In colder months, I always return to stuffed cabbage as comfort food. It’s such a cozy, warming, substantial dish. However, I do not relish the work involved in making stuffed cabbage rolls. That’s where my savory Unstuffed Cabbage comes in!
Making stuffed cabbage is a process. The leaves need to be boiled, then drained, then trimmed. The meat filling needs to be mixed. After that the filling is rolled up into cabbage leaves one-by-one. Finally it all needs to slowly cook. When you’re all done, you certainly feel like you’ve earned it… but there is an easier way.
Many years ago, my dear friend Beth introduced me to concept of Unstuffed Cabbage. The basic idea is to make a bed of cabbage, make the filling into meatballs, cover it all with sauce, and cook. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
This recipe, unlike my Stuffed Cabbage, is a savory preparation (with no added sweetness). This is 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.
I typically use a combination of ground beef and ground chicken, though you can use either or. Dark meat ground chicken (versus white meat) will provide extra flavor. Note that if you use ground chicken only, the meatballs will be quite sticky when you’re trying to form them (especially if you leave out the breadcrumbs). They’ll firm up as they cook.
Normally stuffed cabbage has rice in the filling, but I typically leave it out here. This dish is very filling without the rice, and a bit lighter too. It’s perfect for the colder months of the year, a warming and wonderful one pot meal. It’s also kosher for Passover, if you use matzo meal – and gluten free if you omit the breadcrumbs entirely. Enjoy!
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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 ground cloves
- 15 oz tomato sauce (you may substitute 3/4 cup tomato paste mixed with 1 cup of warm water for the sauce)
- 1 lb lean ground beef (you may substitute ground beef for all the meat, if desired)
- 1 lb ground chicken (you may substitute ground chicken or turkey for all the meat, if desired)
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup unsalted bread crumbs or matzo meal (optional)
- 2 tbsp minced fresh parsley
- 15 oz diced tomatoes (1 can)
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp sugar (optional - omit for low carb)
- 1/2 tsp salt, or more to taste
- 1/4 tsp black pepper, or more to taste
- Crushed red pepper flakes (optional, to taste)
- 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, onion powder, ground cloves, 1/2 tsp of salt, 1/4 tsp of black 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, bread crumbs or matzo meal, and fresh minced parsley. Adding the bread crumbs will help bind the meatballs and will allow you to make a few more meatballs (stretching the meat), but if you're on a low carb or gluten free diet you can omit them and still get very tasty results. They'll just be a little harder to form smoothly (the meat will be sticky) - but the meatballs will firm up as they cook.
- 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 (the sugar is optional - it cuts the acid in the tomato sauce). Stir until 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 until the 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.