If you’re looking for an easy, delicious meal, these slow cooker cabbage rolls from registered dietician Kristen Carli fit the bill. Cabbage rolls, also sometimes called stuffed cabbage, are a classic comfort food found in Eastern and Central European cuisine. In Lithuania, they’re called balandeliai, while in Poland, they’re known as golumpki. In Ukraine, you might enjoy a steaming plate of holubtsi, which literally translates into English as "little pigeons."
But just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a cabbage roll by any other name is still pretty delicious. The quintessential cabbage roll is a soft, cooked cabbage leaf wrapped around a meat filling and topped with a tomato-based sauce. This recipe saves you the hours of simmering and roasting found in traditional recipes by using a slow cooker. With only twenty minutes of prep time and four hours in the slow cooker, this could be an easy weeknight dinner or a Sunday night meal prep staple.
Gather your ingredients
You’ll need a head of green cabbage, one tablespoon of olive oil, one half of a diced yellow onion, and one teaspoon of minced garlic. You’ll also need half a cup of white rice, one egg, and one pound of ground beef. If you don’t eat beef, Carli gives you the green light to use another source of protein, saying, "This recipe could be made with any other ground meat."
In terms of seasoning, you’ll need salt, black pepper, brown sugar, Italian seasoning, and white vinegar. Carli also recommends adding some red pepper flakes if you’d like to add some heat. Finally, you’ll need one 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes and once 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes. And that’s it!
Start cooking on the stove
Place the head of cabbage in a large pot of boiling water. You’re not going to use the entire head of cabbage, but you do have to put the whole thing in the pot. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, and then remove the cabbage from the pot and set it aside. In a small sauce pan, bring water to a boil and add rice. Cook the rice for only five minutes, then drain and set aside. This partially cooks the rice in the husk, a process also known as parboiling. Heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook for about five minutes or until the onion is translucent.
Build the cabbage rolls
Combine the garlic and onion mixture with the meat, parboiled rice, egg, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl, and stir together thoroughly. If you want to add red pepper flakes, add them to the meat mixture now. Carefully remove eight of the outer leaves of the cabbage. If the leaves tear a little, don’t stress. Fill each cabbage leaf with the meat and rice mixture, roll it up like a burrito, and place it with the seam facing down in a six-quart slow-cooker.
"As far as amount of filling per roll, it depends on the size of your cabbage leaf," Carli says. "Be sure not to overstuff, or they will fall apart."
Make the sauce and turn on the slow cooker
Now that you’ve assembled your cabbage rolls, all that’s left to do is cover them in sauce and cook them slowly to perfection. Combine the diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar, and Italian seasoning in a small bowl. Mix together to combine, and pour over the cabbage rolls. Turn the slow cooker on high for four hours. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you can definitely still make this recipe. "You absolutely could use a Dutch oven for this recipe," Carli says.
Serve and store your cabbage rolls
After four hours of cooking in the slow cooker on high, your cabbage rolls should be ready to eat! Make sure to keep an eye on the time and an eye on your cabbage rolls as you approach the four-hour mark — it is possible to overcook things in a slow cooker. As for serving suggestions, Carli recommends a side of rice and vegetables. The cabbage rolls should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge and should be eaten within three to four days.
- 1 head of green cabbage
- ½ cup white rice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ yellow onion, diced
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- Add the head of cabbage to a large pot of boiling water. Cover and allow to cook for about 10 minutes. Remove the head of cabbage from the pot and set it aside.
- Boil water in a small sauce pan and add the rice. Cook for about 5 minutes. Drain the parboiled rice and set aside.
- Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, the diced onion, and the minced garlic to a small skillet, and cook over medium heat. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.
- In a medium mixing bowl, add the onion and garlic mixture, beef, parboiled rice, egg, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine.
- Remove the outer leaves of the head of cabbage. Carefully remove 8 large cabbage leaves. Don’t worry if they tear slightly.
- Fill each cabbage leaf with the beef and rice mixture, and then roll up the cabbage leaf like a burrito, closing it at both ends. Place the cabbage rolls seam-side down in a 6-quart slow cooker.
- In a medium bowl, add diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, brown sugar, Italian seasoning, and vinegar. Stir to combine, and pour over the cabbage rolls.
- Cook in the slow cooker on high for 4 hours.
- Serve and enjoy!