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Monday, March 26, 2012

Gluten Free, Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls (holopchi or goluptsi)

Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls
Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls for a Gluten Free Easter Dinner

I consider these the epitome of European comfort food, probably in part because they were a common element at family dinners with my grandparents.  Growing up, cabbage rolls (or holopchi in German and Ukrainian and goluptsi in Russian) were often served by my German grandmother, especially at Easter.  Those cabbage rolls were stuffed with ground meat and covered in tomato soup.  Since I don't really eat meat, I decided to make these in a healthy, cheap, vegetarian version. I've followed the bare bones of my Omi's recipe, but stuffed the cabbage leaves with rice and vegetables, then smothered the rolls in easy homemade tomato sauce.

Also, since Easter weekend is two weeks away, I thought I would get the jump on it and start posting some low-cost, gluten free Easter dinner dishes, starting with these cabbage rolls.  Later this week, I'll be experimenting with more German dishes, gluten free potato dumplings, and gluten free spaetzle, a flour and egg noodle that is boiled and smothered with butter.  Mmmmm....butter...

The ingredients are naturally gluten free, and very cheap, perfect for a budget friendly, gluten free Easter dinner.  They also serve double-duty as part of "cabbage fest," my attempt to provide recipes that make use of the ever so cheap cabbage in a variety of ways, while cooking gluten free on a budget.  Last week for cabbage fest I posted Veggie Wraps with Sprouts and Cabbage, an Asian inspired dish.  This week's cabbage roll hails from Germany, at the far end of the next continent, which I think speaks to the versatility of cabbage to work with a variety of flavours and international cuisine.  These are deceptively filling, too, so they can serve as a meal all on their own, or have one or two as a side with something else.

These vegetarian cabbage rolls also make a great dish to take to a potluck any time of year, as the recipe makes about 30 rolls, and they are free of most common allergens if served plain.  The bonus: since the rolls and all the vegetables are cooked, the allergen protein in the tomatoes, carrots and zucchini is destroyed, making them safe for people with Oral Allergy Syndrome.  Leftovers can easily be frozen and reheated for quick dinners later.    
Ingredients: (makes about 30 cabbage rolls)

1 c. white rice (your choice of type)
½ medium zucchini, grated*
2 medium sized carrots, peeled and grated*
½ onion, chopped fine
1 c. grated cabbage, approximately
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 large head of cabbage for wrapping the rolls
Vegetarian Holopchi

2 c. vegetable stock*
1 15-oz can plain tomato paste or diced tomatoes*
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Optional toppings
Sour cream
Shredded cheese
More tomato sauce
Chopped parsley

1. Prepare the head of cabbage to use for wrapping the rice and veggies.  There are two ways to do this.    The easiest one is to freeze a whole head of cabbage overnight, then remove it several hours before use to defrost.  Using a sharp knife, cut the core out of the bottom of the cabbage head and gently peel off all the leaves.  Alternatively, you could cut out the core, then boil the whole head until the leaves are soft and start to fall off.  

2. Mix the rice, zucchini, carrots, shredded cabbage, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper in a large bowl. 

3. Line a 9x13” casserole dish with extra cabbage leaves from the head of cabbage (optional, this is to help prevent the rolls from sticking to the bottom).

4. Roll the cabbage leaves on a flat surface: take a cabbage leaf and cut out the bottom of the hard stem.  Add 1-2 Tbsp filling to the bottom end of the leaf, leaving approximately 1” leaf to the right and left.  Folding the leaf like an envelope, lift the end of the leaf up and over the filling, then fold the right and left sides over.  Continue rolling to the end of the leaf.  Continue with the rest of the leaves to use all the filling. For a more detailed how-to, follow the directions for rolling Asian rice wraps.

5. Place the cabbage rolls in the baking pan, tucking them in close together. 

6. Mix together the sauce ingredients.  If using diced tomatoes, blend in blender or with hand blender until a paste.  Pour over the cabbage rolls to cover. 

7. Cover the dish with lid or aluminum foil and bake at 350F for 1 3/4 hr - 2 hrs, until rice inside the rolls is cooked through and leaves are soft. You may want to baste the rolls partway through to ensure the tops are evenly cooked.  

What does your family make for Easter dinner?  I'd love for you to share your traditions, and where they come from!   

*OAS Info: The boiling process *should* kill the allergen proteins in the zucchini and carrots.  If you are reactive to either, simply remove them, or replace with something you can eat.  As for the stock used, most commercial stocks use celery, an OAS food that likely does not lose its reactivity during processing, so if you are very reactive to celery you may want to make your own stock and eliminate the celery.

This recipe is shared with the following sites:
Meatless Monday at My Sweet and Savory Just Another Meatless Monday at Hey What's For Dinner Mom? Foodie Friday  on Rattlebridge Farm

Gluten Free Meal Plan via Musings of a Housewife Monday Meals


  1. I have never seen this recipe made without meat, but I will certainly give this a try. It sounds wonderful! I am sharing ☺

    1. Thanks! I grew up eating the meat version, but I think the veggie version is pretty comparable :)

  2. I have to admit, I have never tried anything like this, but it looks so good. I really want to try it!

    1. Please do let me know if you try it! My grandparents lived in a mostly German / Polish / Ukrainian immigrant neighbourhood, and all the neighbours and restaurants served cabbage rolls all the time :)

  3. This is one of my favorites and you did it proud. I am glad you stopped by my blog so I could find yours. I like it a lot.

    I see you are a new blogger. Welcome. I look forward to visiting and finding GF recipes for my husband.

    I am not able to change my URL to My Sweet and Savory. This is my other blog. Sorry about that.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, and for hosting on your site :) I hope you and your husband will enjoy some of my recipes, and your other blog looks yummy! Oh if only I could eat such glutinous wonders...

  4. I put the rolls in a baking pot. My problem seems to be how much liquid (sauce )to put in with the cabbage rolls when baking. I usually use a whole cabbage head, . I am vegan, and use no liquid oils. My stuffing is brown rice, mushrooms, kale. Everything is cooked before stuffing in the par boiled cabbage leaves. I've made the dish a few times, 4, still leaves a bit tough, not like mom's.

    1. Hi, I think the key is to make sure that there is enough liquid to cover the rolls - I get about 3.5 cups of sauce - and then cook the heck out of it until your whole house smells like cabbage - about 1 3/4 - 2 hrs. If this still isn't working, I would suggest increasing liquid and cooking time. I hope that helps!


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