Fall’n for Cabbage Rolls

At this time of year, my husband especially wants the nostalgic food from his Finnish family traditions. Paul’s mom taught me to make her Cabbage Rolls one fall Saturday standing together at her kitchen counter. Last Saturday when my son sat on our kitchen stool watching and photographing me making them, I promised I would teach his wife someday, too.

Cabbage rolls are essentially an oblong meatball wrapped in a cabbage leaf and baked in the oven. Maple syrup, added to the bottom of the baking pan, gives the distinctive flavor that makes them different from most other cabbage roll recipes. This recipe makes quite a few, so we often roll and bake them on Saturday and invite company to share them for Sunday dinner. I turn this into a not-so-modern meat and potatoes meal with a big pile of real mashed potatoes on the side.

Finnish Cabbage Rolls

2 heads cabbage
3 lbs. ground beef
1 finely chopped onion
2 eggs
1 cup cooked rice
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 tsp. salt
maple syrup (imitation is fine)

First, boil the cabbages in one or two large pots of water for about 30 minutes, until the leaves are tender. When the cabbage is cooked, drain most of the water from the pot, saving at least 1 or 2 cups of cabbage water in the bottom. Lift the cabbage heads out of the pot with a couple of big spoons and set onto a towel or clean counter. Allow to cool while you mix the other ingredients.

Second, mix the eggs, onion, salt and pepper, ground beef and cooked rice in a bowl, and set aside.

Third, turn the cabbage heads bottom up.

Carefully peel back each cabbage leaf. The first few leaves will be softer and more difficult; you can discard these if they tear apart. The next leaves will be firmer and not as soft and will retain their shape.

Cut it from the base of the stem with a small knife. Going around the base of the cabbage, cut off about 2/3 of the leaves on each cabbage, one-by-one.

Trim the hard ribbed edge off the back, and then set in a pile to the side. You may leave the harder, smaller leaves toward the center attached and use them for something else.

Fourth, when you have a good pile of cabbage leaves for rolling, prepare your baking pan. We use a large rectangular jelly-roll baking sheet with about 1-inch sides. Pour at least 1 cup of the cabbage water in the pan. Pour 3-4 tablespoons of maple syrup and a few dashes of salt over the water.

Fifth, take one cabbage leaf and lay curled side up on the counter.

Put a large spoonful of the meat mixture on the top of the cabbage leaf, near where you cut it from the stem.

Fold in the sides and roll to the end. Place seam side down in the jelly roll pan. Repeat with the rest of the meat mixture and cabbage leaves.

Sixth. Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees. Baste with juice after 30 minutes. You may either serve them at this point or use this double-cook method for a softer and more tender cabbage roll: transfer them to a large pot, along with the juice from the baking sheet, refrigerate and reheat the nest day in the same pot by boiling on the stove for thirty minutes for 30 minutes. Save the juice from the pot, and served it alongside the cabbage rolls and mashed potatoes.


  1. Michelle at Scribbit
    Oct 24, 2008

    Those are something my mom used to fix all the time and I didn’t like them as a kid (kind of like stuffed bell peppers) but I’m betting that I’d like them now as an adult.

  2. ph
    Oct 24, 2008

    More syrup is always good, too. I’m not quite sure you can add too much…

  3. Paula
    Nov 17, 2008

    This is a great recipe. I tried them but substituted a half package of dry onion soup for the onion. It gave it some extra flavoring which we enjoyed. The maple syrup gives this recipe a special taste. Rather than the mashed potatoes I used butternut squash. Gave the meal a fall flaor and a touch more color. I also did not boil the cabbage long enough so ended up placing some of the inner cabbage leaves into the microwave for some final cooking which worked great.

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