Served in a delicate tomato-based sauce, these Japanese-Style Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are a beloved western dish that has been cooked in most Japanese households since 1895! Make it for your potluck or dinner party – It’s a perfect meal to share with a crowd on a cold day!
As you know, the Japanese have many yoshoku (western-style Japanese) dishes. It is a creative demonstration of how the Japanese adopt and adapt foreign influences into our unique cuisine. Hamburger Steak (Hambagu), Spaghetti Napolitan and Omurice are just some of the yoshoku I’ve shared on Just One Cookbook. Today I’ll be sharing another popular yoshoku recipe, Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, that is enjoyed especially during fall and wintertime. In case you’re curious, we also call this dish Roll Cabbage (ロールキャベツ).
I’m aware that we are in the middle of summer. In fact, it’s rainy season in Japan where I am currently writing this post. It’s warm, sticky, and humid. All I want is something light and cold to eat. However, once in a while I throw in some recipes for my readers in the Southern Hemisphere. This delicious cabbage rolls recipe is for you guys and I hope it’ll keep you warm during the cold winter.
Watch How To Make Japanese Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Delicious and savory Japanese-Style Stuffed Cabbage Rolls served in a delicate tomato-based sauce. It’s a perfect meal to share with a crowd on a cold day!
Japanese Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are a dish consisting of blanched cabbage leaves wrapped around a variety of fillings. They are common in cuisines of the Balkans and Central/Northern/Eastern Europe. This dish was first introduced to Japan in the women magazine Jokan (女鑑) in 1895. It was soon becoming a beloved home cooking dish. I think one of the reasons is it utilizes cabbage when it’s in abundance. The cold-weather vegetable is economical yet nutritious.
Unlike the classic Stuffed Cabbage Rolls you’ve seen before, the Japanese version doesn’t include rice (even though there are various versions within Japan). Typically in Japan, we sauté onions and combine with ground meat (usually a combination of beef and pork). Then we wrap the stuffing with a cooked cabbage leaf and simmer in some kind of soup base – it can be tomato-based like today’s recipe, a simple consomé, or a wafu (Japanese) soup base with dashi broth. Sometimes we also wrap a slice of bacon around the cabbage roll.
One quick tip for making the stuffed cabbage rolls is to rest the meat mixture in the fridge for at least 15-30 minutes. Cooling the mixture helps to solidify fat, keep the meat juicy and prevent from drying out, which seal in and enhance the umami flavor.
Japanese almost always make this dish on the stovetop, mainly because that’s the most common way of cooking meals in Japan (not everyone has an oven like the American kitchen). However, this dish can nicely transform into a casserole dish.
Japanese Stuffed Cabbage Rolls – Amazing Comfort Food
Savory meat fillings rolled up in tender sweet cabbage, each bite is just bursting with flavor when bathed in the tangy tomato sauce. It may not be a quick weeknight meal, but it’s definitely a comfort dish that I look forward to eating when I come home from the cold weather outside. Well, as I am getting older, I feel San Francisco is pretty cold even in the summertime, so I do enjoy eating this all year round.
The great part is that you can make stuffed cabbage rolls ahead of time and they still taste great, so it can be a nice dish to bring to a potluck or dinner party.
And speaking of party, you might want to know a good wine pairing. We paired this dish with wonderful wine. Reviewing wine is Mr. JOC’s favorite part of blogging (next to making videos), and here’s what he wants to say about the pairing.
2011 Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir
I was really excited to try the 2011 Inman Family OGV Pinot Noir, as Pinot Noir is one of our favorite grape varietals. Another reason is we’ve tried Kathleen’s Endless Crush Rosé before and it was absolutely fabulous (read the story behind the Rosé here). At $68, this is not a cheap Pinot Noir, however, it’s one you should savor and enjoy for a special occasion or dinner.
To be honest, I was a bit thrown off by the screwcap rather than a cork, but it just made it easier to open the wine so I don’t mind. As your pour and smell the glass, the wine had a deep berry and just a bit earthy aroma and smelled very clean. As I took the first sip, I was really surprised.
Typically pinot noir I like are very fruity with a sweet note; however, this wine was completely different. It tastes very grown-up compared to another pinot noir that we’ve tried of the same vintage. As the wine rolls past your tongue, your brain is trying to figure out exactly what flavors am I tasting. For me, it starts off tasting a bit like dried berries, then the flavor completely changes to a more earthy tone. As the smooth elegant wine flows through your mouth and ends in a slightly spicy tone. I’ve never tasted a pinot noir quite like it.
My only thoughts as I am enjoying this wine was what an interesting wine it was. The best part was it paired perfectly with Nami’s stuffed cabbage rolls. The initial fruity flavors worked really well with the tomato sauce while the spices cut through the meat and the butter. It was an amazing dinner!
I hope you enjoy this Japanese Stuffed Cabbage Rolls recipe. Thank you so much for reading, and till next time! 🙂
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.
Japanese Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
- ½ onion
- 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
- 1 head cabbage (will need 12 cabbage leaves for 1 lb/454 g meat)
- 1 tsp kosher or sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt) (for boiling cabbage)
- 1 lb ground meat (preferably both beef (¾ lb, 340 g) and pork (¼ lb, 113 g))
- 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour (plain flour)
- ½ Tbsp unsalted butter
- parsley (for garnish; chopped)
Seasoning for Stuffing
- 1 large egg (50 g w/o shell)
- ⅓ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
- 2 Tbsp milk
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp kosher or sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 clove garlic (minced)
- 1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz, 411 g)
- 1 Tbsp white wine
- ½ tsp kosher or sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup chicken/vegetable stock
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Mince the onion. With the knife tip pointing toward the root, thinly slice the onion within ½ inch off the base. Then slice the onion horizontally.
- Then cut perpendicular to the first slices you made. If the onions need to be chopped finer, you can run your knife through them in a rocking motion.
- In a frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil on medium heat and sauté onion until tender, about 4 to 6 minutes.
- Start boiling 2 QT (2L) water and add 1 tsp salt when boiling. Remove the center core of the cabbage with a knife.
- Completely submerge the whole cabbage and cook the cabbage until the leaves are pliable and started to peel off, about 5 minutes. Using kitchen tongs or a fork, peel off and take out loosen outer cabbage leaves from the pot.
- Soak the cabbage leaves in iced water to stop the cooking process. Remove excess water from them with a salad spinner or pat dry with paper towel. Trim the tough, thick center vein at the base of each leaf (upside-down V shape). Alternatively, you can shave down this thick part. For a beginner cook, I recommend simply cutting it off.
- Chop the thick veins into small pieces, which will be added to the stuffing.
- In a large bowl, mix the meat, sautéed onion, and the chopped vein parts of the cabbage with your clean hands or a rubber spatula.
- Add 1 egg, ⅓ cup (20 g) panko, 2 Tbsp milk, ½ tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp salt, and ⅛ tsp pepper.
- Mix well until the mixture is sticky and combined. Cover with plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes (this step is optional; however, it helps to solidify fat, keeps the meat juicy and prevents from drying out, and enhances and traps the umami flavor).
- Try to divide the mixture into 12 equal parts (I roughly divided into 8 first and adjusted the amounts later).
- Put 1 Tbsp of the flour into a fine sieve for dusting. Working with 1 leaf at a time, overlap the bottom of the cabbage leaf where you see the upside-down V-shape. Lightly dust the flour over the cabbage leaf. The flour helps the stuffing stick to the cabbage and acts as a binding agent. Add the stuffing in the center of the bottom part of the cabbage leaf.
- Starting with the stem end, roll the cabbage up tightly, tucking in the sides of the leaf as you roll.
- Use one hand to pull the edge of the leaf and roll the fillings tightly toward the edge.
- Insert a toothpick to seal and secure the edge so the roll doesn’t fall apart while cooking (optional). Repeat with the remaining leaves and stuffing.
- What if the cabbage leaf is broken? You can still use it. Use a smaller cabbage leaf to “patch” up and roll the fillings the same way.
- In a large pot (I use 6 ¾ QT oval Dutch oven), heat 1 Tbsp olive oil on medium heat and cook 2 bay leaves and minced garlic until fragrant. Then stir in the diced tomatoes.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add 1 Tbsp white wine, ½ tsp salt, and ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper, and bring it to simmer on medium heat.
- Place the cabbage rolls side by side in rows, seam side down, in the pot. If there are open spaces, stuff the leftover cabbage in the opening so the cabbage rolls won’t move around while cooking. Add 1 cup (240 ml) chicken/vegetable broth.
- Place Otoshibuta (drop lid) on top of the cabbage rolls. If you don’t have a drop lid or your pot is not round, you can make it with aluminum foil (see the tutorial here). Cover to cook on medium heat. After boiling, lower the heat to medium-low heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add ½ Tbsp (7 g) butter to give it a little shine and more flavor.
- When you are ready to serve, carefully pick up the stuffed cabbage roll with kitchen tongs and put in a serving dish. Remove the toothpick and pour the sauce on top. Garnish with parsley and serve.
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Editor’s Note: The post was originally published on July 9, 2015.