With Ukrainian Christmas around the corner, I wanted to share one of my ultimate favorite Ukrainian Christmas comfort food recipes - the best cabbage rolls ever! Although I am Ukrainian and adore Ukrainian food, these are not your typical traditional Ukrainian cabbage rolls (Ukrainian holubtsi). These are what my family likes to call, "Scottish Cabbage Rolls" because they contain both ground beef and rice and are covered in tomato soup sauce.
These Scottish-style Ukrainian cabbage rolls are popular around the holidays, but great for any time of the year! They pair well with any holiday meal, but especially with Potato and Cottage Cheese Perogies, and borscht!
Traditional Ukrainian cabbage rolls usually contain only rice, some onion, and sometimes bits of bacon, minus the tomato sauce. These ground beef and rice cabbage rolls are of the hearty, meaty variety and different in that they are stuffed with lean ground beef, rice, mushrooms and smothered in a creamy tomato sauce.
And this is about as far from a traditional Ukrainian Christmas eve dinner as you can get (which consists of 12 meatless dishes). Not sure how proud this would have made Baba, but I just can't help but prefer these beef cabbage rolls over the boring and plain rice-filled ones!
These stuffed cabbage rolls came from my Mom's Auntie May- she was also a Scot that was married to a Ukrainian. And this was the only cabbage roll my Mom had ever eaten. She didn’t even know the other kind existed (the real Ukrainian ones) until she met my Dad.
But the funny part is that my mom actually likes the other ones better – the traditional ones that only have rice in them. She only made these ground beef ones because my dad and us kids liked them better.
She said she added the ketchup because it seemed like they needed a little more flavor and thought: “ketchup goes so good with hamburger …” Oh and she said these were actually easier to make than the other ones! Brilliant....
For this recipe, you'll need:
- head of cabbage
- cooked brown rice (I use instant rice)
- ground beef (I prefer extra lean)
- canned mushrooms (you can use fresh mushrooms if you prefer)
- ketchup * I use Heinz
- condensed canned tomato soup * I use Campbell's
*see recipe card for quantities
But cabbage rolls are still a lot of work, and for this reason, we only got them for special holiday dinners when I was a kid. Hence the reason I don't make them very often these days either.
I'm not going to lie to you or make these sound like my typical quick and healthy dish- homemade cabbage rolls are not a quick holiday side dish! In fact, they are labor intensive. But on the bright side, these are the best stuffed cabbage rolls (made with meat and rice) I have ever eaten. And I can guarantee you that it's worth the time investment!
The best part of this recipe is that you don't need to boil cabbage! The cabbage is cooked in the microwave so it's much faster and it's the easiest way to make homemade cabbage rolls.
*I often cook the ground beef and rice the night before
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees F and spray a large casserole dish or roaster pan with non-stick cooking spray
- Brown ground beef with chopped onion on the stovetop in a large skillet or dutch oven. Add mushrooms when beef is nearly done (if using fresh mushrooms). If you are using canned mushrooms, you can add them when you mix everything together. Cook until meat is browned and onions and mushrooms are soft.
- Cook rice until done, as per package directions
Place cabbage on a plate.
Cook cabbage in the microwave for 10 minutes, and then cool.
Meanwhile: Add cooked ground meat mixture, rice, and, mushrooms ketchup together in a large bowl.
Mix until well combined. Add more ketchup to your liking, as desired.
Turn and return to microwave and cook for another 10 minutes (Mom started to use this method when she got a microwave in the 1980’s because it’s much faster).
Cool for a couple of minutes until the cabbage can be handled, then remove core from cabbage.
Gently start peeling away the leaves.
*If the leaves are not coming off easily (they are ripping) return to microwave for another 5 minutes.
Continue to very gently peel away the leaves.
*If at any point this becomes difficult and the leaves are starting to rip, put the cabbage back in the microwave in 2 minutes increments.
Continue doing this until all the leaves have been removed.
*you can trim off any bad parts on the leaves or discard leaves that are bad. Set aside the leaves that are too ripped to roll (See Pro Tip)
Place a piece of cabbage on a work surface (I use a cutting board) and cut off about ½ - ¾ an inch of the tough stem part on the bottom of the leaf.
Add about a tablespoon of the filling in the center of the leaf (this amount will depend on the size of the leaf- you may need to add a little more for larger leaves and a little less for very small leaves)
Begin by folding the cabbage leaf in on the sides, then fold the bottom.
Then continue to roll up the cabbage roll from the bottom, as you would a wrap
Continue rolling right up to the top
*when you get to this stage, you can just gently push any rogue filling back into the cabbage roll and gently fold the loose leaf part over and place the cabbage roll (seam down) in the prepared casserole dish
Place cabbage rolls gently in the prepared baking dish
Keeping adding (stacking is fine) until all the cabbage rolls are added.
Pour tomato soup over the cabbage rolls
Bake in prepared oven for about 2 hours or until cabbage is tender. Serve warm
If you have leftover cabbage roll filling and torn leaves you couldn't use, you can make a quick lazy cabbage roll casserole (deconstructed cabbage rolls) . Or you can use the filling to make Stuffed Green Pepper Casserole, if you want to make something different.
Add leftover filling and chopped cabbage to a small pan and cover with canned tomato soup
Cover in foil and bake for 1 hour in preheated oven. *It may take a little more or a little less time, depending on how much you have.
📖 Variations & Substitutions
- Slow Cooker: You can slow cook these for 6 hours on low in your crock pot as well.
- Instant Pot: They take about 20 minutes in the instant pot.
- Gluten-free - use gluten-free tomato soup
- Ground beef: You can use regular ground beef, lean, extra lean or half ground beef and half ground pork
- Toppings: Top with sour cream and/or fresh dill
I use a large casserole dish with a lid or a roasting pan to cook these stuffed cabbage rolls, but you could use a slow cooker (affiliate links) as well (see substitutions and variations). You'll also need a microwave.
🥗What to serve with cabbage rolls
Traditionally, cabbage rolls go well with:
- borscht (shown below)
- Air Fryer Kielbasa (Kovbasa)
- Shortcut Lazy Pierogies
- a garden salad
- cucumbers - try my Quick Cucumber Kimchi
- Dinner buns or Ukrainian Bread on holidays
- Ukrainian Walnut Torte or Lemon Poppy Seed Torte for dessert
Store leftover cabbage rolls in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Make-ahead: You can go ahead and make them in advance (when you have a little more time on your hands), as they last for 4 days in an airtight container in the fridge and a very long time in the freezer (6 months) when they are wrapped well in a Ziploc freezer bag or airtight container.
However, if you are short on time, give my Lazy Slow Cooker Cabbage Rolls a try! It's the same recipe but in casserole form.
If you're interested in more great Ukrainian recipes, follow my Ukrainian Food Board on Pinterest!
📋 Ukrainian Cabbage Rolls Recipe (with ground beef and rice)
- 1 large head of cabbage
- 1 lb ground beef
- 4 cups of brown rice this is about 10 servings of instant rice
- 1 medium onion diced
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms can substitute canned
- 1 cup ketchup add additional to taste
- 2 10 oz cans condensed tomato soup * gluten-free
*The recipe instruction photos will NOT print (by default). If you want them to print, you need to select that option.
- Prep: Preheat oven to 250 degrees F (121 degrees C ) and spray a large casserole dish or roaster pan with non-stick cooking spray.
- Cook ground beef with onion and drain off fat. Cook rice. *I often do this the night before.
- Place whole cabbage on a plate.
- Cook cabbage in the microwave for 10 minutes, and then cool.
- Meanwhile: Add cooked ground beef with onion, cooked rice, mushrooms and ketchup together in a large bowl.
- Mix until combined. Add additonal ketchup to your preference, if desired.
- Turn cabbage over and return to the microwave and cook for another 10 minutes.
- Remove core from cabbage and carefully remove cabbage leaves.
- Gently start peeling away the leaves.*If the leaves are not coming off easily (they are ripping), return to microwave for another 5 minutes.
- Continue to very gently peel away the leaves.*If at any point this becomes difficult and the leaves are starting to rip, put the cabbage back in the microwave in 2 minutes increments.
- Continue doing this until all the leaves have been removed. *you can trim off any bad parts on the leaves or discard leaves that bad. Save leaves that are too ripped to roll (you can use them in * You will probably have to cut away more of the core as you go along in order to remove the leaves without tearing them
- Place a piece of cabbage on a work surface (I use a cutting board) and cut off about ½ - ¾ an inch of the tough part on the bottom of the leaf.
- Add about a tablespoon of the filling to the middle of the cabbage leaf (this amount will depend on the size of each cabbage leaf)
- Begin by folding the cabbage in on the sides, then fold the bottom.
- Then continue to roll up the cabbage roll from the bottom, as you would a wrap
- Continue rolling right up to the top*When you get to this stage, you can just gently push any rogue filling back into the cabbage roll and gently fold the loose leaf part over and place the cabbage roll (seam down) in the prepared casserole dish
- Place gently in prepared dish.
- Keep adding them to pan until they are all gone (stacking is fine). *See Pro Tip for leftover filling and ripped leaves.
- Pour canned tomato soup on top of the layers of cabbage rolls and cover with lid.
- Bake in oven for about 2 hours or until cabbage is tender. Serve warm