Ethel Sellis' Stuffed Cabbage

October 28, 2018
10 Ratings
Photo by Ty Mecham
  • Prep time 45 minutes
  • Cook time 3 hours
  • Serves 6 or more
Author Notes

When I was an infant, someone gave my parents an odd gift: a food mill, so you could turn whatever you were eating into baby food. They used to feed me this stuffed cabbage—my great grandmother's recipe—as if it were puréed pumpkin. As I aged, it’s no wonder that it became a siren song to me. The sumptuous, rich scent it’d give off as it bubbled away on the stove was enough to pry me from whatever I was doing and lure me into the kitchen, shoeless and ravenous as one of Pavlov’s dogs. “Have you ever had anything so good in your entire life?” my dad would ask, cutting a stuffed cabbage roll in two and handing us each an enormous spoonful, complete with hot tomato sauce and shredded chuck, braised until quite literally falling apart. A drop of sauce would fall onto his shirt. “Never,” I’d say, handing him a towel. —Ella Quittner

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: How My Nana's Stuffed Cabbage Taught Me to Treat Myself Better. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1 large head of green cabbage, with the tough, inedible bottom part removed by cutting a triangular wedge about an inch deep
  • 3/4 pound ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons uncooked rice
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced, plus 1 large yellow onion sliced into rings about 1/4-inch thick
  • 1/2 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, divided, plus more as needed
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 (10.75-ounce) can Campbell’s tomato soup
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 chuck steak (about 12 ounces)
  • 3 gingersnap cookies, crumbled, plus more as needed
  • 1 pound egg noodles, cooked and tossed with butter and salt, for serving
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, for serving
  1. Boil the head of cabbage for 30 minutes. It should be soft enough so you can jab a fork an inch or so into the heart.
  2. Meanwhile, make the filling: Using your hands, gently mix together the beef, uncooked rice, small diced onion, ketchup, egg, 2 teaspoons of kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
  3. Make the sauce in a separate bowl: Mix the can of tomatoes, tomato soup, brown sugar, lemon juice, and the remaining salt and pepper. Use a chef’s knife to break the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  4. Drain the cabbage and let it sit about 30 minutes, until it’s cool enough to handle. Separate the cabbage leaves into a pile so you can see how many you’re working with—the better to allocate the filling. With each leaf, put the “right amount” of filling (closer to a couple tablespoons for larger leaves, and closer to a heaping teaspoon for for smaller leaves) into the the concave, cup-like side, and roll it up, tucking in the sides as you go so that you’ve created a cylindrical pouch.
  5. Season the steak all over with salt. In the bottom of a large pot, heat oil at medium high until almost smoking. Brown the steak on both sides. Then, cover the steak with a few tablespoons of the sauce and flip it over so there’s sauce underneath, too. Layer on a row of cabbage rolls (with the open side face down so they stay sealed), then add about 1/4 cup of the sliced onions on top of the rolls, then more sauce. Continue like this until all of the cabbage rolls and sliced onions and sauce have been layered in.
  6. Cook covered over a low flame for 2 hours and 30 minutes. Uncover, then add the crumbled gingersnaps. Stir to mix so they dissolve into the sauce. If you'd like the sauce to be thicker, add additional crumbled gingersnaps. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve over buttered egg noodles. As you distribute the sauce and cabbage rolls into bowls, shred the steak and include some in each. Garnish each bowl with a dollop of sour cream.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • FrugalCat
  • Austin Burges
    Austin Burges
  • Ella Quittner
    Ella Quittner
  • Kim Krett
    Kim Krett

14 Reviews

Margie March 25, 2020
This recipe took me back to my childhood. I can’t wait to make the cabbage rolls and reminisce a little. I may have miss it but what would be your instructions if you wanted to freeze this dish ahead of time?
Julie February 22, 2020
Oh I gotta try this! Thanks for sharing an heirloom recipe <3
susielou May 8, 2019
This recipe is a classic! I love sweet and spicy anything by adding ginger snaps; I've added them to brisket or pot roast. When I made stuffed cabbage, I served it on rice; your noodles take it to another level.

A vegetarian version for stuffing is made with a combination of mushrooms, barley, onions and dill, and served with a sour cream sauce.
Ella Q. May 9, 2019
Hi Susie,

I'm so thrilled you enjoyed this! Makes me happy to hear.

FrugalCat November 3, 2018
Anyone whose old recipes included raisins in the sauce?
Ella Q. November 20, 2018
Sounds delicious. Golden or other?
KarenO January 27, 2019
Yes, indeed. That's the way my grandmother made it. Can't recall if they were golden or regular raisins, though. Making my mouth water.
Donald February 22, 2020
Yes, dark raisins. But I use golden raisins now because I like the flavor better and I think they're less distracting in the finished sauce.
penmoon November 2, 2018
Any recommendations for making this vegetarian?
Ella Q. November 25, 2018
Hi Penmoon,

You could try just rice and onion inside the cabbage. Or use your favorite recipe for veggie meatballs and include that instead of the beef mixture.

Deedledum February 6, 2019
Grains like quinoa or bulgur work here too.
Kim K. February 18, 2019
Buckwheat, mushrooms, rice or barley. I have seen it with hard cooked eggs too, but that's not exactly vegetarian.
Austin B. October 31, 2018
Is there a workaround for the canned tomato soup?
Ella Q. October 31, 2018
Hi Austin! My dad swears by the soup, but I suspect a similar volume of pureed tomato would do the trick in a pinch. Just balance to taste accordingly with the other ingredients.