rob and I went to a little farm-to-table restaurant that served up the most delicious Thanksgiving menu. The traditional turkey and stuffing was served, but for the veggie option they made mouth-watering pierogis stuffed with kale, onions, mushroom, herbs and a bit of cheese. A shallow broth cradled these little packages along with wild mushrooms, carrots, parsnips and herbs. There was a generous serving of pan-fried Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, gravy and homemade sourdough.
Have you ever tried a pierogi?
I hadn’t until Thanksgiving that year. They’re little semi-circular dumplings filled with a sweet or savory stuffing, boiled, then pan-fried to impart a bit of a golden color and texture. They’re traditionally made for holiday celebrations.
It was those little pierogis and a rather large head of cabbage from the farm that inspired these stuffed veggie cabbage rolls. I love the idea of little packages of deliciousness that when cut into, they reveal the most flavorful of stuffings. And these stuffed cabbage rolls make such a delightful vegetarian holiday main for all things holiday and special occasions.
And those pierogies? I whipped up a mushroom, potato and pea pierogie recipe for the blog!
How to How to Make Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls
There’s a bit of overlap in tasking to make this recipe, but it flows easily from one step to the next. Give yourself plenty of time to pull this veggie cabbage roll recipe together, but in case you need a make ahead option, I’m sharing how to on the recipe card. In summary, here’s how to make these cabbage rolls (for full details see below in recipe card):
- First, boil the cabbage in a large stock pot to soften the leaves. Drain and set in a colander to cool.
- Next, rehydrate the porcini mushrooms, drain, chop and set aside.
- Meanwhile, cook the lentils and rice in a small sauce pot. Set aside.
- While the lentils and rice are cooking, saute the mushrooms in a bit of oil. Add the shallots and stir until fragrant.
- Continuing, in a food processor, add the mushroom mixture, bread crumbs, tomato paste, salt and fresh thyme leaves. Pulse to bring the mixture together.
- Next, mix together the lentils, rice and mushroom mixture and add seasonings and stuff the cabbage leaves and place in a baker.
- Last, make the tomato sauce, pour it over the cabbage rolls and bake.
While the vegetarian cabbage rolls bake, there’s plenty of time to whip up a salad or other side for sharing.
What to Serve with Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls
Mushroom stuffed cabbage rolls make a delicious, hearty meal. Make the side(s) light to keep these little vegan cabbage rolls center stage. I like to serve this recipe with crusty bread and any of the following or a seasonal salad:
- Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pear and Thyme
- Winter Jeweled Salad
- Maple Roasted Cardamom Spiced Carrots and Apples
- Roasted Beet and Apple Salad
- Easy Roasted Beets
A Few Vegetarian Cabbage Roll Recipe Notes
- When boiling the cabbage to prepare for rolling, handle the leaves gently as they tear easily. To minimize this, after the cabbage has cooled, cut at the base and around the stem to release the cabbage leaves.
- Make ahead? Yes please! Prepare the stuffing and tomato sauce up to two days ahead and store separately in the refrigerator. Or, make rolls one day ahead without making the sauce. Cover the rolls in the casserole dish, and refrigerate. The next evening, make the sauce and bake as written.
- Freezer Friendly? While I’ve not frozen this recipe, I wouldn’t hesitate giving it a try.
- Portions: Depending on appetite, plan for one or two rolls per person. One is plenty for me, while Rob always has two.
- Linda made these and noted: “I used Savoy cabbage which is a little easier to work with then white cabbage and I had excellent results.”
More Cabbage Recipes to Love
- Lentil-Mushroom Cabbage Roll Soup
- White Bean Cabbage Potato Soup
- Sesame Ginger Noodle Salad
- Thai Ginger Garlic Noodle Bowls
- Thai Peanut Noodle Salad
Mushroom Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
- 3 lbs (1.4kg) Head of Green Cabbage go larger if 3lb is unavailable
- 1 oz (28g) Dried Porcini Mushrooms
- 1/4 C (50g) Long Grain Brown Rice
- 1/4 C (50g) French or Green Lentils
- 1 tsp Sea Salt divided
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 2 Tbs Olive Oil
- 3/4 lb (345g) Cremini Mushrooms stems removed and sliced thick
- 1/2 C (46g) Shallot small chop
- 1/2 C (40g) Bread Crumbs Panko or toasted sourdough
- 1 Tbs Tomato Paste divided
- 1/2 tsp Ground Black Pepper
- 1 Fist Full of Fresh Thyme divided
- 1 (14.5oz / 411g) Can Diced Tomatoes
- Reserved Mushroom Soaking Liquid
- Dry White Wine and/or Vegetable Broth as needed
- Ground Black Pepper
Prepare the Cabbage:
- Bring a large stock pot, large enough to hold a head of cabbage, of water to a boil. Add the whole head of cabbage and simmer for 9 minutes turning it over once 1/2 way through cooking since it will float. Remove the cabbage and set in a colander to cool. When cool enough to handle, gently remove the leaves attempting to keep them in tact as much as possible. To do this, use a pairing knife to cut around the base of the stem, releasing the cabbage leaves so you can gently pull them away from the head. You'll want to try and obtain at least 10, large in tact leaves for rolling. Set aside the torn leaves and/or other leaves which can be used to line the baking dish and/or eat for lunch the next day.The leaves closest to the core won't fully soften, so if more leaves are needed, you can place these individually in the pot of hot water to soften or store the remaining head in the fridge to be later used in a another recipe.
For the Stuffing:
- Rehydrate the Porcini: Place the porcini in a bowl. Scoop out 2 C (472g) of that very hot water the cabbage is cooking in and pour over the porcini mushroom. Cover the mushrooms with a lid and rehydrate 30 minutes. Strain, reserving the soaking liquid. Squeeze out as much soaking liquid from the mushrooms as possible. Rough chop the mushrooms and set aside.
- Cook the Lentils and Rice: In a small sauce pot bring 1 1/2 C (454g) of water to a boil. Add 1/4 tsp salt, bay-leaf, lentils and rice. Turn heat to low, put a lid on the pot and cook for about 35-40 minutes, or until rice and lentils are tender. The lentils will cook faster than the rice, but this is okay for our application.
- Cook the Mushrooms: In a nonstick saute pan add two Tbs of olive oil, heat until shimmering then add all the mushrooms. Give them a good stir then let them cook for about 2 minutes at a time before stirring again. We want to get a good sear on the mushrooms. Cook for about 13-14 minutes. Add the shallots about 3 minutes before the mushrooms are done.
- Process the Mushrooms: In a food processor, add the mushroom mixture, bread crumbs, 1 tsp of tomato paste, 1/2 tsp salt and fresh thyme leaves from about 7 stems. Pulse about 4 times, scrape down bowl and pulse again a few more times so that mixture comes together but is not pasty.
- Mix the Stuffing: When lentils and rice are done, scoop the mushroom mixture into the sauce pot the rice and lentils were cooked in. Add about 1/2 tsp of ground black pepper. Stir well to combine and taste for seasoning adjustment. Set aside.
For the Tomato Sauce:
- To the same pan you sautéed the mushrooms in, pour in the reserved mushroom broth. Simmer on medium for about 2 minutes. The broth will begin to cook down a bit. Stir in the remaining tomato paste until dissolved. Add 1/4 tsp of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir in the diced tomatoes and cook on low for about 2-3 minutes. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Lightly spray a large casserole dish with pan spray.
- Line the dish with 3-4 cabbage leaves, or enough to cover the bottom and most of the sides. If the leaves hang over the edges, this is okay. To lay them flat you may need to cut a notch a the base of each stem.
- For the remaining cabbage leaves, if the stem is tough and won't easily roll, cut a small notch out. Scoop about 1/4 C (40g) of the mushroom mixture and place it near the base of the cabbage leaf. Gently fold in the sides and start rolling, tucking in the sides as needed. Place in baking dish, seam side down, on top of the leaves. Repeat, adjusting the amount of filling as needed for smaller leaves, until all the filling is used. The rolls can be crowded, just not overlapping. If you run out of room, start another baking dish and line as with the first baking dish.
- Pour the sauce over and around the top of the rolls. The sauce should come just up the sides of the rolls, not submerged. Drizzle white wine and/or veggie broth over the top as needed.
- Give each roll a good few grinds of black pepper and a pinch of salt over the top. Lay 5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme across the top.
- Bake, uncovered for 40-50 minutes until the tops are a bit golden with some a little crispy. Remove from oven, discard crispy thyme leaves and let set for five minutes before serving. Sprinkle fresh thyme over the top before serving.
- Store in lidded container in fridge for up to two days.