by Olena

Cabbage Rolls Casserole

by Olena

cabbage rolls casserole

Being from Ukraine, I ate a lot of cabbage rolls in my life. My grandma used to make the best cabbage rolls and they were simple. Over the years in Canada, I have tasted some store-bought and deli made cabbage rolls. They were small, full of rice and bacon and made with sour cabbage. For me, a cabbage roll is the size that you can eat only 2 or 3, meaty and juicy. You mash it in your plate, make a big unappetizing looking mess with sour cream on top and then dip dark rye bread into the juices. That’s the real cabbage rolls eating procedure.

cabbage rolls casserole

And then there were lazy cabbage rolls – the same cabbage rolls ingredients mixed and cooked in a dutch oven. Probably one genius tired Ukrainian babushka came up with this idea. And I don’t blame her. Rolling these guys is a pain in a butt, if you ask me. Honestly, most Ukrainian recipes are a big pain and mess in the kitchen.:)

So, I ditched boiling the cabbage, wrapping the filling into the leaves and pre-cooking rice steps. Just a few spices, fresh cabbage, crushed tomatoes, turkey (beef or pork) and no bacon. For the sake of satisfying curious babushka in me, I added a few slices of fresh mozzarella cheese on top during the last 5 minutes of baking. I can’t say I was too crazy about it, it was fine. So, don’t worry if you don’t have the cheese. Just don’t skip dressing up the cabbage rolls casserole with a fair amount of Greek yougurt on your plate.

cabbage rolls casserole

The cabbage rolls casserole came out moist, not mushy, with all the bells and whistles of traditional cabbage rolls sans the pain. This time I sliced the cabbage thinly using the mandoline, which made the cabbage more tender. I used 2.5″deep 9×13 baking dish because the casserole is quite high. And don’t be intimidated by the portion size. It might look large but it’s a lot of cabbage, that’s why I provide the nutritional info based on 8 servings.

cabbage rolls casserole

We ate the cabbage rolls casserole with a dollop of non-fat Greek yoghurt on top and a slice of German dark rye bread that I got from Costco, which is very similar to Ukrainian rye bread. My kids hate cabbage rolls but they ate this creative mess till the last piece, drip and bite. Go figure these kids. The same ingredients just taken apart. Funny.:)

If you like cooked cabbage, you might also like cabbage and carrots stir fry with brown rice noodles and pan fried cabbage with apples.


Cabbage Rolls Casserole

Healthy Cabbage Rolls Casserole that doesn’t require pre-cooking rice, boiling cabbage and wrapping the leaves. Lazy man cabbage rolls.

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 115 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 hours 5 minutes
  • Yield: 8 servings 1x


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed & divided
  • 1.5 lbs extra lean ground turkey
  • 2 cans (28 oz each) crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce, divided
  • 1 cup long grain brown rice, uncooked*
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp brown sugar, divided
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 medium cabbage (3 lbs), thinly shredded
  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped (for garnish)
  • Greek yoghurt (for garnish)
  • 8 slices fresh mozzarella cheese (optional)


  1. Preheat large skillet on medium heat and add olive oil. Add onion and half of garlic. Saute until golden brown stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Transfer in a separate bowl and set aside.
  2. In the same skillet brown ground turkey, breaking into pieces with a spatula. Add onion and garlic from step 1, 1 can of crushed tomatoes, rice (see Notes), water, 1 tsp brown sugar, bay leaves, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. In the meanwhile, remove the outer leaves from cabbage. Cut the cabbage in half and using a sharp knife or mandoline thinly slice/shred it. Place in a mixing bowl along with 1/8 tsp salt. Massage cabbage using your hands until the volume of cabbage decreases. This helps to soften the cabbage.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. In a 2.5″ deep 9 x 13 casserole dish, spread evenly half of the shredded cabbage topping with half of the meat-rice sauce. Then another layer of remaining cabbage and another layer of meat-rice sauce, until all used up.
  5. To remaining can of crushed tomatoes, add remaining garlic, 1 tsp of brown sugar, 1/8 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp ground black pepper and mix together. Pour over the layered casserole, spreading evenly with spatula. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 90 minutes. Remove from the oven, let rest for 10 minutes and cut with a knife into 8 pieces. Serve warm (I like hot) with a dollop of non-fat Greek yogurt 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 in an airtight container for up to 1 month. To defrost, thaw overnight in the refrigerator or in a microwave.


*A few readers reported that rice was still uncooked after an hour. I didn’t have this problem when creating the recipe, neither I had a chance to re-test this casserole again. Alternatively, you could pre-cook the rice with half amount of water and time as specified on the package.

 Did you make this recipe? Please give it a star rating in the comments.


olena osipov in the studio

Hello and welcome to iFOODreal.

My name is Olena Osipov. I'm a mom to 2 boys and a wife to Alex. And this is our healthy family recipes blog. I grew up in Ukraine on real food. As an adult, I tried many diets without results. Now for over 10 years, I cook quick and easy healthy meals for my family. I can help you with “What’s for dinner?” too.

What You Will Find Here

Healthy family recipes with simple ingredients. Many are inspired by my Ukrainian heritage. I share mostly dinner recipes because it just never ends... I’m obsessed with healthy freezer meals. And more than in love with my Instant Pot.

A Little More About Me

Originally from Ukraine, I now reside on magic Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada with my family. I started this blog in 2012 when I ended up at home with 2 small kids unemployed and a wee bit chubby.

41 comments on “Cabbage Rolls Casserole

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  1. I am not able to eat tomatoes. Can you make this without tomatoes? Could I use red peppers instead? I recently visited Russia and fell in love with the cabbage rolls we had there. It didn’t seem like there were tomatoes in those. Anyway, I am really glad I found your website. I am planning on trying your Stir Fry Cauliflower tonight.

    Thank you, Dawn

    1. Hi Dawn. I have never seen cabbage rolls without tomatoes. Maybe when they are rolled. This casserole has a lot of tomatoes. Maybe try my lazy cabbage rolls instead and use pureed roasted tomatoes.
      Oh, let me know how you like the cauliflower stir fry please.:)

  2. This recipe was delicious! I had 40-minute rice, so I cooked 1 cup of rice in 1 cup of chicken broth for 20 minutes before adding as directed, along with all other ingredients including the cup of water. It was a perfect consistency. This recipe is a keeper!

  3. These sound amazing. Glad I found this recipe. It will be quick to make and throw in thre oven. I dont eatalot of meat myself. I was thinking about using half the meat. Subbing quinoa for the rice and adding veggies as well. Any suggesting on what veggies to add?

      1. Good morning Olena. I hope you enjoyed your weekend. I didn’t receive your comment until after I had already went to the grocery store. I will use ypur suggestions next time foe sure. I ended up using Tuscan kale, rainbow chard and yellow and red pepper. It turned out fabulous . I did use half the tirkey and subbed the rice for quinoa. I cooked my quinoa for about 10 mins before I put it the mix. Used 2 cups of wayer instead of 1. I also only cooked it for 45min. I didn’t want to lose the nutritional vaule of all of those awesome veggies. The recipe was amazing. My man really like it. Thank you very much.

        1. Good morning, Kristen. Those veggies sound fabulous! Anything works as long as it’s not cucumber or radishes.:) Just common sense. Glad everyone enjoyed it!:)

  4. Olena,
    Your recipes are amazing! I’m so grateful to have a vast selection of recipes that are truly healthy! I also like to eat and your recipes have allowed me to eat what I consider a meal size portion of delicious foods without feeling bad about the junk I’m putting in my body. I’ve tried four or five recipes now, the Cabbage Roll Casserole being one, and they are all incredible! Your aptitude for creating flavorful, healthy and low calorie meals is so appreciated.

  5. I am going to try this for a casual dinner party next week. What else should I serve with it to round out the meal? Thanks..can hardly wait to try this.

    1. Because this casserole is such a full meal on its own, I think nice fresh salad with greens would be great. Also don’t forget the rye bread and Greek yogurt for the dish. Enjoy!

  6. Hi Olena,
    I’d like to print ths out and make it tomorrow, but I can’t find the printer-friendly version… is there one?


  7. Hi Olena! This recipe is great and I have enjoyed some of your other recipes recently as well… I can’t wait to try more! I had the same problem as another reader – the brown rice was barely cooked at the end of the initial 90 minute cook time. I cooked the dish for 90 minutes and covered it very tightly with aluminum foil. It ended up taking an additional hour for the rice to cook. Do you have any suggestions on getting the rice to cook?… maybe boil it before adding it to the sauce mixture?


  8. I used to LOVE cabbage rolls as a kid. I’ve been a vegetarian now for 20 years and have yet to find a recipe that will work for me. Do you think that quinoa would be a good replacement for the meat? I’ve never been fond of TVP.

    1. Hi Joanne. Yes, replace meat with 1 cup of dry quinoa. BUt then are you going to use rice as well? Well, I guess you could. Maybe cut the amount of rice in half. Play it by the ear. I agree with you. If I were vegetarian, I would be very sceptical about all those GMO soy meat replacements.

  9. I just made this with a pound of grass-fed beef, black japonica rice, and without the cheese and it was SO delicious!! I just ate so much and I can’t wait for leftovers tomorrow! This was a great alternative to labor-intensive cabbage rolls, but still with all of the deliciousness!

  10. I also slice up Polish Sausage in 1 inch “coins” and place all over & in-between my cabbage rolls so think I’ll just scatter them on or stir into the casserole….I also drain one can of sauerkraut & spread among my rolls so maybe stir into the casserole…. my husband was Polish decent. We also eat with dollops of sour cream or thick Greek yogurt. This casserole seems so much easier and should have the same flavor BIG THANKS!!! YUM!

  11. Love this recipe- the idea of turning Cabbage rolls into a casserole is just brilliant.. Tonight was my second time making it for my family ( 4 kids 9, 7,6,4 yrs old) The kids could manage it the meal so much better! Love it.. it’s now part of my go to recipes OFFICIALLY AWESOMESAUCE! 😉

    1. Lazy Ukrainian babushkas knew what they were doing.:) Why bother to roll?! My kids eat this casserole too but they won’t eat cabbage rolls. Glad all of you liked it!

  12. It worked pretty well in the slow cooker. Mine doesn’t have a timer on it so it was in for about 8 hours on low which was probably a bit too much. Thanks for the recipe!

    1. Oh great! Thanks for reporting back! I don’t think you can really overcook this casserole. The longer it cooks the more tender the meat, cabbage and rice will be. So 8 hours is good!

    1. Totally! Just cut the recipe in half. It won’t fit in the largest slow cooker in this world.:) Please let me know if you try it.

  13. I loved this and it was very easy to make! I’ll definitely make it again, but my first try the rice wasn’t cooked completely. Any pointers? I used brown rice. Do I need to bring the turkey/rice mix to a boil before simmering for 20 minutes?

    1. You know, Brigid, good point. I adjusted the directions. I personally didn’t have that problem but maybe my mixture was boiling while I was writing down the recipe. Also covering tightly with foil ensures proper cooking. No steam should escape. Plus, try to bake for like 90 minutes next time. Won’t do harm, it’s cabbage and rice, they will be just more tender. Hope this helps.

  14. Hi Olena,
    I found your site this morning because I was looking for a way to use up old bananas with protein powder. After landing on your relevant recipe, I started looking around your site, and I wanted to tell you how awesome I think it is! You are the only blogger I have come across who posts the earning side, and I really want to thank you! The photos are beautiful, and so far the recipes I have looked at sound lovely. I have been paleo for about 8 months (well, the last 2 I fell off the wagon) because wheat, grains (and dairy it seems :-() cause me problems. I am aiming to follow low-carb and high protein, but my problem is lack of imagination. I can’t wait to try some of your recipes, especially this cabbage casserole! Keep up the good work! You look great by the way, and you have a beautiful family.

    1. When I make cabbage rolls I freeze the cabbage then thaw it out in fridge and the leaves just peel off. Just have to plan ahead a bit.Much easier than boiling the cabbage!

  15. oh my gawd, these look so good. and so quick… my mom’s cabbage rolls were a 2 day preparation process (something like boiling the cabbage for 3 hours). And so delicious!!! I’ll need to give this a go.

    1. I know, pre-cooking the cabbage drives me crazy. That’s why I never made cabbage rolls but now I do. Let me know.:)

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