Bento sized mini cabbage rolls


I love cabbage rolls, whether rolled or deconstructed, but regular sized ones are a bit too large and sloppy in my mind to put into all but the largest bento boxes. These are little bento sized cabbage rolls, just a bit bigger than a ping-pong ball. They aren’t too showy to look at, but are deliciously juicy hot or cold. They are kept compact and slim by using napa or Chinese cabbage instead of regular cabbage leaves, since napa cabbage leaves are thinner and more tender, and using the smaller inner leaves that are about 10 inches (25cm) long.

Another feature of these mini cabbage rolls is that I tried making them in a rice cooker, and they came out great. I’ve also given instructions for making them on the stovetop, but if you’re looking for more ways to utilize your rice cooker, you may want to try it out that way.

These little cabbage rolls freeze beautifully, which is why I’ve put them in the Johbisai/staples section. Despite their meaty taste, they are fairly low in calories since they contain all of the chopped up stem parts of the cabbage leaves.

Recipe: Bento-sized mini cabbage rolls

Make about a dozen small cabbage rolls

  • 12 smallish (about 10 inches / 25 cm long) napa or Chinese cabbage leaves, taken from the inner parts of the cabbage
  • 12 oz (350g) ground pork, ground beef, or a mixture of the two
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped (about 4 Tbsp)
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 Tbsp plain, unseasoned dry bread crumbs or panko
  • 3 cups (660ml) chicken or vegetable stock or dashi, or the same amount of water with chicken or vegetable stock cube/granules added

Put the washed napa cabbage leaves in a pot and cover with water. Bring up to a boil, then turn the heat off. Leave to cool, then take the limp leaves out and squeeze them out. Alternatively, put the leaves on a plate and cover with plastic wrap, and microwave for 7 minutes until the leaves are limp. Leave to cool, then squeeze out the moisture.

Take each leaf and spread it out, and cut out the stem part. You’ll be left with a leaf with an inverted V shape cut out of it.


Set the leaves aside, and chop up the stems finely. Squeeze out any excess moisture from the chopped up stems.

Put all the ingredients, except for the set-aside leaves and the stock, into a bowl and mix together well with your hands. Form into 12 balls.

Now to start rolling. Put a leaf in your work surface, and put a golf ball sized meatball on the leafy end. Wrap the end of the leaf over the meatball.


Wrap the two sides over the meatball. mini-cabbage-rolls-step3.jpg

Bring the tail ends of the leaf up and over the meatball.


Tuck the ends under. Here’s one completed cabbage roll (or cabbage ball…), next to a tablespoon for size comparison.


If you’re using a rice cooker: Put the soup stock in the inner bowl. (Note that if you use dashi stock the cabbage rolls will taste more Japanese, but regular soup stock is fine too.) Put the cabbage rolls, seam side down, in the bowl. You can pile them right in, like so.


Close the lid, and set the rice cooker to cook. Note that I used a 5-cup Zojirushi rice cooker for this, similar to this one but about 20 years old! If your rice cooker is larger or smaller, cooking times may vary (if you have a small rice cooker with a loose lid, watch out for boil overs; you might want to use the stovetop method instead, or cook the cabbage rolls in two batches). I just switched it on and left it until the cooking cycle stopped. The rolls should cook for at least 20 minutes, or until the rolls feel firm when you poke them. Cooking them for a bit longer doesn’t harm them at all - they just get more tasty.

If you’re cooking them on a stovetop: Use a pan that is large enough to allow the rolls to be placed in a single layer, and has a tight fitting lid. Put in the stock, and add the cabbage rolls. Bring up to a boil, then lower the heat so that it’s just simmering. Put on a lid, and let simmer for 40 minutes.

To use in a bento, drain off the excess liquid well. They can be eaten at room temperature, or heated up for a couple of minutes in the microwave.

To freeze these, put in a freezer-safe and microwave-safe container with a little of the cooking liquid. They’ll keep in the freezer for about a month.

Footnote: I have to admit that I haven’t been doing a whole lot of cooking of any kind in the last few weeks, what with having surgery, the hospital stay, the house still in a mess, and other large and small annoyances. But I’m slowly getting my cooking and bento-oing mojo back!

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Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

Glad to hear you are doing better! Just try not to overdo it, easy to do when you are feeling better and the housework is piled up. These cabbage rolls look so yummy! I can't wait to try them. Excellent use of the rice cooker.

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

Question: are these steamed above the cooking liquid, or are they boiled in the liquid? Thanks, sounds like a yummy bento ingredient.

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

They are sort of steam-boiled! Because they're cooked in a closed environment, they get cooked all the way through in any case, so no need to worry about turning them or anything like that either.

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

What an awesome bento idea! These look great and very customizable in terms of the flavors that can be mixed into the filling. Can't wait to try out this recipe.

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

You're a genius, I have cabbage and mince and I had no idea what to do with it. :)

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

These look really good! It looks like they would have the flavours of a meat-filled dumpling, like gyoza or potstickers, but without the starchy wrapper for those of us watching our carb intakes. And cabbage tastes so nice when it is cooked down a loooong time until it is really tender. Mmmm....thank you for sharing your recipe!

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

Indeed, the filling is sort of gyoza-inspired ^_^ (there is some bread crumb in there but not that much, so the rolls are overall pretty low-carb, except for people who regard bread as kryptonite!)

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

I love cabbage rolls, yum! I make my cabbage leaves limp by putting the whole cabbage in the freezer overnight and then letting it thaw out in the morning. It only takes a few minutes for it to thaw if you pull the leaves off gently and run them under some water. I'm not sure if you can refreeze them after that, however. Just a suggestion anyway!

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

That's a great idea! Since the cabbage leaves need to break down a bit in structure in order to become flexible enough to wrap around the filling, re-freezing shouldn't be a problem I think. Thank you for sharing!

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

I grew up eating the Polish version of stuffed cabbage baked in the oven with a can of tomatoes on top. This recipe looks just lovely and I adore the bento size portions.

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

These look soooo tasty! I think I will have to make these at the weekend :-)

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

School is about to start and I'm always looking for something new to put in the lunchboxes. These sound (and look) delicious.

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

Thanks for the great recipe! I sent it to my daughter in college and she is quite excited by the idea of mini cabbage rolls. She is trying to make all her own meals and this way she can make and freeze ahead. Brilliant. Thanks. :O)

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

Update: I made these using my standard dumpling filling and used the rice cooker method. It was simply delicious! I am looking at it as a gluten-free dumpling. Next I am going to use the Tibetan momo filling and see how that works. Inspired recipe. Thanks again. So glad you are feeling better and blogging again!

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

Thanks for the great idea Maki! This is the sort of thing I'm looking for, to put more use to my rice cooker. Just a couple of questions though:

1) Is it okay to substitute ground chicken for the ground pork, if I'm using a combination beef-chicken?
2) If I cook the cabbage rolls in 2 batches (my rice cooker is small), I will also need to halve the cooking liquid right?

Thanks again!

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

Ground chicken should work great!

Yes for a smaller rice cooker, use less liquid.

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

I wonder if this would work in a slow cooker. :-)

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

I was wondering that myself, since I don't have a rice cooker! She says in the recipe that cooking them longer will probably make them taste better, so I would imagine you could set the crock pot on low and cook them for a few hours, although I'd probably check the temperature on the meatballs with a thermometer to make sure the meat's done (I'm a little paranoid when it comes to undercooked meat! ^_^)

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

We made these last night and they were awesome! I only used about 1 cup of dashi though, I guess this just depends on the size of your rice cooker. :) Nom!

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

Wow. I hope to get 20 years out of my Zojirushi 5-cup cooker as well!

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

These look super tasty and easy and also affordable! I'm always looking for new ways to use ground beef.

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

I made two batches of these over the weekend and last night. They came out great! I used Katie's idea of freezing the cabbage leaves - it works perfectly and tastes just as good to me as the boiling method. I'm going to try experimenting with different meat and spice mixtures now.

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

I tried this recipe with regular cabbage leaves, and they ended up being more like mini-cabbage burritos or egg rolls. Still quite tasty, though. I substituted the vegan shuumai filling, and the flavors went well with the cabbage. Thanks for another great recipe!

Can you use a rice cooker as a slow cooker? Let's see...

I just tested the temperature of the keep warm feature on my new Sanyo 3.5 cup rice cooker (model ECJ-E35S) by filling it with tap water (about 85 degrees) to the 3 cup mark, closing the lid, and going about my business. I used a commercial instant-read chef thermometer that I had previously tested for accuracy in a cup of boiling water.

It took over two hours to do it, but the temperature eventually reached over 150 degrees, well over the minimum safe temperature to cook beef or ham (140 degrees). After four hours it had still not reached 170 degrees, the minimum safe temperature to cook poultry. I would consider those temperatures adequate and safe for slow-cooking the cabbage rolls if you use a ground beef filling. You should cook them for long enough that the interior of each dumpling reaches at least 140 degrees, for safety.

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

I've been helping my parents make these for quite a while. We use just ground pork for the meat (my father grinds his own) and various veggies mixed with rice for the filling. Veggies might include onions, celery, carrots, peppers and fire roasted tomatoes, or canned stewed tomatoes. My mother saute's the mix with the rice for a little while and when its cool enough we roll them in the cabbage. This is a food reserved for special occasions in my culture (eastern European). Would add some paprika on top as they boil for a reddish color

We would make large batches of these and would eat with simple polenta or home made bread (also made by my father). They would not last very long.

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

Been on a year-plus hiatus from bento-making since moving to Seoul, but this recipe has inspired me to get back into it!

I am a huge cabbage roll fan, and am so glad you posted this recipe! Can't wait to try it.

One question: Anyone substituted rice for the panko and have suggestions about a good amount to use? Was thinking a bit of brown rice, or maybe even barley, might be a possible alternative to bread crumbs.

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

I just made these because my boyfriend has been begging me to ever since I stumbled upon this page. They were a huge hit! We had to share them (unfortunately ;D) and everybody absolutely loved them. We had some celery lying around so we finely chopped that, the dashi stock, and some garlic as well, they turned out great, thank you for the recipe!

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

These were fantastic... I love that it uses the rice cooker as well. Incredibly easy to make and cooking them in the dashi stock made them so delicious...

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

Dunno if this will be seen, but I'm having a pretty big problem. I don't have a rice cooker, and I've had the rolls on the stovetop for about two hours now, but the meat's still pretty much raw. Should I brown it first next time I try?

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

interesting, i always used cabbage but never thought about napa because of this thin texture. i am gonna try this next time!!

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

I'm looking to make these tomorrow. I have a veggie steamer with a basket for steaming rice, and it worked well for that purpose. I'm imagining that I'll put the rolls in the basket, and put some dashi stock in for steaming them. I can't wait for the results!

Thanks for your wonderful ideas to go into my bento box!

Re: Bento sized mini cabbage rolls

:( My cabbage rolls did not turn out nice and cute like yours. The cabbage seemed too thick, so I ended up with meatballs in a burka.....too loose. I'll have to figure that out. Can you provide serving suggestions? Like what would be good for a sauce? And should I serve with rice? Noodles? I need to love my cabbage rolls.

Re: Just Bento cookbook

Would it be at all possible to make this cookbook available in kindle format?

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