Make Ahead

Not Your Grandmother's Cabbage Roll Soup

January  9, 2014
7 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Serves 6
Author Notes

My Mother and Grandmother made stuffed cabbage rolls on a regular basis. It was a part of their heritage from Eastern Europe; my Mother prided herself on making the best stuffed cabbage rolls that anyone had ever tasted. While visiting my Mother years ago, I decided that it was time that I learned her and my Grandmother's recipe for making them. Mom and I spent a memorable afternoon boiling and rolling cabbage around ground beef and rice. The rolling had to be just so, with the edges tucked and sealed before being placed in the pot atop shredded cabbage to protect the leaves from burning. My Mother’s hands were as deft as mine were clumsy and hesitant. And I learned more than making cabbage rolls that day: I learned that It took patience and practice. We laughed a lot and I also learned what made her cabbage rolls so good -- it was love that she put in that pot along with the ingredients. I still make her version of cabbage rolls when I have the time and smile at the memories that it evokes. But a few years ago a friend of mine gave me a recipe for cabbage roll soup that was based on all of the flavors found in stuffed cabbage rolls. I have adapted it over the years and hope that you can taste both the love that went into it and the heritage of a good stuffed cabbage roll. —lakelurelady

Test Kitchen Notes

This recipe makes a terrific, complex soup. I love stuffed cabbage, so I thought I would know what it would taste like, but it was so much better than I had imagined. It was unexpectedly rich and had great texture contrasts—the slightly chewy meatballs played off of the silky cabbage. I served it with good pumpernickel bread, sour cream, and freshly grated horseradish. —Annie stader

What You'll Need
  • For the soup
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 head of cabbage, shredded
  • one 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • one 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 5 cups water
  • For the meatballs
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons grated onion
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup uncooked rice
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
  1. In a large Dutch oven, sauté onions and garlic over medium heat in olive oil until soft. Add salt and pepper. Add shredded cabbage and lightly sauté until soft. Add tomatoes with their liquid, tomato sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice, cranberries and 5 cups of water. Stir to blend.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix all meatball ingredients. Form cocktail size meatballs from mixture and add to liquid. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • AntoniaJames
  • Kate Monson
    Kate Monson
  • Annie stader
    Annie stader
  • lakelurelady
  • loubaby
I have been a serious cook from the time I first took an introductory course in French Cooking from Irena Chalmers, a cookbook author and instructor at the CIA. My first love is French cooking but I also value the importance of fresh local ingredients. The freshest ingredients seasoned right and prepared with love will result in the perfect meal.

22 Reviews

Debra December 20, 2022
Worse cabbage roll type dish I have ever tasted. No depth of flavor, overly sweet, no balance. It seems like a complete loss of all ingredients!
lakelurelady May 16, 2023
You seem to be in the minority, but I respect your “Opinion”. Taste can be subjective.

AntoniaJames January 18, 2022
This looks so good! Can't wait to make it. ;o)
Cam February 20, 2019
Omg! This is an excellent recipe! Went together quickly and tastes like you spent all day simmering away. Going out of town soon and had to make a few substitutes....mayo for the egg...put currents in the meatballs (learned that trick with another recipe using meatballs in soup) instead of the dried cranberry’s...ran out of onion for the meatballs so I used dehydrated. Nothing too drastic of a swap. This is a keeper with a capital K! Thanks much!
Joe C. March 19, 2018
Well I had a lot of cabbage,onions,potatoes and carrots left over from my corned beef and cabbage,from St.Patty’s Day meal, I used my immersion hand blender, and zapped it all in the pan, added some tomatoes (fire roasted) and made some turkey meatballs,rather small, and added them, a little lemon juice ,touch of sugar,a small amount of chopped celery and simmered fo about an hour or so, Freaken Fantastic ! I'm eating it as I write this,and twice I drooled on my iPad! Try it u might like it . Normally I discard those leftovers, Why ! Sweet and Sour, I recall when I was young having a Soup like this at an old Ukraine rest, Oh ! The memories !
lakelurelady January 15, 2019
Just saw this. Love your adaptation and glad you liked it!
Kate M. December 18, 2017
Worried I was spending time making a soup nobody would eat, especially as I put in the cranberries and brown sugar. They all loved it, husband and three teenage kids (have to admit the 7 year old ate at a friends house tonight, so the jury is still out there.)
lakelurelady January 15, 2019
Hope it has become a favorite in your house Kate.
Annie S. January 11, 2015
I think you can use whatever you would like for the meatballs. I just made it again with ground goat that we got in our CSA dairy box. It is pretty lean and it was great.
lakelurelady January 13, 2015
I agree Annie. Any ground meat would be good.
sticksnscones January 11, 2015
This sounds fabulous but I was wondering if it might work with ground chicken or turkey instead?
lakelurelady January 13, 2015
It would sticksnscones. Would be interest to hear about your results.
Annie S. January 8, 2015
It was such a great pleasure to review this soup! I have also send the recipe to everyone I know who cooks!
lakelurelady January 10, 2015
Thanks Annie. That makes me very happy.
AntoniaJames January 8, 2015
Congrats on the Community Pick! I cannot wait to try this one. Perfect for January. ;o)
lakelurelady January 10, 2015
Thank you Antonia. I hope you enjoy it!
lakelurelady January 7, 2015
Thank you Annie stader. I am so glad that you liked my soup.
ellenl January 13, 2014
Have you seen the Gourmet recipe for "unstuffed cabbage"?
lakelurelady January 13, 2014
I just looked at it ellenl. So glad you let me know about it. It sounds terrific and I know I would love it. Love the same use of dried cranberries and the sweet and sour element.
loubaby January 10, 2014
Is this really sweet?....the sugar and cranberries?..I am polish and we make cabbage rolls, but ours are not sweet...we do put a sour cream/tomato soup sauce over ours after baking with canned tomatoes in the oven
lakelurelady January 10, 2014
Hi loubaby, It does have a sweet element to it, but not overly so to my taste. I actually reduced the sugar from the original recipe. Thanks for your comment.
lakelurelady January 11, 2014
By the way, my Mother's recipe was not at all sweet and she also used tomato soup like you. But she cooked it slowly on top of the stove.