Barb Hodgens
Barb Hodgens

Barb Hodgens loves to cook with alternative, healthy whole food ingredients, with a focus on gut health. Barb has overcome her own gut health issues through healthy eating. Share your ideas, comments and photos at the end of this post :)

Turkish spiced stuffed cabbage rolls

Perfect dish for entertaining!

Here we have an aromatic twist on a comfort food classic that’s hearty, delicious and simple to make. You can find a wide variety of cabbage rolls across Europe, Asia, and Africa. The type of meat and grain, aromatics and sauce vary depending on the cuisine. Essentially the base recipe is a ground meat and grain filling, wrapped in cabbage and baked in a tomato-based sauce. Our Turkish version includes fragrant spices and the addition of toasted pinenuts. It’s a super healthy and flavourful dish that tastes extra amazing served with homemade yogurt or sour cream.

stuffed cabbage rolls

Instead of adding cooked rice to the filling you can substitute brown rice, cooked quinoa, barley or raw cauliflower rice to make it paleo, keto or SCD adaptable. When grinding your own meat, explore using different meats: beef, lamb, pork, chicken or turkey, or a blend. 

What we love about this recipe, is how the whole thing can be made ahead of time, assembled in parts, frozen or reheated.

stuffed cabbage rolls

Makes: 12 large rolls


1 head of cabbage

Tomato Sauce
2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil

1 medium onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 can (400g) crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons of brown sugar, coconut sugar, honey (or preferred sweetener)
½ teaspoon of ground cumin seed
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon
¼ - ½ teaspoon ground chilli powder (optional)
1 cup broth of stock of your choice
½ teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of freshly cracked pepper

1 kg freshly ground beef or lamb or a combination (other meats may also be substituted)

1 ½ cups of cooked and cooled white rice (see variations in notes)
1 medium onion finely chopped
3 cloves garlic crushed
1 egg
¼ cup fresh parsley finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried mint leaves
1 teaspoon of ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground cumin seed
½ teaspoon of cinnamon
1/3 cup pinenuts toasted
1 teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of freshly cracked pepper


Tomato sauce
   In a large pan, sauté the chopped onion in olive oil or butter until tender

2.   Add the garlic, sauté until fragrant.
3.   Add the tin of tomatoes, broth, sugar, spices, and seasoning.
4.   Stir, bring to a simmer for 5 minutes, then turn heat off.  
5.   Pour the sauce into a large baking dish and set aside.

   In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients. 
Mix gently to combine then set aside.

stuffed cabbage rolls

Preparing the cabbage
   Fill a large stockpot with water and bring to a boil.

8.   Slice away some of the hard core of the cabbage and then remove the loose, outer leaves.
9.   Use tongs or 2 large spoons to carefully lower the cabbage into the boiling water.
10.  Cook for 5 minutes, then carefully lift it out of the water and into a colander.
11.  Remove the soft outer leaves one at a time, until you reach the firmer raw inner layers. Be gentle as you do not want to rip the leaves.
12.  Return the cabbage back into the boiling water and repeat the process.
You’ll need approx.12 large leaves.

stuffed cabbage rolls

Assembling the cabbage rolls
  Make sure the leaves are cool enough to touch but not cold. Cold leaves are harder to roll and may tear.

14.  Place a blanched cabbage leaf on a chopping board. Use a paring knife to cut the thick spin away.
15.  Add 1/3 cup of meat filling onto the leaf. Fold the sides of the leaf over the meat and roll the cabbage as if you were rolling a burrito.
16.  Place the roll seam side down, in a single layer in the sauced baking dish.
17.  Repeat until all the leaves are filled. If the leaves are small or tear, place 2 leaves side by side, overlapping them to create one larger leaf.
18.  The cabbage rolls can be assembled and stored covered in the fridge for up to 8 hours before you plan to bake them.

stuffed cabbage rolls

Preheat oven to 180C / 350F

20.  When the baking dish is filled with the rolls, cover tightly with foil (or a lid) so that they steam rather than brown on top.
21.  Bake for 1¼ -1½ hours or until the cabbage is super tender and the meat has cooked all the way through. 
22.  When it’s done, baste with the tomato sauce then sprinkle with fresh parsley and a few more toasted pinenuts.

If you need more minced meat recipes for a feast you might like to try this sage and cranberry meatloaf or this one pot Mexican style meatball bake.


stuffed cabbage rolls