My Yiayia’s Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage Roll Recipe using Cavolo Nero

‘Five years ago I went back to South Africa to christen my Goddaughter, which is a huge honour in the Greek Orthodox religion. My Yiayia (Greek for grandmother) then aged 84 invited us to her house for lunch. She told me she was going to make cabbage rolls!  I have no idea what inspired her to choose that as a menu item. I didn’t eat cabbage as a child and was skilful at unwrapping and eating just the centre. My children used to joke about cabbage and say ‘Nothing goes better with cabbage than cabbage’ the line from their much love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. They would not dream of eating cabbage in any form whatsoever.

I am a firm believer that children need to try something before they declare they don’t like it. We had lunch at my Yiayia’s house and we ate the cabbage rolls and they absolutely loved them, to my surprise and relief! I, as a lead by example mum, I ate the cabbage and I must have matured, as I enjoyed them.

While shopping at a supermarket I don’t often frequent, I saw the trendy Cavolo Nero and wondered whether it could be used for cabbage rolls. I was worried that they would melt away and wouldn’t withstand the 20-30 minute cooking time. Cavolo Nero had a name rebrand in 2015 it is sometimes referred to as Tuscan Kale or Black Kale.  The nutritional content of Cavolo Nero is impressive, containing vitamins K, A and C, lutein (an antioxidant that contributes to your eye, skin and heart health), calcium, fibre, manganese and iron.

I decided with raging winter viruses a superfood boost would be welcome. The Cavolo Nero leaves worked brilliantly and all I had to do was trim down the white stalks. The leaves did not even need to be blanched to roll as you would with white or pointed cabbage.

The verdict from my children was that they were tastier than the normal cabbage rolls, phew!

This is a comfort food, great for un-adventurous  eaters as the filling is neutral tasting and would suit super-tasters too.

Cabbage Roll Recipe
Preparation time
Cooking time
Total time
A delicious and nutritious meal that is simple to make, cost effective.
Recipe type: Mains
Cuisine: Greek
Servings: 4
  • 200g calvaro nero, washed
  • 500g mince (250g pork & 250g beef works well)
  • ¼ cup long grain rice, raw
  • 10g parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 1 Tablespoon tomatoe paste, heaped
  • A dollop butter
  • Olive oil to grease the pot
  • ½ lemon, squeezed
  1. Mix the mince, parsley and rice together, add salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Trim down the thick white stalk from the cabbage leaves. Be careful not to cut through the leaf.
  3. Starting at the top of the leaf add 1 heaped tablespoon of the mince mixture and wrap and roll the edges in as if you are making a parcel.
  4. I add a little olive oil to bottom of the pot with a lid that you are going to use, so the cabbage rolls don't stick.
  5. Place the cabbage roll at the bottom of a pot with a lid, rolled side down.
  6. Keep stuffing and rolling the cabbage rolls laying them around the edge of the pot first and moving inwards. When the base of the pot is full, add another row of cabbage rolls on top of the other rolls.
  7. Add 1½-2 cups of water or just enough to come half way up the bottom layer of the cabbage rolls.
  8. Add the lemon juice, this prevents the colour of the leaves dulling when cooking.
  9. Add a few dollops of butter to the top of the cabbage rolls to add flavour while cooking. This step can be omitted, my Yiayia always does this, so I do too.
  10. Place a plate on top of the cabbage rolls to keep them from unravelling as they boil.
  11. Boil for 20-30 minute. To test careful remove the plate be careful of the steam, lift one cabbage roll out and check that the rice is cooked and the cabbage is soft.
  12. Return to boil if they are not cooked, replacing the plate and lid.
  13. Carefully remove the cabbage rolls from the pot and serve with Greek yoghurt.
The leaf sizes may vary, when rolling you want the meat to be covered in one revolution, therefore, cut the leaf in half if need be.
For a vegetarian/vegan option omit the meat and use rice and chopped vegetables.
Could you convert the non cabbage lovers with this meal? Let me know if you do. logo