The Smell That Brings Me Back

Or How To Make German Style Cabbage Rolls

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Nothing says Christmas like the smell of hot Sauerkraut. Well, in my family at least. It wasn’t Christmas until you had at least 4 “pigs in a blanket”, or German style cabbage rolls.

The smell of them cooking on my grandma’s stove would hit you before they even opened the door. She would have at least 4 stock pots full of these mouth watering balls of meat and cabbage stewing on her stove.

We were a big family and we all loved them. Plus she had enough made to send home with each family. How long this took her to make, I have no idea. Days probably because they aren’t that easy to make.

But that smell, oh the smell. It is something that is ingrained into my brain all these years later. Sauerkraut isn’t a good smell to most people. I mean the name means “sour cabbage” in German. It’s pickled cabbage. People who don’t like Sauerkraut will say it stinks like rotten farts.

Image by edwina_mc from Pixabay

Well, they are wrong. It smells like heaven.

As a teen, I loved cooking for my family. My mom gladly handed over the meal preparations to me. She’d give me a blank check to go to the grocery store to get whatever I needed for a meal.

One day, I had a hankering for some cabbage rolls. I had no idea how to make them though! So, I went to the one person who DID know how to make them, Grandma! I think I made her day by calling her up and asking for the recipe.

It isn’t really something you can tell over the phone though. No, it needs to be shown. So she bought all the supplies and had me over for the day to show me just how to make these bad boys.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

They don’t require a lot of ingredients: Cabbage, rice, ground beef, eggs, water, and sauerkraut. Oh and time, lots of time.

I can’t exactly give you the list of measurements for each ingredient either. It’s pretty much done by “hummm, that should be enough” measurements! You know grandmas, they’ve done it so many times, they don’t need to measure!

Your first step is to gather all of the above ingredients and grab the biggest stock pot you can find. You can also do these in the crock pot (slow cooker) if you want!

Since there are no measurements, I’ll try to give you step by step instructions!

How To Make The Cabbage Rolls

Step One — Steam the Cabbage

You’ve already gathered the above supplies so you are ready to go! I hope you bought the biggest head of cabbage you could find because you are going to need those leaves! Better grab two heads just in case!

I also hope you know how to steam vegetables because that is your first step! Peel off each leaf of cabbage and put it in the stock pot, one by one. Add some water to the pot (how much? I don’t know. Enough to steam them but don’t completely cover them with water!), cover, and let them steam.

You don’t want the cabbage really floppy but you want it to be able to bend. Don’t over steam them!

Photo by mattia barbotti on Unsplash

Step Two — The Meat

As the cabbage is steaming and getting softer, it is time to get the balls of meat ready. This is where the rest of the ingredients come in. Again, sorry I don’t know the EXACT measurements but I’ll do my best. Keep in mind, if you add too much or too little of something, it really won’t make a huge difference. They will still taste good!

So, take about a pound (more if you want more cabbage rolls) of ground beef and place it in a bowl. Add in 1 or 2 eggs, and about a half of a cup of white (uncooked) rice. Mix this all together until the rice is distributed evenly.

You can add in salt and pepper if you want. I don’t because the Sauerkraut gives it a lot of flavor. That’s up to you though. If you’ve ever made meatballs, this step should be easy for you!

Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay

Step 3 — Wrapping

The steaming cabbage should be good to go by now, once you have the meat mixed up. DO NOT DRAIN THE WATER! You need that water! Instead, take the leaves out of the pot with tongs and set it on a plate to cool off a bit. Then pour that water into a bowl because you need the pot again now!

Once the cabbage leaves are cool enough to handle, it’s time to start wrapping up the meat with them. You’re making a meatball here. It isn’t too complicated. Make them as big or small as you want but I normally go for the size of an egg.

I make one at a time, I just find it more efficient. Once you have a ball formed, take a cabbage leaf and wrap it all the way around the meatball. Make sure the whole thing is covered.

There will probably be huge pieces of cabbage, you can use half of that. You can also use small pieces to wrap as well. As long as the whole ball is covered, you’re good.

Step 4 — Putting Them In The Pot

As you make them one by one, place them in the bottom of your pot. Don’t stack them. You want one layer of the cabbage rolls on the bottom of the pot first. Once you have one layer, cover them with a layer of Sauerkraut. Maybe about a half an inch of that shredded goodness.

Keep doing that. One layer of cabbage rolls, one layer of Sauerkraut. Do that until the pot is full. The last layer should be Sauerkraut and leave about an inch from the top of the pot.

If you have extra, get another pot out! You’re going to want them!

Image by Holger Schué from Pixabay

Step 5- Water

This is easy. Any cook can do this part: Add water. Remember that water I told you to save? Use that. How much? Start filling the pot until you see the water at the last layer of Sauerkraut.

If you run out of water from the amount you saved, just get more from that tap, that’s fine. You need this water, it’s very important to cook things properly. Otherwise you’re just going to have really dry meatballs. Ew. Gross.

Step 6 — Heat And Wait

I’m telling you, these take a long time to cook. Like, a long time. It isn’t a meal you want to start at dinner time. No, if you want these, you need to start them early in the day. Trust me.

Put the stove heat on LOW. This needs to simmer all day and you don’t want to burn it. That water you put in? That’s cooking the rice in the meat so it’s going to take a while.

The bonus of these taking so long to make is you get to smell them cooking all day long!

Image by engin akyurt from Pixabay

Step 7 — Eat And Enjoy!

You know these are done when the rice is cooked all the way through. You’ll have to take one out to test it. If it isn’t done, wrap it back up and put it back in the pot.

If they are done, they are ready to eat! I will say that these are actually much better the next day. I don’t know why but giving that Sauerkraut time to absorb into the meat makes a big difference!

If you can’t wait (and I defiantly can’t), it’s time to enjoy!

German style cabbage rolls are so, so good left over. I always way over make them. I also make some to freeze to eat later. It’s a lot of work but SO worth it.

I am so glad I asked my Grandma how to make them. Who knew I’d still be making them now?

Now, when I do make them, the smell takes me back to Christmas day in my fancy dress, new shoes, and sponge roller curls. Even as a kid I loved these. I will never forget that smell!

Written by

Writer and mother. I try to keep it real because I’m not “loving every moment”. Follow me or email

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