Unstuffed Cabbage


Stuffed cabbage is one of my favorite Ashkenazi dishes, but it takes FOREVER to make. The leaves need to be boiled, then drained, then trimmed. Then the meat filling needs to be mixed. Then the filling needs to be rolled up into each cabbage leaf, and then it all needs to slowly cook. By the time it’s all done, I’m not just hungry, I’m super duper hungry!

I was on the phone kvetching about how long the process takes with my friend Beth, and she suggested I make Unstuffed Cabbage. A friend had served it to her once for dinner. She didn’t have the recipe, but she gave me the basic concept… make a bed of cabbage, make the filling into meatballs, cover it with sauce and cook. This idea was intriguing, so I went for it! Here’s what I came up with.

For the meatballs, I used a combination of ground beef and ground chicken. This allowed us to enjoy the flavor of the beef with a reduction in fat and calories. You can substitute ground beef only or ground chicken only if you prefer. If you use chicken, be sure to make it dark meat chicken, which will give you some extra flavor. Note that if you use ground chicken only, the meatballs will be quite sticky when you’re trying to form them, and you may need more matzo meal to help them hold together. Keep a wet towel handy!

Normally stuffed cabbage has rice in the filling, but I left it out of this dish because we’re watching our carb intake. It is very filling without the rice, making it a healthy comfort food option. It’s perfect for the colder months of the year, a warming and wonderful one pot meal. It’s also kosher for Passover– bonus!

Now, before you try this recipe, you should know that it’s not a Polish-style sweet and sour sauce (emphasis on the sweet). I prefer my stuffed cabbage on the savory side. If you’re looking for a more sweet and sour dish, try these: Sweet and Sour Meatballs. However, if you like savory meatballs, you will totally dig this dish! Guaranteed.

Update: I recently posted a recipe for traditional Stuffed Cabbage Leaves, click here to read.

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Unstuffed Cabbage


  • 1 head of green cabbage, cored and cut into strips
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup matzo meal (if it's not Passover, you can use regular or Italian seasoned breadcrumbs)
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh parsley
  • 1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Total Time: 2 Hours
Servings: 8
Kosher Key: Meat
  • Pour 1 cup of water into a large pot, bring to a boil. Place cabbage strips into the pot.
  • Cover the pot. Steam cabbage over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t burn.
  • Meanwhile, combine paprika, garlic powder, ground cloves, 1/2 tsp of salt, 1/4 tsp of pepper, and 1/4 the can of tomato sauce at the bottom of a large bowl. Stir until well blended.
  • Add the ground beef and chicken, egg, matzo meal, and fresh minced parsley.
  • Mix with a fork or knead with clean hands until all ingredients are thoroughly blended and meat is evenly seasoned.
  • Uncover the cabbage and reduce heat to low. Form the meat mixture into 2-inch meatballs and place them in a single layer on the surface of the cabbage. Take care when adding them to the hot pot—don’t burn your arm!
  • Pour remaining tomato sauce into a mixing bowl with the diced tomatoes, lemon juice, and sugar. Stir till blended, then season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Pour the sauce over the meatballs.
  • Bring mixture to a simmer and reduce heat to medium low. Cover pot and cook for 75-90 minutes hours over medium low heat till meatballs are cooked and cabbage is very tender. Stir every 20-30 minutes. If the cabbage seems dry towards the end of cooking, add a little hot water to the pan.
  • Give the pot a gentle stir at the end of cooking to blend the sauce, cabbage, and meatballs.
  • Serve meatballs on top of the soft cooked cabbage. Garnish with more minced fresh parsley, if desired. Crushed red pepper flakes may be added for spice according to taste. Serve.

Comments (46)Post a Comment

  1. Yummy! My grandma used to make stuffed cabbage but she never wrote down the recipe for us. It’s one of my favorite food memories. I’m going to try this over the weekend. Thanks Shiksa!

  2. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Sounds delicious! I too, have tried a lower fat, lower carb stuffed cabbage – I used half lean ground beef and half ground turkey. I did stuff the cabbage, and although it was yummy, it was a lot of work. I’m trying your recipe next!

  3. What a great concept, stuffed cabbage alwasys scared me- too complicated! Love the addition of lemon juice to the sauce.

  4. Thanks for posting a low carb recipe, I might cut the matzo meal in half and omit the sugar in the sauce to make it even lower carb. I’m on a restricted diet over the next few months, this fits into the plan perfectly. You seem to have a really great balance of dishes on this website, lots of healthy choices and a few indulgent ones too. Thank you for the great resource.

  5. We do something very similar to this all the time. It is in one of Suzy Fishbein’s cookbooks. Essentially the same recipe but she mixes some rice into the ground meat. When we make it we also use a combination of beef and chicken, not just to lower the fat, but we like the taste.

  6. Reporting back – fixed this last night for my boyfriend and we LOVED it. We don’t keep kosher so we topped it with a little grated parmesan at the end. So tasty! It’s one of those rare recipes that is both healthy and comfort food. Thank you!

  7. Tried this last night and got raves from the family. Such an easy recipe and so full of flavor! Please create more recipes like this one!

  8. Another option would be to use ground Bison. It is a bit more expensive but it is not nearly as much fat as in regular ground beef. I use it now instead of beef and like it much better.

  9. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I make a dish similar to this one. Except I just chop the cabbage boil it for 5 minutes, Fry up the ground beef( I use extra lean), I cup sauted chopped oinion. then mix the cooked cabbage, the onion, the cooked meat, add the sauce, mix and then bake. No carbs and very delicious.

  10. Oy! Reading your adjusted recipe and thinking about how I now take traditional Jewish food recipes and make them healthier is so bittersweet! I wonder if my Nana looks down from heaven and asks herself “what is she doing to my recipe???”. Then I realize that isn’t what she is thinking at all. She is thinking, ” momma- la, I am so proud you keep in the tradition and make this food healthier for you and your family!”.

  11. My Mom use to make stuffed cabbage I always love them were not Jewish were Greek & Italian but my Mother as i do loved to cook try new Dishes I am defiantly going to try this this I sounds so much easier than the traditional Stuffed cabbage,

  12. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    It looks great, but I have a tip that will cut prep time a lot. Instead of boiling the leaves, just stick the whole head of cabbage in the freezer for 2 days. Let it defrost overnight in the fridge the night before you are ready to cook, then cut out the core and rinse it. The leaves will be perfectly limp, and your kitchen won’t have that awful boiled-cabbage smell! I learned this from Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook.

    1. Good tip Hannah! I’ve done that with stuffed cabbage before, but never the unstuffed kind, since it doesn’t take very long to pre-boil before the sauce is put in. Joan Nathan is my hero. :)

    2. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
      I make this dish with minimal prep time, in a baking pot I put onion, chopped cabbage, tomato paste, meat for stew, some water and salt, seasoning ( however u like it) bay leaves, a bit of vinegar, and voila, in the oven it goes. It comes very tasty.

  13. I have a recipe for Polish stuffed cabbage very similar to this. The only difference is the substitution of rice for the bread crumbs and white vinegar for the lemon juice. I’m thinking that Quinoa might be a higher protein substitute for both the rice or bread crumbs. I usually spend a lot of time rolling and rolling, I can’t wait to try this method

  14. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    My grandma used to make something similar when I was a kid, but she didn’t make the meat into meatballs. She would layer the cabbage, meat, and sauce and bake it all in the oven. Your version sounds just as tasty as Grandma’s!

  15. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I’ve been making unstuffed cabbage for a couple of years, but I make it in my pressure cooker which only takes 15 minutes once the pressure builds and the rocker is rocking. I make my meatballs and bake them in the oven about 15 minutes. Then I don’t have to brown them in the pressure cooker. I just put in the meatballs, cabbage and a sauce made from grape jam and tomato sauce. Then I close it up and when it’s done it’s delicious.

  16. Troy
    I have benne making a version of this for many years when I was working and still like it this way even. Though. I retired..I have. Better things to do ….like watching grand daughters then stuff as we call it stuffed garbage….some times I do the same thin with peppers instead of studying them , I cut up diifferent colored peppers and put them on the bottom of the pot …this way I get to enjoy the flavor without all the fuss
    Natalie aka Safti from saftiscreations

  17. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Very yummy! As one of the readers above mentioned, I also shred the cabbage and mix it with the ground meat. Kids can never guess that they are eating cabbage.

  18. Dear friends:
    A very easy way to deal with cabbage for traditional stuffed cabbage is to microwave the cabbage, removing the cores first. It takes about 10 – 15 minutes and you don’t have to remember to put it in the freezer two days before!
    My 90 year old mom suggested this to me a few years ago when I was complaining about boiling or freezing the cabbages and I haven’t looked back since.

  19. Tori,
    I know this is heresy, but we don’t eat meat! I love the idea of unstuffed cabbage. Can you suggest a non-meat filling that I could swap in for the meat mixture?

  20. You are killing me with this! what a perfectly simple idea. Unlike so many of your other readers, I have carried on my Grandmothers and then my Mothers traditional recipe for Stuffed Cabbage, and i must tell you, everyone, from my nephew who never liked stuffed cabbage, to even my mother says that mine is the best. but it takes me forever, and I’ve got huge pots boiling cabbage draining cabbage all over the kitchen because if I make it, I make a super large amount. Everybody wants the leftovers. However, one of the things I do, and I love is chop up all the leftover pieces of cabbage and onion , and it is probably my favorite part. who needs the rolls? they just get in the way anyway! I will Definitely do this next time
    I am not even making it this year because I don’t have the time.. BIG BIG Thanks agin!

  21. I make this recipe sweet and sour by using cranberry and chili sauce. For Pesach I used KLP ketchup, lemon juice and cranberry sauce. I also use pre-shredded cabbage(cole slaw) from the plastic bag. Easy peasy, lemony squeezy! I also broil the meatballs first to drain off some of the fat.

  22. It’s my first time on your website. I had to check out this recipe. Up until now I only had stuffed cabbage on special occasions (rarely) because there are too many steps. Love that you simplified this nostalgic dish. Can’t wait to tell everyone I know!

  23. The house smells so good thanks to your fool proof comfort food! I Love dishes that satisfy the soul and the taste buds, are good on the waist, and soooo easy to prepare.

  24. have been making unstuffed cabbage for years. I quarter cabbage and then chunk it; alternate layers of cabbage, sliced onion and small meatballs, etc. Pour a bottle of ketcup over top and then a bottle of ginger ale. Tastes like grandma’s reciipe but much easier.

  25. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I made this tonight and my husband couldn’t stop complimenting me :-)

    It is easy to make and the various seasonings mix together beautifully.

    There are only two of us and there was a lot left over, so I am going to FoodSaver it in individual bags and freeze them.

    Happy Chanukah and a Happy Healthy New Year to you all.

  26. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    This is comfort food without the guilt! I used 2 lbs of ground turkey breast and no ground beef. The meatballs were moist, tender and flavorful. This recipe is healthy and delicious and fun to make!

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