Unstuffed cabbage rolls are one of my favorite comfort foods. I love stuffed cabbage, and so does my family. But making cabbage rolls is a lot of work! That’s where my savory unstuffed cabbage rolls come in. Traditional cabbage rolls requires several steps. This recipe is far easier! You simply make meatballs, then cook them with sauce on a bed of shredded cabbage. Presto! You’ve got a delicious and healthy low carb comfort food. All the flavor of stuffed cabbage, without all the work. Easy enough for a weeknight, delicious enough for a holiday… and if you use matzo meal (or omit the breadcrumbs), it’s kosher for Passover.
Making stuffed cabbage rolls is a process. The leaves need to be boiled or frozen, then trimmed. You must create and mix a meat filling. After that, the filling is rolled up into cabbage leaves one-by-one. A sauce must be made. Then it all needs to slowly cook. When you’re all done, you certainly feel like you’ve earned it… and of course, it’s delicious. But there is an easier way.
Many years ago, my dear friend Beth introduced me to concept of unstuffed cabbage rolls. 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.
Unlike my stuffed cabbage, my unstuffed cabbage rolls are a savory preparation (with no added sweetness). This is not a Polish-style sweet and sour sauce. I prefer this dish on the savory side. If you’re looking for a more sweet and sour flavor profile, try these (which can also be made kosher for Passover): Sweet and Sour Meatballs.
I typically use a combination of ground beef and ground chicken in these unstuffed cabbage rolls, but 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. These unstuffed cabbage rolls are very filling without the rice, and lower carb, too. It’s perfect for the colder months of the year, a warming and wonderful one pot meal. This recipe is also kosher for Passover, if you use matzo meal – and gluten free if you omit the breadcrumbs entirely. Enjoy!
Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls
- 1 head of green cabbage, cored and cut into strips
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- Pinch ground cloves
- 15 ounces tomato sauce (you may substitute 3/4 cup tomato paste mixed with 1 cup of warm water for the sauce)
- 1 pound lean ground beef (you may substitute ground beef for all the meat, if desired)
- 1 pound 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 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
- 15 ounces diced tomatoes (1 can)
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon sugar (optional – omit for low carb)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon 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.
tried this recipe?
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