This sarmale-inspired easy cabbage roll soup recipe is the perfect cure for the cabbage roll craving with a quarter of the work. Inspired by the pickled flavors of Romanian cabbage rolls, this cabbage soup is perfect for a cold day.
I was making sarmale, which is Romanian cabbage rolls. As is customary with cabbage rolls, I ran out of oomph, so cabbage roll soup was in order. The finished product was out of this world good especially with my one nifty little trick to the cabbage.
My secret ingredient for this cabbage roll soup recipe? It’s a reference back to sarmale, which traditionally uses pickled cabbage leaves. I couldn’t find these, so I boiled the cabbage in water, vinegar, and just a bit of sugar. Not a ton, but this step adds just a tiny kick of something-something to the soup! If you want to save yourself time and trouble, just chop up fresh cabbage instead.
This soup is so easy to make and it’s loaded with flavor. I highly recommend not skipping the boiling step of the cabbage, but if you’re in a pinch with time, it’ll still be delicious.
How to make this easy cabbage roll soup:
First, blanch the cabbage in water, vinegar, sugar, and salt. Boil for 7–10 minutes depending on the size of your cabbage. Transfer the cabbage to an ice bath. Once it is cool enough to handle, quarter the cabbage and thinly slice each quarter. Pour the liquid from the pot and wipe it out and return it back to the stovetop.
From there, simply fry up the meat and transfer it to a paper towel-lined plate. Cook the aromatics. I used celery and onion, but feel free to throw in a diced carrot or even a chopped fennel bulb. Next, add butter, rice, and spices. I used garlic powder, crushed red pepper, fresh dill, and fresh parsley.
Add some water and tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes and add the meat and cabbage. Bring it to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for about 30–40 minutes or until the rice is tender. That’s it!
Serve this soup up with fresh dill, lemon, and Greek yogurt if you like. I used crème fraîche and thinned it out with a little water to make it a drizzling consistency. A dollop of sour cream would also be delicious.
Looking for more soup recipes? Check my archives!
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Easy Cabbage Roll Soup
- Large pot
- 1 small head green cabbage cored
- 3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil
- 1 pound ground meat like beef, turkey, pork, or even chicken
- 1 yellow onion peeled and diced
- 4 ribs celery with leaves, trimmed and small-diced
- 2 tablespoons butter optional
- ½ cup long-grain rice
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ⅓ cup fresh dill minced or use 2 teaspoons dry
- ⅓ cup fresh parsley minced or use 2 teaspoons dry
- 4 cups water or vegetable stock
- 14.5- ounce can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
- 2 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
For serving, optional:
- Greek yogurt, sour cream, or crème fraîche
- Fresh dill
- Lemon wedges
Boil the cabbage (optional):
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the vinegar and sugar. Once boiling, add the cabbage and cook for 7–10 minutes. Transfer to an ice bath. Wipe out the pot and return it to the stove.
- Once the cabbage is cool enough to handle, cut it into quarters and thinly slice each quarter. Set aside.
Brown the meat:
- Add the oil to the pot over medium heat. Add the meat and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon for 12–15 minutes until it is browned all over and mostly cooked through. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate.
Cook the aromatics:
- Add more oil to the pot, if needed, over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onion and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for 7–10 minutes until they soften. Season lightly wth salt and pepper.
- Melt the butter into the aromatics. Add the rice, garlic powder, crushed red pepper, dill and parsley (dry or fresh) and toss to coat. Cook 1 minute until the rice begins to toast.
Simmer the soup:
- Pour in the crushed tomatoes and add the water or stock. Bring to a boil and add the bay leaves. Reduce heat. Stir in the cooked meat and cabbage. Simmer for 30–40 minutes or until the rice is tender. Taste and season once more to your preferences. Note: You may want to add a teaspoon of sugar depending on how acidic your canned tomatoes are.
- Ladle the soup into bowls. Garnish with fresh dill. Drizzle with Greek yogurt thinned out with lemon juice and a splash of water. Enjoy!
This is actually very well known dish called sarma in Eastern EUROPE except that is not made as soup…
Yeah! Tried & True contributor, Stefan Ionescu, actually wrote a piece on Sarmale (the Romanian version). I recreated his recipe but honestly got a little burnt out making so many, so the rest of the ingredients became soup! 🙂 Check out his article here: https://www.triedandtruerecipe.com/the-history-of-romanian-cabbage-rolls-sarmale/
Wow! I’ve been craving sarmale for literally years but never had the patience to roll the cabbage. This is AMAZING!
It came together so quickly and is the perfect cold weather stew. Boiling the cabbage really is worth the extra step. Thank you for sharing! Pofta buna!
Also – forgot to add I used a plant based sausage instead of meat and it was super delicious, if a little less unctuous due to lack of fat.
I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed the recipe and the plant-based sausage sounds delicious! I’ll have to try that next time!
Can you boil the cabbage already chopped?
(Shortcut bag of shredded cabbage)
Yes! I would add a bit more vinegar to the water and boil only for 1–2 minutes since you’re not trying to soften the whole head of cabbage, but you’ll still want to pick up the vinegar flavors.