Purple Cabbage Rolls

Purple Cabbage Rolls - close

Every month, when the Daring Cooks’ Challenge entries are posted, I do my best to look at a number of the entries. I love to see the variation on the given theme, the creativity that people add to their interpretation, and of course I get inspiration!! This month was no exception.

One alternative to the challenge was to use a different leaf to wrap the rice – so there were quite a few people who chose to make cabbage rolls (either because they didn’t like grape leaves, couldn’t find grape leaves, or had mastered that recipe already and wanted a challenge). I realized that not only had I not attempted to make cabbage rolls before, but that I had never even EATEN cabbage rolls that weren’t based on the traditional Polish style that I was used to.

I had decided that some day, I would try to make cabbage rolls… eventually. That is, until I saw a post that used red cabbage. The colour was so compelling that I decided I would make some right away, and when I set eyes on a red cabbage at The Big Carrot, I decided to make some IMMEDIATELY. No joke. We were still deciding what to make for dinner the next night when I spotted it, turned to J and said “I could work on some cabbage rolls tonight and bake them up for dinner tomorrow”. Done.

Purple Cabbage Juice

One of the first things was to try and blanch the cabbage. Some recipes say to pull the leaves off first, some say to put the whole head in. I tried the first way — DISASTER!! The leaves ripped like mad. Blanching the whole thing was challenging, but a better option in the end.

The most hilarious part was the colour that came off of the cabbage. The boiling water turned a colour that bent from straight-up purple, to blue, to green as it poured. Of course, I managed to drip purple liquid all over the kitchen, and did my best to wipe it up immediately. I didn’t know if it would stain if I left it – reminded me of the days when my hair was purple, and I had to be careful not to get any of the coloured water on anything as it dripped from my head after a shower. Ahhh, memories.

Purple Hair

That done, I prepared the filling, which was mostly comprised of rice, rehydrated TVP (but you can use ground meat, if you like), and some herbs, mushroom and spinach.

One thing it should have contained – but didn’t – is egg. It was on my list, it was in my instructions…. but I forgot. Honestly, it could have used it. When you make vegetarian rolls, you don’t have the benefit of meat to help hold things together. An egg in the mix would have helped with that, but luckily it didn’t cause any disasters.

Purple Cabbage Rolls - assembly

Next. I set up to roll. I measured out a blob of filling, and basically used the same technique I used to roll the dolma – fold the bottom up tightly, tuck in the sides, continue to roll up and tuck in until you’re out of leaf. Since there was less leaf to work with than the dolma, I had to put them seam down on the tray. From there, I refrigerated the tray of rolls, with plans to assemble my baking dish the next morning.

I lined the bottom of the baking dish with a layer of thinly sliced tomato (to stop the rolls from sticking to the bottom, and to make a bit of a “sauce”), and a layer of thinly sliced leek. Next, I packed the cabbage rolls in pretty tightly, and studded them with halved garlic and button mushrooms. For the heck of it, I topped with sprigs of rosemary and covered with tin foil.

Purple Cabbage Rolls - assembled

I baked them covered for 40 minutes, uncovered for another 10. I found that it wasn’t quite enough. I upped the temperature, and turned it to broil. Better – but still not as cooked as I probably would have liked it. I think I should have baked them covered at a slightly higher temp for at least an hour, then uncovered for at least 20 minutes. Good to know for next time (I’ve made the changes to the recipe below).

I would also salt & pepper the mixture more than I did. You don’t want to season it as though you will be eating the filling on it’s own – it needs to have a stronger taste. That was mistake #3.

Overall, I think it was a great first attempt. I didn’t go too crazy with the ingredients – I did want them to taste something like a cabbage roll, after all. I learned a few things (don’t forget the egg! bake longer! season more!). We had a great meal, that made great leftovers.

Unfortunately, my pic of the actual baked dish kinda sucks. Oh well!

Purple Cabbage Rolls - baked

Full recipe after the jump!

Purple Cabbage Rolls


  • 1 head red cabbage , cored
  • 1 cup TVP mince
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1/4 tsp smoked paprika (optional)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1/8 cup white wine or light tasting beer
  • 1/2 cup mushroom, finely diced
  • 1 cup grated carrot
  • 2 cups baby spinach, blanched, water squeezed out, and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 2-4 Tbsp fresh herbs, finely chopped (or 2-4 tsp dried) (I used parsley, thyme, sage)
  • 2 cups long-grain white rice, cooked
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper

“Sauce” Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2-3 tomatoes, sliced
  • 2-5 garlic cloves, halved
  • 1 tbsp white wine or light tasting beer
  • 8oz (1/2 lb) button mushrooms
  • 1 cup thinly sliced leek (mostly white – some green)
  • 2-4 Tbsp fresh herbs, finely chopped (or 2-4 tsp dried)
  • butter


  1. In a very large pot of boiling salted water, cook cabbage, turning often, until tender, 15 to 20 minutes. After about 6 minutes, dunk the cabbage in an ice water bath, pull of whatever leaves you can, and return the rest of the head to the boiling water. When done, dunk the cabbage in an ice water bath,
    and pull off the remaining leaves. Drain and dry the leaves.
  2. In a heatproof bowl, mix the paprika into the TVP. Slowly add boiling water until it is all moist (appx. 1/2 cup). Leave to hydrate for at least 10 minutes.
  3. Heat olive oil in a deep saute pan. Cook diced onion until browned and all of the moisture has been cooked off. Deglaze the pan with wine.
  4. Add mushrooms, carrot, garlic and ginger. Cook until softened. Mix in spinach and cook for another minute or so.
  5. Take mixture off the heat, mix in herbs, rice, and salt and pepper. *At this point, you can refrigerate mixture for a few hours, or even overnight. At very least, let cool until it can be handled.
  6. When you are ready to roll, add the egg to the filling mixture. (I actually forgot this step!!… )
  7. Lay cabbage on a work surface, overlapping smaller leaves to form one larger leaf if necessary.
  8. Place a portion of filling in the center of each. Fold bottom half of cabbage over filling, then fold in sides and roll up tightly.
  9. Brush a thin coat of oil on the baking dish.
  10. Add a layer of thinly sliced tomatoes, followed by a layer of thinly sliced leek, then the herb blend and salt & pepper.
  11. Transfer cabbage rolls, seam side down, to baking dish, packing them in tightly.
  12. Push button mushrooms and garlic cloves into corners and cracks.
  13. I topped the dish with a few sprigs of rosemary… just because I felt like it.
  14. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pour about 1/2 inch of water into the casserole dish, cover dish with foil, and bake for 60 minutes.
  15. Remove foil,  and bake until sauce is bubbling, about 20 minutes.