Easy Way to Separate Leaves for Stuffed Cabbage

Detail Shot Of Cabbage
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Cabbage rolls exist in every cuisine but especially in Central and Eastern Europe. To make these recipes you need to soften and separate the cabbage leaves, which are very firm and tightly bound in the head. This usually requires a separate step of blanching the cabbage, but there is an easier and safer way to to it. When you make stuffed cabbage, instead of boiling the whole cabbage head to remove the leaves—freeze it.

Freezer Method for Removing Cabbage Leaves

With the help of your freezer, you can put the boiling pot away and have rollable cabbage leaves as soon as you defrost a frozen head. 

How to Do It

  • Remove the tough outer leaves, rinse and core the cabbage.
  • Pat it dry and place each head in a separate zip-top plastic bag and freeze.
  • When ready to use, defrost the cabbage and the leaves will peel off easily.


This is a far safer method. You won't be placing a head of cabbage in a boiling pot of water and removing it every minute or two, which will result in hot water splashes. It also means you can do the entire leaf removal at one time.


You will need to plan ahead to freeze the cabbage and then allow time to defrost it. It will take a few hours for the head to freeze, which is needed to soften the leaves. You will need another couple of hours of defrosting time. You might try speeding up the defrost time using your microwave on defrost setting.

Traditional Blanching Method for Cabbage Leaves

One of the most tedious aspects of making cabbage rolls is blanching the cabbage head in a pot of boiling salted water. You bring a pot large enough to accommodate the size of the head of cabbage. The pot should only be half full with water, since the cabbage head will displace the water.

Test the amount of water needed by placing the cabbage head in it before you heat the water. You need enough to cover the head but still leave an inch or two of free space at the top of the pot. Otherwise, you could end up with boiling water overflowing or not enough to cover the cabbage.

Then you stab a large serving fork into the core so you can safely move it in and out of the water, which you will do several times. It takes a minute or two for the outer leaves to soften. Remove the head from the water and trim these leaves for use, and return the head to the boiling water to soften the next layer. You repeat this until you reach the core.

Microwave Method

In an alternate method, microwave the head of cabbage core-side down in a microwave-safe covered dish with 1/2 cup of water for 10 minutes on the high setting. Then turn it so the core is up and microwave on the high setting for another 10 minutes. Allow the head to cool until it is safe to handle.