Turkish Cabbage Rolls

Prep Time

40 min

Cook Time

1 Hr, 15 min

Total Time

 1 Hr, 55min



Cabbage Rolls


1 head cabbage, (extra-large and round)

Turkish Tomato Sauce:

  • 1 onion, (diced)
  • 4 garlic cloves, (rough chopped)
  • 1 14 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon sugar or alternative sweetener (maple, honey)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup broth or stock (chicken or veggie)

Lamb Filling: 

  • 1/2 cup Turkish tomato sauce
  • 2 finely minced garlic cloves
  • 1 lb ground American lamb
  • 1 cup bulgar wheat, soaked (or add 1 cup cauliflower rice (raw), or 1 cup cooked rice, or other cooked grain)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried mint (or sub dried oregano or thyme)
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon sumac (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (Aleppo is nice)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup pinenuts (or slivered almonds)
  • 1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped (or sub dried barberries, currants or raisins), all optional


  • Fresh Italian parsley, dill or mint, a few toasted pinenuts, and serve with optional yogurt.


Soak Bulgar Wheat in bowl of cool water, 20 minutes.

Blanch Cabbage: Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Add the cabbage and blanch until tender, about 10-12 minutes. Cool. Alternatively, you can peel off the cabbage leaves and blanch the leaves in batches for 1-2 minutes. You can also microwave the whole cabbage, covered tightly , in a bowl with 1 cup water for 10 minutes. You can also freeze the whole cabbage, then thaw.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Make the Turkish Tomato Sauce: 

In a large sauté pan, over med-high heat, sauté the onion in 2 tablespoons oil until tender, 3-4 mins. Lower heat to medium, add garlic, sauté 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Add crushed tomatoes (and all the juices) sugar, spices, salt and broth . Stir, bring to a simmer for 2 minutes, then turn heat off.  Place 1/2 cup of this sauce in the bottom of a greased 9×13-inch baking dish (just enough to lightly coat the bottom.)

Make the filling: In a medium bowl, place the lamb, drained bulgar wheat, garlic, Turkish tomato sauce, salt, spices, pine nuts, and dried apricots in a medium bowl and mix with a clean, damp hand, until well combined.

Assemble the Cabbage Rolls: Place a blanched cabbage leaf on the counter. Cut 2 inches of the thick vein out of the bottom end. Fill with 1/3 cup lamb filling and roll up like a burrito, tucking edges in and place seam side down in the sauced, baking dish. Repeat with all. You should have 10 or 12 rolls. See notes, for breakage.

BAKE: Once the baking dish is filled with the rolls, pour the remaining Tomato sauce over top. Give the pan a good shake. Cover with parchment, then tightly with foil (or a lid). Bake for 1  1/4 hours. If baking in a sauté pan, you could heat this up gently on the stove top (covered)  before placing in the oven and then bake for 1 hour.

Remove from oven, garnish with fresh parsley, mint or dill, and a few pinenuts. Serve with a thick creamy yogurt if you like.


Feel free to make in stages. (Make the sauce ahead, the filling ahead or blanch the cabbage ahead). You can make them from start to finish, bake, refrigerate and reheat (covered). I have not tried freezing. 

If the cabbage leaves fall apart, split, get holes, or are too small, you can layer them, or lay two side by side and roll into one roll. This is typical once you get to the inner smaller leaves.

For a Low-Carb Version: leave out the bulgar wheat and replace with raw “cauliflower rice” or the remaining cabbage (shredded finely). Leave out the dried apricots and the sweetener.

USDA recommends the following time and temperature parameters

Ground Lamb

Internal temperature of 160°F

All Other Cuts

Internal temperature of 145°F, with a 3 minute rest

thermometer timer illustration
Visit our Lamb Cooking Time & Temperature page for recipe inspiration and tips on preparing the perfect lamb.

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