This vegetarian cabbage roll soup is filled with protein-rich lentils and all of the delicious flavors you love from traditional cabbage rolls. Naturally gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan.
I have yet to meet a cabbage soup I don’t love. But this one has turned into an especially delicious and nostalgic favorite for our family over the past few years. ♡
It’s inspired by the Ukrainian cabbage rolls that we learned to make a few summers ago while hosting a mother and daughter who had to flee their country after the war broke out. The language barrier when they arrived meant that the majority of our conversations around the house usually progressed quite slowly, communicating back and forth using Google Translate along with plenty of hand motions and laughter. But we quickly found that one of our favorite ways to connect was simply by cooking in the kitchen together, taking turns introducing one another to some of the traditional dishes we grew up with and loved best. I think they would report that my chocolate chip cookies won the award as their favorite American recipe, haha, but Elena’s homemade cabbage rolls definitely ended up being a new favorite for us.
Her classic combination of cabbage, rice, and veggies rolled up and cooked in a savory tomato sauce always felt like such delicious comfort food. And while Elena loved to make a big batch of traditional pork cabbage rolls for the majority of us around the table, she always lovingly made sure to prepare an extra vegetarian option just for my husband (either with Beyond meat or some sort of legumes), that I honestly ended up enjoying just as much. Steaming the cabbage and assembling each of those individual rolls can be a time-consuming labor of love, though, so we also came to enjoy “soupifying” her recipe. And now, over a year and a transatlantic move later, simmering a big batch of cabbage roll soup has become one of our family’s favorite ways to remember our time together.
We love swapping in protein-rich lentils here in place of meat and seasoning the cozy tomato broth with a hint of smoked paprika and bay leaf. But there are all sorts of creative ways that you can season this soup with various herbs and spices, so feel free to get creative if you’d like! I also like to take the shortcut of steaming up some store-bought frozen brown rice to add to the soup, but you’re welcome to add in your favorite kind of rice, farro, orzo, or whatever grains you prefer. Just don’t forget to finish the soup with a generous squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of fresh herbs to brighten things up. Delicious!!
Vegetarian Cabbage Roll Soup Ingredients
Here are a few quick notes about the cabbage roll soup ingredients that you will need to make this recipe:
Aromatics: A simple mix of chopped onion, carrots, and garlic will serve as our base aromatics for the soup, with their classic mix of sweet and savory aromatic flavors.
Cabbage: I just used regular green cabbage when making this soup, chopped into bite-sized pieces. But Savoy or Napa green cabbage would also be delicious here!
Tomatoes: I recommend a mix of canned crushed and diced tomatoes to give the broth some texture, ideally fire-roasted to give the soup some extra smoky depth of flavor.
Lentils: Black lentils or French lentils would be my recommendation here, since they hold their firm, hearty shape well once they have been cooked. But any variety of lentils that you happen to have in the pantry will totally work here.
Vegetable broth: We will use vegetable broth as the liquid base for the soup, for one extra layer of flavor.
Seasonings: I chose to keep things simple and use a basic mix of smoked paprika, crushed red pepper flakes, bay leaf, salt and pepper to season the soup, which we found to be lovely and comforting. But feel free to experiment with different seasonings (and/or fresh herbs on top) as you would like!
Lemon: A generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice really brightens up all of the flavors here and finishes the soup perfectly.
Rice: I used pre-cooked rice (I buy the organic frozen brown rice from Trader Joe’s) to save some time here, but feel free to cook up a batch of white or brown rice to add to the soup using whatever method you prefer.
Toppings: Finally, I highly recommend using some sort of fresh herbs (such as chopped fresh dill or parsley) to add a hint of freshness to each bowl. Plus you’re also more than welcome to add a dollop of sour cream and/or extra lemon wedges too.
Here are a few different variations that you’re welcome to try with this vegetarian cabbage roll soup recipe:
Add extra umami: Add a splash of Worcestershire or soy sauce to taste for extra umami, or soaked/chopped dried mushrooms.
Add extra veggies: Add chopped celery, mushrooms, potatoes or red bell pepper to the veggie sauté.
Add pasta or grains: Use cooked orzo, farro, quinoa, or another favorite pasta or grain in place of the rice.
Use different herbs/seasonings: There are so many different directions you could go with the herbs and seasonings here, so feel free to play around with whatever sounds good. For example, you could go with more Italian, Greek, Mexican seasonings, etc.
Make it creamy: Add a splash of heavy cream to the soup, to taste.
Make it vegan: This soup is already naturally vegan on its own, but just be sure to look for a plant-based sour cream if you would like to add sour cream as a topping.
More Cabbage Soup Recipes
Looking for more delicious cabbage soup recipes to try? Here are a few of our faves:
4 to 5 cups chopped green cabbage (chopped into bite-sized pieces)
5 cloves garlic, minced
fine sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable broth
3/4 cup black or French lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 (28-ounce) can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
1 (15-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
4 cups cooked rice (white or brown)
toppings: chopped fresh dill, sour cream and/or extra lemon wedges
Sauté.Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining olive oil, cabbage, garlic and stir to combine. Season the mixture generously with salt and pepper. Cook for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is softened and has begun to lightly caramelize and brown around the edges.
Simmer.Add the vegetable broth, lentils, crushed and diced tomatoes (including their juices), smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, bay leaf, and stir to combine. Continue cooking until the broth reaches a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low (or whatever temperature is needed to maintain a low simmer), cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until the lentils are tender, stirring occasionally.
Season. Remove and discard the bay leaf and stir in the lemon juice until evenly combined. Taste and season with additional salt, pepper, smoked paprika or lemon juice, if needed.
Serve.Serve warm with a big scoop of rice, garnished with your choice of toppings, and enjoy!