Delicious Japanese cabbage rolls made plant-based with vegan meat & tofu, simmered in a delicate tomato broth for a hearty, comforting meal.
What are Japanese Cabbage Rolls?
Cabbage rolls are a popular yoshoku 洋食 (western-food) dish in Japan and common in Japanese home cooking (called roll cabbage ロールキャベツ in Japanese). They’re usually enjoyed in the fall and winter months, when it’s cold outside and you look forward to eating a nice hot meal when you get home. Many cultures have their own version of cabbage rolls, but the classic Japanese cabbage roll is made without rice and with a mixture of ground beef and pork (or just pork). These are simmered in a delicate tomato-based broth on the stove (ovens aren’t as common in Japanese kitchens as they are in America). Other common broth bases are a light consomme and a wafu 和風 (Japanese style) broth made with dashi, soy sauce, and mirin.
Cabbage rolls are a staple in my mom’s cooking repertoire, so I ate them a lot growing up and they always remind me of home. I haven’t eaten my mom’s cabbage rolls in years since giving up meat, so I’m so excited that I’ve been able to recreate a plant-based version that’s just as delicious and comforting as I remember. ♡
- Plant-Based Ground Meat ⟶ I use Beyond Beef. While I don’t cook with a lot of faux meat products, for this recipe it’s essential for that chewy, juicy (not mushy) texture and mouthfeel.
- Firm Tofu ⟶ Tofu makes the filling more light and fluffy, so it’s not just a dense piece of “meat”.
- Bread ⟶ Most recipes use breadcrumbs or panko, but for mine I simply just tear up some old bread.
Tips for Success
Use napa cabbage ⟶ Most recipes call for green cabbage, but green cabbage leaves are harder to separate so you have to boil the head of cabbage first. With napa cabbage you still have to boil the leaves, but you can peel the leaves that you need first, and then boil. So you won’t be left with unused cooked cabbage or broken leaves.
Roll tightly ⟶ Roll the filling up tightly in the cabbage leaves so it doesn’t spill out.
Gently simmer ⟶ Make sure to simmer the cabbage rolls, not boil. Boiling is too strong for the cabbage rolls and could break them.
Serve with ketchup ⟶ Did you know ketchup is a popular ingredient in yoshoku 洋食? Japanese love putting ketchup on eggs, omurice, in pasta, hambagu, curry, and various sauces. My family serves cabbage rolls with ketchup and it just takes it to the next level!
Try These Other Japanese Comfort Foods!
- Japanese Curry with Red Lentils
- Vegan Curry Udon
- Vegan Mapo Tofu
- Vegan White Bean Korokke
- Vegan Hayashi Rice
- One Pot Spicy Miso Ramen
- Vegan Tofu Gyoza
- Vegan Tofu Karaage
If you try out these Japanese cabbage rolls, don’t forget to leave a comment/rating down below and tag me in your photos on instagram @ellielikes.cooking. I love seeing all of your tasty recreations!
Vegan Japanese Cabbage Rolls
- 12 leaves napa cabbage**
- 2 tsp olive oil
- ½ onion diced
- ½ large slice of (slightly stale) bread** torn into small pieces (about ½ cup)
- 2 tbsp soy milk or other non-dairy milk
- 1 tbsp ground flaxseed
- ½ lb plant-based ground meat I used beyond beef
- ½ lb firm tofu pressed**
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ onion diced
- 1 carrot diced
- 1 celery diced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 tbsp tomato paste optional
- 2 tomatoes diced
- 1 tbsp white wine
- ⅛ tsp pepper
- 1 ½ cups low sodium vegetable broth
- salt to taste
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Carefully peel the large outer leaves of the cabbage. Add 3-4 leaves to the water and boil for 2 minutes to soften. Remove the leaves and place over a strainer to drain the water. Repeat with remaining cabbage leaves. Set aside to cool.
- Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent and lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
- In a large mixing bowl, add torn bread, soy milk, and ground flax. Mix until all the bread pieces have been coated with milk. Add an extra splash of milk if some of the bread is still dry.
- Add ground beef, pressed tofu, cooled onions, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Mix until everything is well combined and sticky. It's easiest to use your hands to mix. Cover and chill in the fridge for 15-30 minutes.
- Divide the mixture into 12 equal parts. Form each into a cylindrical patty so they're easy to roll up in the cabbage leaves. Throw the patty back and forth between your hands a few times to remove air bubbles.
- Place one cabbage leaf down on a large work surface/cutting board. Place a patty about 2 inches from the bottom of the leaf. Fold the bottom of the leaf over the patty. Tuck the sides of the leaf in and tightly roll up, making sure all the filling is covered and doesn't spill out. Repeat with remaining leaves and filling.
- Heat oil over medium high heat in a large sauté pan or pot at least 3 inches deep. Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic, and bay leaf. Sauté a few minutes until veggies are just tender.
- If using, add tomato paste and stir for 30 seconds.
- Stir in tomatoes, wine, and pepper.
- Pour in vegetable broth and reduce heat to medium. Place cabbage rolls on top. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low or low to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes.
- Taste the broth and add salt if desired. You can garnish the cabbage rolls with minced parsley for some color. My family likes to serve cabbage rolls with ketchup, but they're delicious on their own as well.
Nutrition per roll: 100 kcal / 5.5g fat / 1g sat fat / 7g carbs / 2.4g fiber / 6g protein / 166mg sodiumHide
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