Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls are made with the traditional ingredients and bold flavors of the classic cabbage roll. With a fraction of the time and effort, this dinner recipe is where comfort meets convenience!
Easy Cabbage Rolls
You are going to love these unstuffed cabbage rolls because as much as the traditional rolls are worth the wait, sometimes we just don’t have the time or energy for a weeknight dinner. I am from Ukraine, and I never do!
For old-fashioned cabbage rolls, you normally have to boil cabbage ahead of time, then roll and bake. Instead, for these lazy cabbage rolls I like to chop cabbage into coarse square chunks and cook with brown rice and meat in flavorful tomato sauce in one pot. I love easier cabbage roll dishes so much I’ve even shared a cabbage roll casserole and Instant Pot cabbage rolls!
The combination of tender cabbage, ground meat, onion, garlic, rice, and a juicy sauce makes for a delicious meal combination and a good alternative for meals like Instant Pot bolognese, chicken and rice casserole, and skillet enchiladas – all are hearty, healthy, and wholesome!
So when you serve, the dish has layers upon layers of flavours, the hearty comforting nostalgia, as well as the nutrients of all of the wholesome ingredients.
Basically, I deconstructed my grandma’s recipe. And it can easily serve a crowd. And we love it!
Ingredients for Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls
- Onion and garlic: Chopped onion and minced garlic.
- Meat: Extra-lean ground turkey but you can use ground pork or beef.
- Cabbage: Coarsely chopped. Because these are unstuffed you can get away with using a variety of different types of cabbage like green, red or even savoy cabbage.
- Rice: Uncooked brown rice. However, white rice or leftover cooked brown rice can be used as well and saves a lot of time.
- Liquids: Oil, low sodium tomato sauce, can of diced tomatoes, low sodium stock (or water), honey, or maple syrup, vinegar. (similar to when making the best meat sauce)
- Herbs: Dried oregano, thyme, bay leaves.
- Seasonings: Salt and pepper.
- Garnish: Fresh dill or parsley or green onions, yogurt/sour cream.
How to Make Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls
- Saute veggies: Preheat a deep non-stick pan or a 5-6 quart Dutch oven. Swirl oil to coat and add onion and garlic, stirring occasionally.
- Cook meat and rice: To the pot, add turkey, rice, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper and continue cooking. Break the meat into pieces using a wooden spoon. Sauteing rice now cuts back its cook time.
- Combine everything: Add the broth, tomato sauce, vinegar, maple syrup, and cabbage. Stir well to combine and bring to a boil.
- Cook for an hour: Once boiling, cover, reduce heat, and cook on low. As tempting as it might be to open the lid to check on it, DON’T! Not until it’s completely done.
- Serve: Serve warm topped with fresh dill and yogurt or sour cream for the most authentic flavour. Hot sauce on top if you feel like it that night.
Tips and Variations
- More herbs: As always, season to your liking. If you love the taste of thyme and oregano with ground turkey, by all means, add a bit more. My grandma just used salt and pepper. 🙂
- More meat: If you like a meatier bite and would like to add more meat, feel free to add an extra 1 lb.
- Substitutions: If you’re looking for a meatless version, try substituting the ground turkey with mushrooms and/or tempeh. Alternatively, if you are looking for a red meat version, try using ground beef and beef broth instead. Pork adds a nice flavour as well. Replace diced tomatoes with fresh tomatoes. Keep in mind they need to be juicy! Add a bit more broth and even some tomato paste for colour.
- Sauerkraut: Replace some of the cabbage with sauerkraut but cut the salt in half and season to taste afterward. It may not even be necessary.
- White rice: If you are using white rice, the cooking time will be approximately 30 minutes.
- Precooked rice: If you are using precooked brown rice, cut the cooking time, use 3 cups of cooked rice and reduce the liquids to 1 cup. Cook for 30 minutes.
- Uncooked rice: If rice is not cooked by the end, add 1/4 water, cover, and cook for another 5-10 minutes.
- Too much? When I say this recipe feeds a hungry crowd, I mean it! It yields close to 14 cups of food. If you don’t need that much, cut the recipe in half and keep the same cook time.
Storing, Freezing and Reheating
Store: You’ll have leftovers for days! Enjoy up for 4 days later, being kept in the fridge in an airtight container. Cabbage rolls casserole actually gets better with time, like borscht.
Freeze: Once fully cooked, freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. If you have a ton leftover, might be wise to freeze individually and only take out what you need.
Reheat: Thaw in the refrigerator overnight and reheat in the microwave. You can also use the pot with a splash of water or broth to simmer while covered for 10 minutes.
More Easy Dinner Recipes
- Korean beef and rice bowls
- Instant Pot chicken and rice
- Crockpot turkey chili
- Taco skillet
- Mexican chicken and rice
- Tex Mex skillet sweet potatoes
Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls
- 1 large onion chopped
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 lb ground turkey extra lean
- 1 cup brown rice uncooked
- 3 lbs cabbage coarsely chopped
- 28 oz can tomato sauce low sodium
- 14 oz can diced tomatoes low sodium
- 2 cups water or any low sodium stock*
- 1 tbsp oregano dried
- 1 tsp thyme dried
- 1 tbsp vinegar
- 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
- 1 tsp salt
- Ground black pepper to taste
- 3 bay leaves
- Fresh dill, parsley, green onions and yogurt/sour cream for serving
- Preheat large and very deep non-stick skillet or 5-6 quart Dutch oven on medium-high heat and swirl oil to coat. Add onion and garlic; cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add turkey, rice, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper; cook for 10 more minutes, breaking into small pieces and stirring often.
- Add broth, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, vinegar, maple syrup, cabbage, bay leaves and stir well. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 60-70 minutes. Do not open!
- After check if rice is cooked and if not (mine was) add 1/4 cup water, cover and cook for another 5 - 10 minutes.
- Serve warm topped with Greek yogurt and herbs.
Store: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 4 days.
Freeze: Fully cook, cool completely, and freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Thaw in a refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a microwave or in the oven at 375 F for 10 minutes.
- Meat: Feel free to add 1 lb extra of ground turkey. Also ground beef and pork work great!
- Sauerkraut: You can replace some of fresh cabbage with sauerkraut but cut salt in half and then season to taste after, if necessary.
- Broth: I used water + organic low sodium bouillon cubes. Using broth will yield in more flavour but water is just fine.
- White rice: If using white rice, cooking time will be around 30 minutes. Check and cook longer if necessary.
- Cooked brown rice: If you have leftover brown rice or want to cut back cook time, use 3 cups cooked brown rice, reduce liquids to 1 cup and cook for 30 minutes. Check and cook longer if cabbage is not tender.
- Cooking vessel: It is important to find large deep skillet or 5-6 quart Dutch oven with tight fitting lid. Otherwise, rice will take longer to cook.
- Do not peek: No matter how tempted you are, opening the lid and checking on casserole will slow down cooking.
- Too much? This recipe makes close to 14 cups of food. If no large skillet or serving just a few people, cut recipe in half and keep same cook time more likely.
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