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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- 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)
- 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.