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 really want to eat.
As a Romanian I've been eating cabbage rolls all my life but this was my first time making the so-called 'deconstructed' cousin of the classic dish. I know it's really popular in the food blogging world and one of my IG community even explicitly told me that it's delicious and I have to try it pronto. Well now that I have finally made it, I totally get what the fuss is about. It's really good!
Both 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.
Besides being really good, it's also really easy to pull off. I just used a package of ground chicken, an egg, some rice, a tetra pack of diced tomatoes (essentially 1 can), onion, some soup veg and of course cabbage.
How to Make Cabbage Roll Soup
Saute the cabbage first before adding the aromatics. By sauteing 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 aromatics - in this case I used ½ a finely diced onion (the other half for the meatballs) and a precut soup mix that has a large proportion of finely diced leek as well as some carrot, and parsley. The proportions are in the recipe at the bottom of the page.
While the cabbage is reducing mix and shape the meatballs - this only takes 10 minutes or so.
Once the cabbage and aromatics are reduced add the seasoning, diced tomato, and water.
Add enough water to cover and simmer for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes gently place the meatballs in, add enough water again to cover, and simmer another 25 minutes.
Pro tip: Make use of all flavour. Use the tomato box or can to pour water into the pot.
Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Sprinkle with some fresh chopped parsley or dill if you so desire.
Type of Cabbage
As far as the cabbage goes, I used mostly the stalks from a large head of napa cabbage. Once cooked they're soft but not mushy. The leafy ends were used for Asian Style Napa Cabbage Rolls which likewise only called for a package of ground chicken, some rice, aromatics and Asian pantry staples.
These two dishes were a great way to make use of a whole head of napa cabbage. The soup is a generous 5 servings and the napa cabbage rolls make 2-3 small meals but would go further with some yummy Asian sides.
Additions / Substitutions
You can add basically any vegetable to develop the flavour of the broth. For example carrot, parsnip, celery root or red pepper would add nice flavour and sweetness.
If you want to use green beans, broccoli or cauliflower better to put those in near the end so they don't get mushy or release the sulfur like smell that some from overcooking those types of vegetables.
If you don't like cabbage and just want to skip that part you can do a lot with just the rice meatballs - see my recipe for Romanian Rice Meatball Soup.
Cabbage Roll Soup with Rice Meatballs
- 350 grams ground pork you can substitute other ground meat like beef or chicken
- ½ cup rice
- 1 egg
- 1 yellow onion finely diced
- ½ napa cabbage
- ½ leek finely diced
- 1 carrot finely diced
- ¼ cup parsley finely diced
- 1 small can diced tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1.5 teaspoons summer savoury or thyme
- ¾ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons oil for sauteing
- 2 teaspoons salt or to taste
- In a bowl combine the meat, half the onion, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon summer savoury or thyme, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, ¼ teaspoon garlic powder, the rice, the egg, and 2-3 tablespoons of finely diced parsley.
- Mix well until even.
- Shape into approx. 24 balls (keeping in mind they will expand in size as the rice cooks).
- Heat oil on medium heat in a large soup pot.
- Add the cabbage and saute until it gets soft and transparent.
- Add the leek, carrot, half the diced onion and half the parsley and continue cooking a few more minutes.
- Add the diced tomato, 1 tablespoon smoked paprika, 1.5 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon summer savoury or thyme, ½ teaspoon black pepper, and the bay leaves.
- Add enough water to cover and then simmer over medium-low heat without a lid for 25 minutes.
- Gently add the meatballs into the soup making sure they are at least half submerged.
- Add more water to cover.
- Simmer another 25 minutes, rotating the meatballs halfway through.
- Stir in remaining parsley.
- Taste and adjust seasoning.