Kozani Style Cabbage Rolls With Tomato & Saffron

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IMG_7507The most common and well-known cabbage rolls for Greeks are made with an Avgolemono Sauce. The the rest of the world, most of you are more familiar with cabbage rolls with a tomato sauce. Us Greeks have that in our repetoire too!

Today, I introduce you to Kozani Style Cabbage Rolls (lahanodolmades in Greek) with a sauce that’s sweet from onions, tomato paste and fragrant from the local spice harvested every year from the fields in the Kozani region – saffron.

In Greek we call saffron “Krokos Kozanis`` and it is every bit as expensive as any other quality saffron in the market. Saffron is an ancient Greek ingredient and it is wonderful in this cabbage rolls dish today. You will not get the vibrant yellow colour of saffron in this dish but you will get a hint of the aroma and flavour that is indisputably saffron.

The other nice touch with this dish is the filling, which includes finely diced ham. What you`re looking to do is simply dice it to a consistency similar to the ground beef and pork.

If you don`t feel like preparing your own cabbage leaves, there are many quality brands with jarred cabbage leaves in a sour brine. Just be careful  – strain and maybe soak the leaves in water for a bit to rid them of their tartness.IMG_7503

Kozani Style Cabbage Rolls With Tomato & Saffron (λαχανοντολμαδες κοζανης)

(makes approx. 36)

1 large cabbage


1/2 cup olive oil

6 medium onions, diced

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 heaping Tbsp. of tomato paste

1 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 lb. lean ground beef

1 lb. lean ground pork

1 lb. of boneless ham, finely chopped (or use food processor)

1 tsp. of dried Greek oregano

pinch of Krokos Kozani (Greek saffron)

2 cups long-grain rice

2-3 tsp. of sea salt

1 1/2 tsp. ground pepper

1- 796ml can of diced tomatoes

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil with a little salt. Meanwhile, remove the outer leaves of the cabbage and the hard stalk (root) of the cabbage. Wash it and put into the boiling water for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the cabbage from the water by using a large fork.
  2. Using some tongs, carefully peel away each leaf and unwrap the head of boiled cabbage. Remove the the bottom part of the main rib from each leaf. Repeat this process with all your leaves and reserve.
  3. Bring a large saucepan to medium-high heat, add the olive oil, onions and garlic. Simmer to soften the onions for about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste, stir in and cook for about 2-3 minutes then add parsley, oregano, stir in and take off the heat.
  4. Add the ground beef, pork, ham, rice and saffron and mix well with a wooden spoon. Now add 2 tsp. of salt plus 1 tsp of ground pepper and mix well. Form a little meatball and fry and taste-test. Add more salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Take a cabbage leaf and place 2  Tablespoons of the meat mixture near the bottom of the leaf. Fold the two ends of the leaf inwards and roll it up into a long narrow shape. (do not roll too tightly as the rice will expand and may break your leaves)
  6. Place some spare cabbage leaves on the bottom of your roasting pan and start placing the stuffed cabbage leaves in concentric circles.
  7. Place some more loose cabbage leaves over the stuffed cabbage and you may even place a heavy plate on top to prevent them from breaking open.
  8. Add the diced tomatoes, 3 cups of low sodium chicken (or vegetable) hot stock into the roasting pan (enough liquid to cover the cabbage by 1 inch), cover with the lid and place into a pre-heated 350F oven (lower rack) for 90 minutes.
  9. Take out of the oven, taste a cabbage roll to see if the rice is done – adjust seasoning. If you would like a smoother sauce, carefully tilt the roasting pan and pour out the sauce and purée in a blender and pour back into the pan.
  10. Serve the cabbage rolls immediately or reserve for later and simply reheat. Serve with a Voyatzi Estate Xinomavro, Cab. Sauvignon, Merlot blend.

© 2012,
Peter Minakis

. All rights reserved.

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8 Comments for “Kozani Style Cabbage Rolls With Tomato & Saffron”


Each fall when cabbage comes into season I prepare cabbage rolls with a Eastern European style using tomato juice and raisins in the base.
I love the idea that you use chopped ham in this Greek style. I am making note to do that next time.
Thanks for sharing.


Chris Gavriel


Hi Pete,
This recipe reminds me a meal I had in Kozani years ago called Γιαπρακια, which is λαχανοντολμαδες done with pickled cabbage. Your recipe is also excellent (I have a full ball in my refrigerator today).
I wanted to commend you on your effort to bring back and recreate out traditions in gastronomy. I feel akin to you (I come from Ptolemaida) and even though I am older than you your site brings back a lot of memories. I recommended your site to a lot of my friends, Greeks and no Greeks, to expose them to your delights.



We love all kinds of cabbage rolls. I have never had them with Avgolemono sauce… must remedy that somehow. Are they with sour cabbage? I love the ones that I make from the former Yugoslavia (sarma) with sour cabbage, fatty pork, a little rice and onion boiled with smoked pork ribs. LUCIOUS! These also look absolutely divine!


Oh, these look just amazing – love the idea of the tiny chunks of ham, too. Loved your recipes (as usual) in 2012 and looking forward to seeing what you’ve got lined up for 2013. Happy New Year to you and yours.