Swedish cabbage rolls are a savory, spicy and slightly sweet dish. Cabbage leaves are rolled around a filling of ground beef, onion and rice then covered in a sweet/sour tomato sauce and baked. The cabbage rolls are usually served with mashed potatoes but they can be served on top of buttered noodles.
This recipe is from an old friend who said her mother made this dish often during the Fall and Winter months in the 1950s. It is a wonderful dish that is sure to please family and guests alike.
Cabbage rolls are found in most parts of Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East and in Asia. Rolling leaves round fillings is a type of food that was well known to ancient Greeks and Romans. The type of meat used in cabbage rolls vary from beef to pork to poultry to fish and with each country. There are versions that only contain rice and vegetables. The types of cabbage used can be sour and the sauces can be sweet/sour, tomato based, sour cream or oil based. Seasonings depend on the country and the region. Mushrooms and other vegetables are often added or piled between the cabbage rolls.
The dolma (a type of eastern Mediterranean cabbage roll) was brought to Sweden by king Charles XII. The king stayed in Moldavia for several years in the 1700s. Moldavia was controlled at that time by the Ottoman Empire. During the King’s stay he attempted to gain help to fund his war to defeat Russia. After spending several years in excel there he finally went back to Sweden. He’d borrowed money to fund his wars from Ottoman financiers and a few followed him back to Sweden. They lived in Stockholm Sweden between 1716 and 1732. The dolma was probably introduced to Sweden during that time period. The “Day of the Cabbage Roll” is celebrated in Sweden on November 30, the day of the death of King Charles XII.
The recipe will make enough to serve 8. Much depends on the size of the rolls. The amounts can be doubled.
Swedish Cabbage Rolls
- 2 lbs. ground beef
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 cans of condensed tomato soup
- 1 cup of cooked rice
- 1/3 cup of milk
- 2 large heads of cabbage
- ¼ cup of brown sugar, light or dark
- 1 or 2 teaspoons of ground cloves
- ½ cup of water
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of black pepper
Heat the oven to 350 degree F. Have a Dutch oven ready, it should have a lid.
Cook the rice or use leftover cold rice. Put the cup of rice in a mixing bowl along with the ground beef, half of the diced onion and the milk. Add a pinch or so of salt and black pepper. Mix well and let stand covered until ready to use.
In another bowl mix the tomato soup, the rest of the onion, ½ cup of water, the brown sugar, the ground cloves, salt and black pepper. Mix well and set aslide.
Boil water in a large sauce pan. Clean and remove any damaged leaves from the cabbages. Dip each large cabbage leaf in the boiling water for a minute or until soft enough to work with. Pile the leaves into a colander to drain. Fill and roll the leaves while they are still warm. Put a spoonful (about 1 to 2 tablespoons) of filling in each leaf and roll it over the filling from the side closest to you, then fold in both sides and finally fold over the top. Roll tight.
Spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of the Dutch oven. Place cabbage rolls close together over the layer of sauce in the Dutch oven. Spoon some sauce over the layer of rolls, add another layer of rolls, more sauce and so on until all the rolls are in the pan. Pour the remaining sauce over the last layer.
Bake in a 350 degree F. oven, covered, for 2 ½ hours. Let stand about 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Serve over or alongside mashed potatoes.
The ground beef should not be super lean. It needs some fat content or these will be dry and not taste as good. A mixture of half ground beef, half ground pork is very good in this recipe.
Smaller leaves can be layered together and rolled around the filling.
Other spices can be added if you want. I sometimes add some allspice, ground ginger and nutmeg.
Dill, garlic, paprika and other savory seasonings can be added. The sauce would not have sugar in it if you do.
More onions can be added.
You can use bread crumbs or fillers other than rice in the cabbage rolls but I think the rice works out best in this recipe.
Instead of tomato soup you can use your favorite homemade tomato sauce. A mushroom sauce (think mushroom soup) with sour cream would be good as long as you change the seasonings.
The recipe could be baked in layers of sauce, cabbage leaves, meat filling, another layer of cabbage leaves, more sauce, and so on in a casserole. It would probably taste the same but it would not be the same.