Cabbage roll soup is a win-win - all of the flavour of traditional cabbage rolls without the effort of rolling! The rice meatballs are a fun addition - they have a nice firm bite that turns plain cabbage soup into something you'll be excited to eat.
As a Romanian I've been eating cabbage rolls all my life but this 'deconstructed' cousin of the classic dish was really a surprise to me.
Cabbage roll soup combines the best of both worlds: the flavor of cabbage rolls with the ease of soup.
When we first tasted this dish, my husband and I had the same reaction - "it's just like cabbage rolls ...but it's also soup!". We looove soup in this household so it was a perfect marriage of flavour and concept. 10/10 highly recommend.
Ingredients for Cabbage Roll Soup
- Rice meatballs: Rice meatballs (also known as porcupine meatballs) are made with rice as the binder. They pay homage to the filling in cabbage rolls and add some nice textural nuance to the soup. If you're short on time or energy you can just add the meatball ingredients to the soup as they are, just be sure to mix them in well so there aren't ground meat clumps.
- Cabbage: This recipe is made with one head of green cabbage which, when finely diced, is equal to about 6 cups of cabbage.
- Oil: The oil is for sautéing the cabbage - without oil it would stick.
- Onion: Onion adds sweetness and complexity.
- Bacon: Bacon is a key ingredient in traditional Romanian cabbage rolls. It adds some nice smokiness and heartiness to the soup.
- Tomato paste: Tomato paste makes up the tomato base of the soup and adds depth of flavor. You could also substitute crushed tomatoes, tomato puree or a couple fresh tomatoes diced finely.
- Flour: The flour makes the soup broth a bit thicker and richer. You can also just skip it and it won't have a huge impact on the recipe.
- Seasoning: This recipe is made with traditional cabbage roll seasonings: black pepper, summery savory (also known as cimbru in Romania), smoked paprika, and bay leaves.
Instructions: How to Make Cabbage Roll Soup
Sauté the cabbage first before adding the other ingredients. By sautéing the cabbage first until it's reduced, it forces some of the water out of the cell structure so that the cooked cabbage is denser and maintains its bite.
If you simply cover it with water, the water in the cabbage won't be forced out and the cabbage will be much softer and could get mushy.
After reducing the cabbage add the bacon and onion and sauté until the bacon renders a bit (about 5 minutes). You can also add the bacon at the same time as the cabbage - it will render while the cabbage reduces.
Finally, you can add all the seasonings and two liters / half a gallon of water. Bring to a gentle simmer, and add the rice meatballs.
To make the rice meatballs
While the cabbage is reducing mix and shape the meatballs - this only takes 10 minutes or so.
Just mix all the ingredients together and shape into approximately 24-25 meatballs.
Gently put the meatballs in the simmering liquid, add more water to cover and then simmer for about 30 minutes or until the rice in the meatballs is cooked.
This soup is delicious served with crème fraiche or sour cream. Sour cream is the traditional accompaniment to cabbage rolls, but I've always found crème fraiche to taste more like the sour cream of my childhood than actual sour cream does.
Anyway it's up to you, either will be a very tasty addition.
Cabbage Roll Soup with Rice Meatballs
for the meatballs
- 600 grams ground pork you can substitute other ground meat like beef or chicken
- 6 tablespoons rice
- 1 egg
- 1 yellow onion finely diced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 0.5 teaspoon black pepper
for the soup
- 6 cups green cabbage very thinly sliced
- 0.25 cup oil for sauteing the cabbage
- 2 yellow onion finely diced
- 1 cup bacon cut into small strips
- 5 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons flour
- 1.5 teaspoons salt or to taste
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon dried summer savoury dried thyme
- 0.5 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 liters water half a gallon (or more to cover)
- 0.5 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
- In a bowl combine the ingredients for the meatballs until the mixture is smooth and evenly mixed.
- Shape into approx. 24 balls (keeping in mind they will expand in size as the rice cooks).
- Heat oil over high heat in a large soup pot or pan.
- Add the cabbage and bacon. Sauté over high heat until the bacon renders and the cabbage gets soft and reduced in volume significantly (10-15 minutes).
- Add the tomato paste, flour and seasonings and mix to evenly coat the cabbage.
- Pour in 2 liters / half a gallon of water and heat over medium-high until the liquid is simmering.
- Gently add the meatballs into the soup making sure they are at least half submerged.
- Add more water to cover.
- Simmer about 30 minutes, rotating the meatballs halfway through.
- Taste and adjust seasoning.
- Garnish with crème fraiche or sour cream and serve hot.