This unstuffed Cabbage Roll Casserole includes all the flavors of traditional cabbage rolls but without the hassle. Instead, layer the cabbage with ground beef and tomato sauce lasagna style, and bake in the oven for a hearty, wholesome casserole!
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Cabbage roll casserole time! As a Ukrainian, I have eaten A LOT of cabbage rolls in my life, first from my grandmother, then mother, and now making them myself. The thing is, if you’ve ever made cabbage rolls from scratch, then you’ll know how time-consuming and laborious the process can be.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with several ways of simplifying the method, including Instant Pot cabbage rolls and unstuffed cabbage rolls. Now, this oven-baked unstuffed cabbage roll casserole recipe.
While traditional cabbage rolls require preparing the fillings, boiling the cabbage, then carefully wrapping them up into rolls, this unstuffed cabbage casserole ditched the steps of boiling the cabbage, pre-cooking rice, and rolling the rolls (yay!).
Instead, this cabbage bake starts by browning the meat mixture, adding raw rice to it, and layering this in a large baking dish with cabbage and tomato sauce. Cover the dish and chuck it in the oven, and in 40-60 minutes, you have yourself a hearty, wholesome, filling meal.
I’ve also included the option of topping the casserole with cheese – okay, my Ukrainian grandmother might not approve of that option, but it’s definitely husband and child approved. I find that melting, gooey cheese really finished off any casserole well – like this healthy Mexican casserole or chicken zucchini casserole.
The prepared cabbage roll casserole is moist without being mushy, packed with flavor, and really combines all the bells and whistles of traditional cabbage rolls without all the faff!
Best of all, there are several ways to adapt the recipe to your liking and even make it even quicker by using pre-shredded cabbage or leftover rice. Please keep reading for all my tips and suggestions!
Ingredients for Unstuffed Cabbage Roll Casserole
- Cabbage: Basic green cabbage is all you need for this cabbage roll casserole recipe. Feel free to experiment with other cabbage varieties, too, though. You can also use whole or shredded cabbage (use a bag of pre-shredded cabbage or even healthy coleslaw, to save time).
- Rice: White or brown, uncooked. The cooking time will vary based on which you choose (see notes*).
- Protein: You can use ground beef, turkey, chicken (or a meat-free alternative).
- Aromatics: I used a combination of onion and garlic to pump extra flavor into the meat mixture.
- Herbs/Spices: Dried oregano, thyme, and salt & pepper are my favorite options. Keep reading for alternative seasoning options.
- Tomato sauce: Use plain tomato sauce (pasta sauce), tinned chopped/crushed tomatoes, a combination of the two, or even a can of tomato soup. Each will change the texture and flavor of the dish slightly.
- Sweetener: Maple syrup or sugar work well – just a touch is needed to balance the flavors.
- Broth: You can use beef, chicken, or vegetable broth (low sodium).
- Cheese: I used mozzarella cheese, though cheddar, gouda, swiss, etc., would also work. For a dairy-free option, feel free to use a dairy-free alternative or omit the cheese entirely.
- Garnish: Finely chopped fresh dill or parsley work wonderfully as a garnish to the cabbage roll casserole.
Check the recipe notes at the bottom of the post for more ingredient and cabbage casserole recipe suggestions!
There are several ways you can adapt this cabbage roll casserole recipe, including:
- Extra vegetables: Though it won’t taste the same as traditional cabbage rolls, you can easily bulk up this casserole further with extra veggies: zucchini, bell pepper, mushrooms, corn, beans, peas, kale, thickly sliced onion, etc. Sauté them first for more flavor.
- For Spice: There are several ways to bump up this recipe’s spice according to your preferred level. You can add a pinch of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes to the mean mixture/tomato sauce. Alternatively, feel free to add a minced jalapeño or chili into the skillet along with the garlic and onion.
- Other seasoning options: Adding a splash of red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or Worcester sauce to the mixture is a classic choice. You can also experiment with other seasonings: Italian seasoning, paprika, chili powder, etc.
How to Make Cabbage Roll Casserole
- First, prepare the pan, rice, and cabbage: Preheat the oven to 375F/190C, spray a deep 9×13-inch baking dish with cooking spray, and then set aside. Then, in a medium bowl, add the rice and enough water to fully submerge it and leave it to soak. Then, cut a head of cabbage into four quarters, removing the core from each, and set aside.
- Brown the meat: Preheat a large skillet over medium heat with a little oil. Once hot, add the onion, garlic, meat, oregano, and thyme. Cook for 10 minutes, breaking the meat down into small pieces as it cooks.
- Add the remaining ingredients: Rinse and drain the rice, adding it to the skillet along with half of the tomato sauce, sweetener, broth, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.
- Prepare the first layer of cabbage: Use about 1/3 of the cabbage leaves and make a layer at the bottom of your baking dish.
It may be easier to tear them into smaller pieces from the whole leaves (or use shredded). I find that placing them with the cup and curvy side downwards helps.
- Finish assembling the casserole: Top the cabbage layer with half of the meat and rice mixture, then add another 1/3 of the cabbage leaves, then top with the remaining meat mixture and the final 1/3 cabbage.
It may look a bit bulky because of the cabbage- feel free to press down on it with a spatula. Don’t worry, though, as the cabbage will lose a lot of bulk when it cooks.
- Add the sauce and cook the cabbage roll casserole: Pour the remaining half of tomato sauce over the top of the casserole, spray a silicone lid or foil with cooking spray, and then cover the casserole dish tightly. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes if using white rice, 60 for brown rice.
- Add the cheese: Check if the rice is cooked; if not, then cook for slightly longer. Then sprinkle with cheese and bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.
- Allow it to rest, then serve: Remove the casserole from the oven and rest for 5 minutes before cutting into 8 pieces. It’s now ready to serve and enjoy!
I love to serve this unstuffed cabbage roll casserole with a big dollop of yogurt and some rye bread. On its own, this casserole is already practically a full meal packed with nutritious and filling ingredients. However, if you want ideas for potential sides:
You can enjoy the unstuffed cabbage casserole warm or cold. If anything, this casserole tastes even better the next day as the flavors develop. It makes for great work lunches.
How to Store, Freeze, And Reheat
Storing: Store any leftover cabbage roll casserole in an airtight container within the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Freeze: Allow the cabbage casserole to cool completely before transferring to a freezer-safe container and freezing for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator or within the microwave.
Reheating: You can reheat the casserole either in a microwave or in the oven until heated through.
Yes. Assemble the casserole and allow it to cool before wrapping it with plastic wrap and refrigerating for up to 24 hours until you’re ready to bake.
Alternatively, wrap the dish in two layers of foil (over the plastic) and then freeze for up to 3 months. Allow it to thaw on the counter for an hour before baking – adding around 15 minutes to the baking time.
Yes, you can – though I already have a stovetop version of unstuffed cabbage rolls.
Feel free to follow that method, instead, and in the last few minutes (optionally), sprinkle the cheese over the top and cover until melted or broil in the oven till golden brown and bubbly.
Yes, I actually already have a recipe for unstuffed Instant Pot cabbage rolls. I know that it is possible with a crockpot, too. Though there seems to be an issue with the rice becoming gummy if it’s cooked correctly, so this is something I’m still experimenting with. I suggest halving the recipe if you plan to make it with a crockpot (slow cooker).
More Tips and FAQs
- Sauerkraut: This is a popular inclusion in cabbage rolls and borscht soup recipes. You could use sauerkraut in place of the onion or replace some of the cabbage with sauerkraut. Reduce the salt if doing so.
- Amount of meat: You can use anywhere between 1-2 lbs. of any ground meat. I know package sizes differ.
- Other rice: Any rice works. If the package directions say its cook time is over 30 minutes, treat it as “brown rice” for the cooking instructions in this casserole. You could also swap the rice for another grain like quinoa and cook for the ‘brown rice’ period.
- For a low-carb option: You could substitute the rice with cauliflower rice.
- For an even quicker meal: Feel free to use leftover pre-cooked or par-cooked rice. If doing so, reduce the cooking liquid to half and only cook until the cabbage is tender.
- The dish size: I used a 2.5 “deep 9×13 baking dish because the casserole is quite high (due to the volume of the raw cabbage pre-cooking).
More Casserole Recipes
If you enjoyed this cabbage roll casserole recipe, you might like these other simple, healthy casserole recipes.
- Black bean quinoa casserole
- Healthy green bean casserole
- Spaghetti squash casserole
- Ground turkey quinoa casserole
- Healthy breakfast casserole
Cabbage Roll Casserole
- 2 lbs cabbage
- 1 cup uncooked white or brown rice
- 1.5 lbs extra lean ground beef, turkey or chicken
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp oil for frying
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 28 oz tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes divided
- 2 cups beef, chicken or vegetable broth low sodium
- 2 tsp maple syrup or sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp fresh dill or parsley finely chopped (for garnish)
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese shredded
- Cooking spray I use Misto
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and spray large and deep 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, add rice and cold water to cover. Set aside to soak while you are prepping other ingredients.
- Cut a head of cabbage into 4 quarters and remove the core from each. Set aside.
- Preheat large skillet on medium heat and swirl oil to coat. Add onion, garlic, beef, oregano and thyme; saute for 10 minutes, breaking into small pieces with spatula constantly.
- Rinse and drain rice; add to the skillet along with half of the tomato sauce, maple syrup, broth, salt and pepper. Stir, bring to a boil and turn off heat.
- Time to layer casserole. Separate leaves from cabbage and make one layer on the bottom of casserole dish, using 1/3 of cabbage and tearing into smaller pieces, if necessary. Placing with cup and curvy side down helps too.
- Top with half of the meat rice sauce and then add another layer of 1/3 cabbage. Press on it with spatula if it looks bulky but don't worry cabbage cooks down a lot. Then top with remaining meat rice sauce and last 1/3 of cabbage.
- Pour remaining half of tomato sauce on top, spray silicone lid or foil with cooking spray and cover casserole dish tightly. Bake for 40 minutes if using white rice or 60 minutes if using brown rice.
- Check if rice is cooked and if not cook a bit more. Now sprinkle with cheese and bake uncovered for 5 minutes or until cheese has melted.
- Remove from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes and cut with a knife into 8 pieces. Serve warm (I like hot) with a dollop of yogurt (if you wish) and a slice of rye bread. The casserole tastes even better the next day and makes great leftovers and work lunch.
- Store: Refrigerate covered for up to 3 days.
- Freeze: Freeze leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 months. To defrost, thaw overnight in the refrigerator or in a microwave.
- Freezer meal: Assemble and cool casserole. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for up to 24 hours until ready to bake. Or wrap with 2 layers of foil on top of plastic and freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to bake, warm up on the counter for 1 hour and bake as per recipe plus 15 minutes or so.
- Shredded cabbage: If you would like to use shredded cabbage instead of layering it like lasagna sheets, using a sharp knife or mandoline thinly slice/shred it. I also think coleslaw mix will work.
- Amount of meat: You can use anywhere between 1-2 lbs of any ground meat. I know package sizes differ.
- Dairy free: Cheese on top is optional.
- Other rice: Any rice works. If package directions says its cook time is over 30 minutes then treat as “brown rice” for the cooking instructions in this casserole.