Back in Tanzania, in the seventies, my mother was taught this recipe from a Russian friend who had lived in Georgia. She said that she made them with vine leaves, but as they were were not available, she advised mum that they could be made with white cabbage instead. As a child I can remember eating these cabbage rolls, but with a mixture of rice and lamb mince.

A few years back I also recall eating these at a gastro pub for our office Christmas dinner, but the filling was pearl barley. It was a lovely change for the rather drab vegetarian alternatives that are often on the menu. I have used brown rice, as that’s what I had available, but any grain of your choice can be used. Just follow the cooking instructions for the grain you are planning on using.

Serves 4

Preparation: 20 minutes

Cooking: 30 minutes

Vegetarian – can be vegan if you omit paneer and replace it with tofu. If using tofu, drain as much water as possible. For the method please see the instructions for the “Tofu bjurji” recipe. The rest of the tofu can be frozen.

Gluten free – just be sure to purchase the correct bread rolls.

Tip – to save on preparation time, the tomato sauce and mixture can be prepared, a day or two in advance

Delicious fresh vegetables, from the fantastic Osterley Park.


I savoy cabbage – you will need 8 of the outer leaves, excess cabbage can be used to make a seasonal winter slaw.

I medium onion – finely chopped

2 fat cloves of garlic – finely chopped

2 tablespoons of rapeseed oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

100g paneer – grated (the rest can be frozen) – if you can’t get paneer you can use grated halloumi cheese instead, however, be sure to reduce the amount of salt

250g brown rice – cooked (you can use ready cooked rice if you prefer)

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons chopped coriander – (I have a pot of this in the kitchen, but if you don’t have these, it’s not an issue, I am not advocating that you buy a pack especially)

Fragrant tomato sauce

I tin of good quality chopped tomatoes – crushed, or put in a blender to grind

2 tablespoons of tomato puree

2 tablespoons rapeseed oil

1 level teaspoon cumin powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 fat cloves of garlic – finely chopped

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon turmeric

1 star anise – optional

¼ teaspoon Kasuri methi (these are dried fenugreek leaves, they have a pungent taste so should be used sparingly, they are available in Indian food stores or on Amazon but as this is used so infrequently, I would not necessarily suggest you buy this) – use dried dill, if this is not available, or omit entirely



As this dish is put into the oven to cook, I spend a minimum amount of time at stage 1 below.

1. Prepare the tomato sauce. Place the oil in a pan on a medium heat. Then add garlic, sauté gently until it is golden. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, salt, cayenne pepper, turmeric, cumin powder and star anise (if using). Stir well. Cover with a lid. Cook for a further 5 minutes, then finally add the Kasuri methi/dill, if using. Season to taste. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a frying pan on a medium heat, sauté the onion for approximately 5 minutes. Add the garlic, sauté for a few more minutes. Add the paneeer, cumin seeds, salt and cayenne pepper, mix well. Then add the rice and finally the chopped coriander, if using. Adjust seasoning to taste. Then let the mixture cool.

3. Bring some water to boil in a kettle/large pan. Remove the 8 outer leaves from the cabbage. and cook them in a large pan of boiling water. This should only take 2 – 3 minutes. Drain and then run under cold water. Pat them dry with a clean tea towel or kitchen roll. Cut out the central stalk on each leaf.

4. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees or gas mark 6.

5. To assemble the rolls – divide the mixture between the leaves. Put the mixture in each leaf and roll them up, folding in the ends. Put the sauce into a dish and gently place each parcel. Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes.


Serve with a winter slaw and crusty bread rolls

Winter slaw (optional)

Chop the excess cabbage, add some grated carrots, a finely sliced apple, some olive oil and cider/red wine/white wine vinegar/lemon juice and some honey/maple syrup. The proportion of oil to vinegar/lemon juice should be 2:1. Season to taste.