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How do you separate cabbage leaves in the microwave?

Separating cabbage leaves can be a tedious and time consuming task when preparing dishes that call for individual leaves like stuffed cabbage rolls or cabbage wraps. However, there is a quick and easy way to separate cabbage leaves using your microwave.

Why Separate Cabbage Leaves?

Cabbage leaves are often called for whole or individually in recipes. Dishes like stuffed cabbage rolls, cabbage wraps or dolmas require leaves that are intact and easy to roll up around a filling. Trying to separate tight packed cabbage leaves by hand can be frustrating and rip or tear the leaves. Using the microwave steams and softens the cabbage head just enough to loosen the leaves so they pull away cleanly.

Choosing a Cabbage Head for Microwaving

Select a head of green or red cabbage that feels very firm and tight. Avoid cabbage heads with loose leaves or that feel lightweight for their size. The microwave method works best on dense, compact heads of cabbage with leaves that cling tightly together.

Ideal cabbage varieties for microwaving:

  • Green cabbage
  • Red cabbage
  • Savoy cabbage

Prep Steps Before Microwaving

Start with a head of cabbage that has the outermost leaves removed and the root end trimmed off. Rinse the cabbage under cool water and shake off any excess moisture. Place the cabbage root side down in a microwave-safe dish. The dish should be large enough to contain the cabbage but not much larger.

Microwaving Time

The microwaving time can vary based on the wattage of your microwave and size of cabbage head. Start with 2 minutes for a medium head of cabbage. After 2 minutes, test the leaves. They should pull away from the core fairly easily. If not, continue to microwave in 1 minute intervals until the leaves come away clean when tugged gently.

Microwaving times for cabbage:

Cabbage Size Microwave Time
Small (1-2 lbs) 2-3 minutes
Medium (2-3 lbs) 3-5 minutes
Large (3-4 lbs) 5-7 minutes

Removing Leaves After Microwaving

Once microwaved, the cabbage can be very hot initially so use care when handling. Let it cool briefly before removing leaves. Carefully peel away leaves from the outside to the center, working around the cabbage head until all the leaves have been removed.

Tips for removing microwave-loosened cabbage leaves:

  • Use tongs to grip and peel off outer leaves if cabbage is still hot
  • Try not to tear leaves; pull gently in downward motion
  • Smaller inside leaves may still need coaxing to release
  • Keep good leaves whole; tear only damaged outer leaves

Uses for Separated Cabbage Leaves

Microwave-separated cabbage leaves are ready to use in any recipe calling for whole cabbage leaves. Their texture is pliable and easy to roll or fold without tearing. Popular uses include:

Stuffed cabbage rolls

Fill cabbage leaves with cooked meat, rice and seasonings then roll up and bake.

Cabbage wraps

Use leaves in place of tortillas or bread to wrap around fillings like meats, vegetables and condiments.

Cabbage leaf cups

Fill leaves with chicken salad, taco meat or vegetarian fillings and eat out of hand.

Cabbage leaf dolmas

Make stuffed vine leaf style wraps with cabbage leaves, rice and seasonings.

Cabbage leaf tacos

Use leaves in place of taco shells or tortillas for a low carb option.

Storing Separated Cabbage Leaves

The separated cabbage leaves can be refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to 5 days. Make sure leaves are dry before storing. For longer storage, blanch the leaves briefly in boiling water, then cool in ice water and freeze.

Refrigerating cabbage leaves:

  • Dry leaves thoroughly before storing
  • Place in sealable plastic bag or container
  • Refrigerate up to 5 days
  • Wash just before using

Freezing cabbage leaves:

  1. Blanch leaves in boiling water 30 seconds
  2. Transfer to ice water bath to cool
  3. Drain leaves and pat dry
  4. Place in freezer bags or containers
  5. Freeze up to 6 months

Troubleshooting Microwaved Cabbage Leaves

If microwaving isn’t loosening the cabbage leaves as expected, try these troubleshooting tips:

  • The cabbage may have been stored too long before microwaving. Use fresher cabbage.
  • Outer leaves may be damaged. Try removing more layers before microwaving.
  • Cabbage may be under-microwaved. Check wattage and increase time in 1 minute intervals.
  • Let cabbage sit 5 minutes after microwaving before attempting to remove leaves.


Microwaving is an easy shortcut for separating intact cabbage leaves quickly. Allow 2-7 minutes steam time depending on cabbage size. Remove outer leaves first, working in toward the center. Use fresh, dense cabbage heads and increase microwave time if leaves don’t release easily. Separated leaves can be used right away in recipes or stored in the refrigerator or freezer.