We love a pantry-friendly vegan comfort meal! As I’ve shared in my cookbook, I find cabbage to be an underrated ingredient. This cabbage roll skillet with rice, lentils, finely ground walnuts, and a tangy, spiced tomato sauce is so satisfying. I roast chopped cabbage with spices until caramelized while I get the sauce base going on the stove. This method for unstuffed cabbage rolls is definitely taken up a notch by the roasting step.
The inspiration for this recipe:
- I was inspired by traditional, rolled up and self-contained stuffed cabbage leaves, also known as cabbage rolls, here.
- According to some sources, variations of cabbage rolls have been part of Jewish cooking traditions for over 2000 years. Other research places the recipe’s origin in Turkey. From there, they made their way across Europe, finding versions in Romania, Ukraine, Croatia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland, and Sweden among other nations. To read more, see this from Tasting Table.
- The unifying aspect of many of the recipes seems to be a combination of meat, sometimes a grain, and other seasonings stuffed into a cabbage leaf. As well, a tangy/acidic component is typically involved (tomato sauce, sour cream on top, lingonberries, pickling the cabbage itself).
- All of this is to say: my version is not traditional in any way, but the flavour cues and overall recipe components take notes from all of these cooking traditions.
To make these lazy cabbage rolls extra flavourful, I roast the cabbage with olive oil, garlic powder, and paprika. We caramelize the pieces until tender–no tough cabbage here! The sauce base has tomato paste, diced tomatoes, and vegetable stock as well as onions, garlic, dried thyme, and some little finishing touches of vinegar, a hint of sugar, and Tamari for more depth.
French lentils and finely chopped walnuts make up our totally vegan protein base. I know walnuts sound a bit different, but they soften up well alongside the lentils and white long grain rice. Plus their flavour is quite complimentary. Cooking the rice in the skillet with everything else makes for one less pot to clean, which I am always down for. I serve mine with vegan sour cream and chopped fresh dill.
Fans of this hearty and simple vegan dinner recipe might also like my Smoky Chickpea, Cabbage & Lentil Soup with Kale.
Vegan Chopped Cabbage Roll Skillet
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 small head of cabbage, cored and chopped (about 6 cups chopped cabbage)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons paprika, divided
- sea salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 medium yellow onion, small dice
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¾ cup French lentils, uncooked
- ½ cup white long grain rice, uncooked
- ⅓ cup walnuts, finely chopped
- 5.5 oz (162 ml) can tomato paste
- 14.5 oz (428 ml) can diced tomatoes
- 5 cups vegetable stock, plus extra
- 2 teaspoons cane sugar, or other sweetener of choice
- 1 tablespoon Tamari soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- vegan sour cream, for serving
- chopped dill or parsley (or both) for serving
- I prefer French lentils and white long grain rice for this recipe because their cooking times are fairly close and it all works out in the end. If you want to substitute brown rice, you’ll need to increase the amount of vegetable stock and the simmering time will need to go longer.
- Brown lentils will substitute fine for French as their cooking time is similar.
- My vegan sour cream recipe can be found here.
- I preheated my baking sheet with the oven so that I got a little extra sizzle and browning action when the cabbage hit the sheet. Not 100% necessary, but nice to do if you can.
- Start checking on the roasted cabbage at the 15 minute point and give it a flip and toss. In my oven it takes up to 45 minutes, but others have pulled theirs at 20 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Place the chopped cabbage on a large baking sheet. Drizzle the cabbage with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic powder, 1 teaspoon of the paprika, and some salt and pepper. Toss to evenly coat. Roast in the oven until tender and browning on the edges. Start checking on the cabbage at the 15 minute point and give it a flip and toss. In my oven it takes up to 40 minutes, but others have pulled theirs at 15 minutes.
- Heat a heavy bottomed pot or braiser over medium heat. Once the pot is hot, add the remaining olive oil and swirl it around. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 6-7 minutes. If the onions start browning too fast, lower the heat. Add the garlic, dried thyme, and remaining paprika. Stir until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add the lentils, rice, and walnuts, and give it a stir. Add the tomato paste to the pot. Keep stirring and cooking this out for 1 minute, just to get rid of some of the raw “tin” flavour. Add the diced tomatoes and vegetable stock to the pot and stir. Season with salt and pepper.
- Place a lid on top of the pot, slightly askew. Bring the mixture up to a boil and then simmer until the lentils are tender and the rice is cooked, about 35-40 minutes. Keep checking in to stir it often, scraping the bottom of the pot. If you find that you need to add more vegetable stock, add it by the ½ cup.
- Once the lentils and rice are cooked, stir in the sugar, Tamari, and apple cider vinegar. Check the sauce base for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Stir in the roasted cabbage to combine.
- Serve the cabbage roll skillet with vegan sour cream and chopped dill/parsley. Enjoy!