Turkish Cabbage Rolls with Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce

It can be challenging to find authentic cultural cuisine at restaurants-especially when you are also trying to eat healthy.  Typically you just end up with some Americanized version of Mediterranean, Asian, Latin, etc.  We, however, enjoy trying new and authentic dishes not normally found on restaurant menus, but it can be challenging to find restaurants that hail true to their cuisine’s cultural roots.  Enter Café Istanbul.  A little gem of a Turkish restaurant we stumbled across on Valentines day, offering traditional dishes found in Turkey (at least they seemed authentic to us!).

I ordered lamb and beef stuffed-cabbage rolls.  The rolls were served with a traditional tomato sauce and homemade plain yogurt…they were so simple, yet to die for.  The most fun was coming home and trying to re-create the dish in my own kitchen.  I still like making it myself over eating out because I know exactly what’s in it, the quality, and I can control for things like sodium. 

So here is my version.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well it turned out and I cannot wait to make them again! I think I actually liked mine better due to all the fresh flavors!
Here’s a link to my tomato basil marinara recipe that pairs perfectly with these little beauties 🙂

Turkish Cabbage Rolls

Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 25 mins
Total Time 55 mins
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Mediterranean
Servings 14 rolls


  • 1 cups brown rice cooked (1/2 cup dry rice)
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb
  • 1/2 pound ground beef grass fed
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/2 tsp. Himalayan or sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. fresh rosemary chopped
  • 1.5 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
  • 1 quart tomato basil pasta sauce see link to recipe below
  • plain yogurt drizzle over top
  • 1 large green cabbage leaves peeled off whole


  • Cook the rice according to package directions, then set aside.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut slits by the stem at the bottom of the cabbage at each individual leaf and carefully remove each whole leaf, one at a time-you'll need about 13-15 leaves. Boil the leaves for 4-5 minutes until translucent, then remove and strain. Lay flat on a board or pan and cut about 1-1/2" of the thick stem out. *If they rip or aren't perfect it's okay!

Prepare the Filling

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine raw ground meat, salt, pepper, rosemary, finely chopped onion, minced garlic, bell pepper, 3 Tablespoons of the tomato sauce, and the cooked rice; mix thoroughly with hands.

Assemble the Rolls

  • Heat olive oil or butter in a large heavy skillet (10 or more inch skillet with a tight fitting lid) over medium heat. You may need two skillets.
  • Lay out each of the cabbage leaves and stuff with about 1/2 cup of the filling (use less if the leaves are smaller or ripped). They should not be so full that the leaf cannot completely cover the meat when wrapped. Wrap the meat like a burrito with the cabbage leaf to cover completely.
  • Place each wrapped leaf seam-side down into the skillet and sear the rolls uncovered for 5 minutes. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low.
  • Allow to cook for 20 minutes until the meat on the inside is completely cooked through.
  • Heat the tomato sauce and serve generously over the rolls along with plain yogurt to drizzle over top.

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