Ninos envueltos

Niños Envueltos – now THAT is a name for a dish.  Niños Envueltos  literally means “Wrapped Children”.  Why?  I don’t know.  It is one of those things I have no reasonable explanation for.  The one thing I do know is that these cabbage rollups are delicious.  It is like the Ecuadorian version of a spring roll.  And it goes really good dipped in sambal olek.  ¡Olé-k!

When I was little and my nana used to make niños envueltos, I wasn’t fond of the cabbage leaf of course.  I mean, are you surprised?  You already know how much I hated vegetables growing up.  I used to open up the cabbage roll, eat all the contents and leave the cabbage leaf on the plate.  I don’t do that now.  I love food in edible containers.

Making the niños envueltos is very easy.  The one thing we really need to focus here is on getting some good, large and whole cabbage leaves.  My cabbage, unfortunately was rather on the small side, so I had quite a bit of filling leftover.  To prep the leaves, remove the hardest part of the vein in the leaves by making an inverted “V” incision at the bottom of each leaf.  To make them pliable, blanche them in hot water for a couple of minutes.  The filling is really easy and it is made from a combination of ground beef and pork (but you are more than welcome to use ground turkey or veal, or any other ground meat of your choice), cooked in a mirepoix mixture (celery, carrots and onions), plus some green onions and some cilantro.  I like serving it with some Sriracha or some sambal olek, just like I do with my spring rolls.  Let’s channel our inner Hansel and Gretel witch character, and prep the children so we can wrap ’em and eat ’em.

Cookery instruments needed:

A deep skillet, a spatula, a dutch oven or large stock pot, a small and a large baking dishes.

Cookery ingredients needed:

Ingredients for ninos envueltos

Celery: 1 cup, finely diced; carrots: 1 cup finely diced; green onions: 2 stalks, finely diced; yellow onion: 1/2 cup, finely diced; cilantro: 1/4 cup, chopped; tomato paste: 1 tbsp: ground beef: 1/2 lb.; ground pork: 1/2 lb.; cabbage leaves: 14-16 leaves; salt, pepper and cumin to taste.  Not pictured: cooked, long-grain rice: 2 cups.

Making the refrito for ninos envueltos

In a large skillet, heat some vegetable oil.  Add all the vegetables to make a refrito.  Sautee until the onions are translucent.

Adding ground meats

Adding ground meats

Add the ground meats and mix thoroughly.

Adding tomato paste

Browning ground meat

Add the tomato paste, salt, pepper and cumin.  Cook until the meat is well done.

Adding cooked rice

Incorporating rice

To the cooked meat, add the cooked rice and stir to incorporate all the ingredients and flavors.  Turn off the burner and set aside.

In the meantime, in a large dutch oven or stock pot, bring water to a boil.  At the same time, preheat your oven at 350F.

Cabbage leaves

Once boiling, add the cabbage leaves and blanche them for a couple of minutes, only to make them soft and pliable.  Remove from the water and lay them on your counter.  Save this water, as we will finish baking the niños envueltos in a water bath.  Sheesh!  Cooking wrapped children in hot water: it doesn’t get more gory than that.

Making cabbageroll

Scoop roughly about 2 tablespoons on the mixture in each leave.  This will depend on how big the cabbage leaves are.

Making cabbage roll

Fold the sides in, then fold the bottom up.  Roll and tuck in, similar to how you will fold in a burrito.

Rolls in baking dish

Place the rolls, edges down, in a baking dish, and cover with aluminum foil.  I forgot to take a picture of this next step but here’s what you need to do.  Place this baking dish inside another.  Pour the hot water from the cabbage blanching in the bigger baking dish, until it reaches half-way up of your baking dish containing the cabbage rolls.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until all the ingredients are warmed up.

Serve the “wrapped children” with some spicy condiment, like Sriracha or sambal olek.  ¡Buen provecho!

Niños Envueltos: Meat and Rice in Cabbage Rollups


  • 14-16 cabbage leaves, thick stalk end removed
  • Vegetable oil to sautee the refrito
  • 1 cup finely diced celery
  • 1 cup finely diced carrots
  • 1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
  • 2 green onion stalks, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef (I used sirloin)
  • 1/2 lb. ground pork
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • Salt, ground pepper, cumin to taste
  • 2 cups cooked long-grain rice


  1. In a large skillet, heat up some vegetable oil.
  2. Add all the vegetables to make a refrito. Sautee until the onions turn translucent.
  3. Add the ground meats and stir to incorporate.
  4. Add the tomato paste, and season with salt, pepper and cumin. Cook until the meats are well done.
  5. Add the cooked rice and mix to incorporate all the ingredients and flavors.
  6. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  8. In a large dutch oven or stock pot, bring abundant water to a boil.
  9. Once boiling, add the cabbage leaves to blanche them and make them pliable. Blanche for 2 minutes, and remove from the hot water immediately. Reserve this water, and maintain it hot.
  10. Lay a cabbage leaf on your counter. Scoop about 2 tablespoons of the meat and rice mixture.
  11. Make a roll by folding the sides in, rolling the bottom side up, and tucking it in, similar to rolling up a burrito. Repeat the process with the remaining cabbage leaves.
  12. Place the rolls, edges down, in a baking dish. Cover the dish with aluminum foil.
  13. Place this dish inside a bigger baking dish. Add the hot water to the bigger dish, until it reaches half-way up the dish containing the rolls.
  14. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until all the ingredients are warmed through.
  15. Serve with the hot sauce of your choice.