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Sour Cabbage Rolls

Sour Cabbage Rolls

Sour Cabbage Rolls are a tasty addition to your family holiday tradition.  They are a perfect side dish to a turkey and/or perhaps holiday ham dinner.

Hi it’s Mike, your guest blogger here again with another “semi Blue Job”.  If you are wondering what I mean by a “Blue Job” then you need to read the Pizza Dough post. One thing I have to say about this food blogging is that you end up having a lot of good food around the house.

While this means there is always something tasty in easy reach, it is also taking its toll on my waist line.  Sour Cabbage Rolls are not going to solve this problem.  They tend to be one of those parts of a holiday meal that makes you need to loosen your belt at some point during the meal.

Take me to the Recipe

Anyway, learning how to make these Sour Cabbage Rolls came out of necessity.  Growing up, we used to go to my Grandma’s house for dinner during the holidays.  Sour Cabbage Rolls were always on the table, but in my younger days I didn’t like them.  This is not because I tasted them, it’s just because I decided that I didn’t like them (it could also be that I was unconsciously saving room for Chocolate Chiffon Pie but that is another topic for another blog post).  Not a very bright move.  At one point however, I finally decided to give them a try and quickly realized how many times I missed out.  Not smart!  Don’t be like me.  Learn from my mistakes and add Sour Cabbage Rolls to your holiday menu before you regret it.

As I said, learning to make Sour Cabbage Rolls came out of necessity because they were missing from my holiday meal.  No one was making them for me (sad face), so if I wanted Grand Parentsthem, I was going to have to make them myself.  Kat will help me out in the rolling process but, at the point I am making these, there is usually lots of activity in the kitchen so she is often busy with something else.  Hence the semi Blue Job.

Of course, I can’t take credit for the recipe.  For that, I have to give the accolades to my Grandma Thomas.  I never really paid attention when I was younger, but I did get some coaching from my Mom on the process in order to master the art.  They are a bit finicky, but once you get the hang of it, they are not too bad.  No matter how good you get however, it does take some time to get them rolled.

Sour Cabbage Rolls are best when they are made the day of your holiday meal.  They contain raw pork so you don’t want uncooked cabbage rolls hanging around too long.  So book off a couple of hours in the morning  of your big day to get to work and get it done.  You will be thanking yourself at dinner time.  If you wait a bit later, to say around noon(ish), you can enjoy a scotch and eggnog while you roll.

So let’s get going and make these things …

Finding Sour Cabbage

To start, you are going to need some sour cabbage.  If you are really authentic, you make the sour cabbage heads yourself.  However, that is a topic for another day as we are still perfecting that.  A little less authentic method is to go buy the sour heads from your local supermarket or even better, your local farmer’s market.

Kissel Sour Cabbage

You also need pearl rice, onion, some good ground pork and of course salt/pepper.  Pearl rice is a small grain rice.  If you can’t find that, I have used Sushi rice and it works fine as well.  To get things started, you need to do some prep work.

Rice/Pork Mixture Preparation

To prep the rice, you need to rinse it under cold water.  I use a fine mesh strainer and just rinse the rice in cold water over the sink.  Let it drain out before you dump it in the mixing bowl so you don’t have excess water.  Once your rice is in the bowl, you add the pork, finely diced onion and of course salt (you can toss some pepper in as well if you like that).  It’s hard to add too much salt to this.  My Grandpa Thomas used to always say, “more salt”!  Cut the ground pork into the rice so it is mixed well into the rice.  You don’t want big pieces of onion or pork because it makes it harder to roll and they just come out better when everything is mixed well.  Once you are done, it should look kinda like this.

Pearl Rice  Rice and Ground Pork  Sour Cabbage Roll Filling

Preparation of the Sour Cabbage

Prep the sour cabbage by opening the bag and cutting the core from the cabbage.  Open the bag over a large bowl so you don’t lose any of the brine.  You will want to dump the brine into the pot at the end.  Remove the core by cutting it out like I have shown in the picture.  As we work through the process, do not throw away any of the cabbage trimmings.  Just keep them until the end as you will need them to put over top of the rolls during cooking.

Once you have removed the core, you need to gently pull the leaves off the cabbage.  You don’t want to tear the leaves so don’t go all hard core on this, just be careful.  Just peel the leaves apart and put them in your large bowl.  Keep all that brine in the bowl!  The outer leaves are generally the easiest to roll and best ones, but as you pull the leaves apart and get closer to the center of the cabbage, the leaves will get smaller and tougher.  When you are close to the center, the leaves will be fairly small and thick.  These don’t roll very well, so just set those aside and we will use them later.

Sour Cabbage  Sour Cabbage

The “Special” Sour Cabbage Roll Pot

You are also going to need the special cabbage roll pot.  I use a large pot that has strainer insert.  It’s about 6 – 8 quarts.  I did some Googling and a “Pasta Pot with Strainer” looks pretty close.  Now if you are going to be authentic, the special cabbage roll pot consists of a pot of about the same size, with a plate suitable to be in the pot during cooking (so not a plastic one) that fits perfectly in the bottom of the pot.

The idea is to keep the cabbage rolls off the bottom of the pot as you don’t want them to burn.  If you go this route, you will put the plate in the bottom of the pot, then a layer of the “non-rollable” cabbage (like the center pieces we talked about).  Break up the pieces a bit, put them in the bottom of the pot on top of the plate.  You need to pack it down tight so you have a fairly smooth surface to lay the rolls on.  It’s easier to use the pot/strainer however, so that’s why I do it this way.

Pasta Pot with Strainer

Rolling the Sour Cabbage

To start the rolling, you will need a knife, a teaspoon and a large cutting board for the rolling process. Take your first cabbage leaf and remove the spine.  Cut the leaf into triangles.  The perfect triangle will be about 3″ at the base and 3 – 4″ tall and be cut from the outer leaves as they are thinner than the ones closer to the center.  Not all the leaves are going to produce the perfect triangle but you just have to work with that.

Sour Cabbage  Sour Cabbage

Take each triangle and place about a teaspoon of the rice/pork mixture on to leaf and the base of the triangle.  Fold the base over the mixture, tuck the side in, and then roll it up towards the pointy end of the triangle.  One done!  Only 100 or more to go ….. take a deep breath, fill your scotch and carry on.  The rolling takes a bit of practice.  Try to keep the cabbage tucked in tight around the mixture especially when you tuck the sides in.  If you don’t get it nice and tight, then the rice mixture just falls out when you cook the rolls.

Sour Cabbage Roll  Sour Cabbage Roll

Now, about the size of the rolls.  What makes these good is that they are bite size.  In the picture below, you will see that my finished roll is about the size of 1/2 the length of my small finger.

Small Sour Cabbage Roll

Place the completed roll in the bottom of the strainer on the outer edge as shown.  If you are going authentic old school with the perfect plate, do the same thing, but you need to place the completed roll on top of that nicely packed cabbage you did earlier.  Now you are seeing why the pot/strainer is my preferred choice.

Keep going and place the completed rolls around the outside of the pot working towards the center.  Try to pack the rolls tightly in the pot.  This keeps them together during the cooking process.  After a while you will have your first victory and be done the first layer.  Stand back, admire your work, tamp the layer down tightly with your hands, fill your scotch and prepare for victory layer #2.

Sour Cabbage Roll  Sour Cabbage Rolls in Pot

Now some time saving tips as if you do this one cabbage roll at a time, you are going to be there until NEXT Christmas.  To speed it up a bit, cut a pile of triangles, then lay 6 – 8 of them out on the cutting board.  Put a teaspoon of rice mixture of each one, then roll them all.  Still takes time but it helps move things along.  Keep going until you run out of cabbage leaves.  You will know you are close when your fingers are sufficiently pruned and the smell of sour cabbage is permanently embedded in your fingers.

Sour Cabbage Roll Preparation

As far as portions, one large sour cabbage head will be a nice side dish for a holiday dinner for 12 – 15 people and you will probably have a few left overs.  If you are needing to serve more than 15, you will probably need a second head.  Good news!!  More rolling!  You can use the same pot providing it is tall enough, you just need more scotch to finish the job.  Once complete, pack all the rolls down tight with your hand.  Then take the trimmings from the cabbage and the small pieces and place them on top of the sour cabbage rolls.  Pack it down, dump the left over brine in the bowl into the cabbage roll pot, stand back and admire your work again.


Cooking the Sour Cabbage Rolls

Now that all your hard work rolling is done you need to get them on the stove to cook.  To get started, boil a large pot of heavily salted water (more salt!!).  Take the boiling water and pour it over the cabbage rolls.  You need enough water to cover all the layers, including the pieces on top.  Bring it to a boil, then turn it down to simmer for the duration.  You will know when you have it right because the water will be constantly just boiling over the top of the pot, making a mess on the stove!  Check on it once in a while to top off the water if required as you want to keep them covered.  Cooking will take about  3 – 4 hours of stove top simmering.

Once cooked, the cabbage will be nice and tender.  For serving, drain off most of the water.  I will leave a couple of inches in the bottom of the pot in case you want to re-heat them tomorrow.  You can discard the pieces on top of the rolls, then put the sour cabbage rolls in a serving dish when the time is right.

Sour Cabbage Rolls

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Sour Cabbage Rolls

Salty Tangy Sour Cabbage Rolls - Perfect for a Holiday Dinner.

Course Side Dish
Cuisine German
Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 3 hours
Total Time 5 hours
Servings 12
Calories 193 kcal


  • 1 Sour Cabbage Large Head
  • 2 cups Pearl Rice
  • 1/2 lb Ground Pork
  • 1 1/2 cups Yellow Onion Diced
  • 1/8 cup Salt
  • 1 tsp Black Pepper


  1. Measure and rinse the rice under cold water to remove the starch from the rice.  Drain well and add to a medium size mixing bowl.

  2. Add finely diced onion to the mixing bowl with the rice.

  3. Add ground pork, salt and pepper to the mixing bowl.  Cut the pork into the rice mixture and mix well.

  4. Prepare the cabbage by removing from the package.  Remove the core of the cabbage.  Peel the leaves from the cabbage and set aside in a large bowl.  Try to keep the brine in the bowl.

  5. To create the cabbage rolls, remove the spine of the cabbage leaf.  Cut the cabbage into 3" x 4" triangles.

  6. Please a teaspoon of the rice mixture on to the base of the cabbage triangle.  Roll the base over the mixture, tuck the sides of the triangle into the center and continue to roll the cabbage triangle.  A finished roll should be about 1/2 the size of your small finger.

  7. Place the roll into the outside edge of a large (6 - 8 quart) pasta pot with strainer.  Continue preparing the cabbage rolls.  Place the rolls around the pot working towards the center of the pot.  Keep the rolls tightly packed.

  8. Once complete, place some of the remaining cabbage trimmings on top of the cabbage rolls in the pot to provide a cover for the rolls.  Add the remaining brine to the pot.

  9. Boil salted water in a separate pot.  Once boiled, pour over and fill the cabbage roll pot until all the cabbage rolls and trimmings are covered.

  10. Bring to the water to a boil again then turn down to low and simmer for 3 - 4 hours.  Check occasionally and top up with hot water to ensure all the cabbage is covered during cooking.

  11. To serve, pour off the water, remove the top layer of cabbage trimmings.  Remove from the cabbage roll pot and put in serving dish.

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