Niños Envueltos Dominicanos (Dominican Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)

Rich with the flavors of sofrito and three types of ground meat, these savory cabbage rolls are irresistible — especially in this version, which comes from Gravalese's Dominican grandmother. The name of the dish, which translates to "swaddled children," comes from the shape of the cabbage rolls themselves, but also nods to their deeply comforting nature.

Ninos Envueltos | Dominican Stuffed Cabbage
Photo: Ellen Mary Cronin
Active Time:
1 hrs 20 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs 20 mins


For the Tomato Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste

  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained, liquid reserved

  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce

  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste

For the Cabbage

  • 1 large green cabbage (about 4 1/2 pounds)

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the Sofrito

  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped green bell peppers

  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped yellow onion

  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems

  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime or sour orange juice

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

For the Filling

  • 1/3 pound ground beef

  • 1/3 pound ground pork

  • 1/3 pound ground lamb

  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce

  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1/2 cup uncooked medium-grain white rice


  1. Set a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium, add tomato paste and cook, mixing constantly with a spatula until darkened in color and beginning to stick to the bottom of the pot, about 4 minutes; add fresh tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until they collapse into a loose sauce, about 30 minutes.

  2. While tomatoes are cooking, using a sharp paring knife, cut off and discard any discolored outer leaves of the cabbage, then use the knife to cut off 12 cabbage leaves. Working in three batches, boil the cabbage leaves until barely softened, about 2 minutes. Transfer leaves to a baking sheet lined with paper towels to cool.

  3. In a blender, puree canned tomatoes until smooth; add to the saucepan with cooked tomatoes and stir in 1 teaspoon soy sauce. Season with salt and pepper and set tomato sauce aside.

Make the Sofrito

  1. Combine the bell peppers, onion, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, oil, and oregano in a blender, puree until sofrito is smooth.

Make the filling

  1. In a large bowl, combine the beef, pork, and lamb with the sofrito, tomato paste, salt, soy sauce, and pepper. Mix well (preferably with your hands) to combine.

  2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high; add meat mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through. Stir in uncooked rice and ½ cup of the tomato sauce.

  3. To stuff the cabbage, cut out the thick stem out of the larger blanched cabbage leaves. Cut any larger cabbage leaves in half. Place 2 tablespoons of filling one inch from the bottom of the leaf, to cover one-third of its surface. Starting at the bottom, fold the bottom side of the cabbage leaf over the filling, then fold in the left and then the right sides. Finish rolling the cabbage up to the top — the finished result should look slightly larger than an eggroll. Repeat to form remaining niños envueltos.

  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a 5-quart heavy-bottomed pot over low heat; arrange your niños envueltos in two or three layers and top them with remaining tomato sauce. Cover pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high; reduce to a gentle simmer and cook until cabbage leaves are tender and rice is cooked through, about 1 hour. Serve niños envueltos with their sauce.

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