Kitchen Stewardship | A Baby Steps Approach to Balanced Nutrition

Slow Cooker Recipe: Stuffed Cabbage "Un-Rolls"

March 6th, 2014 · 30 Comments · Recipes

Slow Cooker Cabbage Un-Rolls Recipe

I remember back when I cooked a decent amount from scratch but didn’t know “real food” from “boxed and canned food,” I used to think of stuffed pasta shells as a “fancy meal” because of all the steps – boiling the noodles, making the sauce, mixing up the filling and taking the time to fill each shell. Lasagna was up there on the “high maintenance” list as well, with all those layers.

In our family’s current real food landscape (making nearly everything from scratch, from homemade mayo and crackers to yogurt and dressings) and with the number of mouths we  have to fill (five), it takes me as long to chop vegetables for ANY given meal as it used to take to assemble two whole pans of stuffed shells – so my perspective on what makes a meal “a lot of work” has changed significantly.

But that doesn’t mean I’m looking for opportunities to spend even a second longer than I need to in the kitchen. On the contrary, I relish taking shortcuts as much as possible, and those meals that have four stages and three pots?

Forget it. I don’t want to mess with all that!

That’s why I am particularly excited to share this recipe with you today, because I’ve saved time on at least four different steps. Check THAT off the to-do list, baby!

The Story of the Cabbage Rolls

Slow Cooker Cabbage Un-Rolls

A year ago I was excited to try my hand at “stuffed cabbage rolls” for St. Patrick’s Day. They’re kind of a traditional thing that I knew my husband, kids and in-laws would all enjoy. Ground beef and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves and smothered in tomato sauce – what’s not to like? I set to work scanning the Internet for recipes to pull the best parts of many together into my own.

After steaming a cabbage, making a homemade sauce, and mixing up raw ground beef, cooked rice and seasonings, I still had to form each roll individually (while learning that 10 minutes probably wasn’t long enough to steam a whole head of cabbage) and arrange them in a casserole dish. One full hour in the oven wasn’t quite long enough to move the cabbage out of the “crunchy” category, so although the meal ended up rather tasty, I was less than thrilled with the overall experience. (But don’t worry, I fixed it right up!)

Thinking Outside the Roll

Slow Cooker Cabbage Un-Rolls Recipe

I’m always looking for faster, easier ways to get the same taste – in my eBook Better Than a Box I have a whole section teaching how to make many complicated meals into one-pot wonders, and I love doing it.

With this rolled-up meal, I brainstormed first about breaking the rolls out of their packaging – could the same taste be attained by layering sauce, meat and cabbage more like a lasagna instead of spending all that time rolling them up?

Then I wondered more about the crunchy cabbage – wouldn’t it be easier to jam the whole deal into a crockpot, which would certainly fully cook the cabbage over a span of 8 hours?

It is, and it does.

I present to you the super simple, slow cooker version of “Stuffed Cabbage Rolls,” which in good conscience I must call “Stuffed Cabbage Un-Rolls” because I skipped the rolling part.

I just layered it — sauce, raw cabbage, then raw meat mixture:

Cabbage Rolls in the Crockpot Simple

…Repeated, in a slow cooker. Simple, simple, simple.

Crockpot Cabbage Rolls Recipe

On the final test run, it took me 17 minutes to put together from start to finish, including putting away supplies, two trips to the basement to get things, refilling my dried onion container and running to computer in another room at least twice to take notes.

I’m not always the most efficient cook…so if I can do it in 17 minutes, you can do it in less!

(Then I almost forgot to turn slow cooker on for the 4-hour test! Gah!! Don’t forget that part; it won’t turn out.) Winking smileSlow Cooker Cabbage Un-Rolls

5.0 from 2 reviews
Slow Cooker Stuffed Cabbage "Un-Rolls"
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Note: Ingredients often use affiliate links to Amazon or Tropical Traditions, but obviously you should shop for the best price and try to keep your dollars local when you can. Sometimes it's hard to source tomatoes in glass jars, for example.
Author:
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Wash and core the cabbage. Cut into quarters and pull apart roughly into chunks about 4 leaves thick (see process photo above).
  2. In a large bowl, mix the ground meat with the rice, paprika, fennel, ½ teaspoon thyme, ½ teaspoon salt, and allspice plus half of each of the garlic and onions. Mix gently; feel free to use your hands.
  3. In a 4-cup or larger glass measuring cup, measure the tomato sauce and mix with the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, ½ tsp. salt, molasses, ½ teaspoon thyme, oregano, and cayenne along with the remaining onion and garlic.
  4. In the bottom of a 5-quart or larger slow cooker (greasing it is optional), pour a thin layer of sauce. Layer half the cabbage, half the meat, and half the sauce, then repeat. This pretty well filled my slow cooker, but if you have a large crock, you could use a larger cabbage. It looks like a lot but when it cooks down it practically seems to disappear.
  5. Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
  6. Serve hot with optional toppings: sour cream, shredded cheese, sliced green onion.
Notes
* To have cooked brown rice on hand, I recommend simply planning stir fry or another dish with plain rice earlier in the week. No extra pots for this meal! Cooked rice can also be frozen, so you can make extra anytime and always have some on hand.

* Feel free to cut the molasses if you don't like added sweeteners; its only job is to bring out the flavor of the tomatoes.

* Grain-free adaptation: Omit the rice, and just before serving, make fresh "cauli-rice" (food processed cauliflower sauteed in oil). Serve the cabbage un-roll mixture over cauli-rice.

* I choose to used dried garlic and onion in most of my slow cooker meals because it streamlines the prep so very much, and that's worth a tiny real food compromise to me. There's nothing nutritionally inferior to dried garlic and onion except for losing a tiny bit of the immune-boosting compounds, which may be cooked out of there in 8 hours anyway...

* This is a pretty flavorful meal. If you prefer a more basic, bland recipe, you may want to start with half or ¾ of the herbs and spices. My kids ate it without a word about the cabbage in there OR the tomato sauce from the one who decided she doesn't like spaghetti sauce...so I'd say it's just perfect. But that's just our family. ;)

* If you don't have all the right kinds of tomatoes on hand, feel free to substitute one for the other - more tomato sauce instead of diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and ½-1 cup water instead of the sauce, crushed tomatoes instead of sauce and diced, etc. As long as you have enough liquid in the cooker so that things don't dry out, it will be a forgiving recipe.

* If you can't fit your entire cabbage in the slow cooker, here are some great ideas for what to do with the rest of it.

Recipe inspired by the seasonings at cooks.com, food.com, and recipe.com.

Slow Cooker Cabbage Un-Rolls

The slow cooker method is far superior to the old way of cabbage rolling because it saves so much time! You get to avoid:

  1. Steaming the cabbage.
  2. Cooking sauce.
  3. Rolling cabbage rolls.
  4. Plus most slow cooker recipes that call for beef and onion direct you to brown the beef first and maybe add the onion. Why bother? The meat gets cooked just fine and I can’t imagine taking the extra time and dirtying an extra pot to brown it first. This is a totally simple meal!

Now I’m wondering if we could just mix all the spices, meat, and sauce ingredients together! It may not make a difference once it all gets mashed up in the slow cooker anyway…

Slow Cooker Stuffed Cabbage Un-Rolls

If you just love the rolls (or don’t like the “well-cooked” flavor that happens with slow cookers) you could go the other route. Scroll down past the contest to see the original method…

The Rolling Way

If you really love the idea of little rolls and can’t let that go, here’s how I made it “casserole style” last year.

1. Prepare the cabbage.

Wash and cut the core out of the cabbage. In a large pot, steam cabbage for 10 minutes. Run under water briefly to cool enough to touch, then begin to peel the leaves off one by one. When you reach the point where they are no longer soft, put back into the steamer another 5 minutes, repeating as necessary. Cool again and take apart all the leaves. (I only did ten minutes total and it wasn’t enough):

Steaming cabbage2. Make the beef filling.

Crush garlic. Melt fat and cook the onions 5-10 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently (if you have the time, you can use the same pot you just steamed the cabbage in once you’ve removed it). Add the garlic for the last minute. Put half the garlic and onions into a bowl with the ground meat, rice, paprika, fennel, ½ teaspoon thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and allspice. Mix gently; feel free to use your hands.

old Beef and Cabbage Roll Casserole (29) (475x356)3. Make the tomato sauce.

In the skillet with the other half of the onions and garlic, add the tomato sauce, paste, and diced tomatoes, 1/2 tsp. salt, molasses, ½ teaspoon thyme, oregano, and cayenne. Bring to a low boil and reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes or more.

old Beef and Cabbage Roll Casserole (33) (475x356)4. Make the rolls.

Place 2-3 Tbs. meat mix on each cabbage leaf, fold over, and roll up. Put a layer of sauce on the bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish and place a single layer of rolls on top of that.

old Beef and Cabbage Roll Casserole (38) (475x356)

5. Cover with the remaining sauce, and bake at 350F for at least an hour and 15 minutes, maybe more!

Watch for the edges to dry out though; you may even want to make a bit more sauce, even though this amount is ample for the slow cooker version. This is a photo of one of the most moist rolls, and you can still see a little brown singe on the edges (and it needed a longer cooking time!):

Beef and Cabbage Roll Casserole

I also think you could roll up the cabbage rolls and arrange in a slow cooker to have the best of both worlds, the cute rolls and the easy cooking time. You would still need to steam the cabbage, but I think you could get away with not pre-cooking the sauce since it will cook for a long time in the crockpot.

Slow Cooker Recipe Contest

This recipe is entered in the March recipe contest as described below:

Plucked from the recipe boxes, files, kitchens, and memories of hometown cooks across America, Better Recipes is the most complete collection of homespun family favorites. These recipes are the tried-and-true favorites from kitchens just like yours – shared by cooks just like you – that have made impressions at potlucks, picnics, and parties all across the country. They’re the recipes shared over coffee, neighbors swap over the fence, and mothers pass down to daughters. And time and time again, they’re the dishes that inspire the request, “Can I have that recipe?”

For more information visit the Better Recipes website : BetterRecipes.com

Better Recipes Contest

BetterRecipes is launching seven monthly recipe contests each with a different category, which is great slow cooker recipes for March. If you have one, enter the Better Recipes’ Best Blogger Recipe Ever: Slow Cooker Contest and you could win one of two cash prizes, readers’ choice and Editor’s pick. Each of the winners will receive $1,000 in cash and one will win a full page feature in a Better Homes & Gardens publication, plus the Grand Prize chosen from all monthly winners includes a trip to the Better Homes & Gardens test kitchen and meeting the editors. Join the Better Recipes Contest here.
Follow: BetterRecipes on Facebook, @BetterRecipes on Twitter, or on Pinterest.

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Kitchen Stewardship is dedicated to balancing God’s gifts of time, health, earth and money.  If you feel called to such a mission, read more at Mission, Method, and Mary and Martha Moments.

Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post to Amazon and Tropical Traditions from which I will earn some commission if you make a purchase. See my full disclosure statement here.

This sponsorship is brought to you by BetterRecipes.com with whom we have partnered for this promotion.

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30 Comments so far ↓

  • Katie

    We call this Poor Man’s Halupki, when you deconstruct a regular cabbage roll. So much easier to make when you’re dealing with larger quantities. Another thing you can do is layer everything in a pan like lasagna and bake it.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Katie,
    Cool! When you bake it, do you have to steam the cabbage first? I wondered about making it in a pot on the stove with enough liquid in the bottom to soften everything since I had such bum luck getting the cabbage soft in the oven. Thanks! :) Katie

    Katie Reply:

    You can do it a couple of ways: either 1) shred the cabbage first and cook it gently using whatever method you prefer, then put all the ingredients together (easier!) or 2) bring a halfway filled pot of salted water to a boil. Core a smallish cabbage and put it in pot for a few minutes. Take it out, remove outer cooked leaves, put the rest back in the pot; repeat until all the cabbage is done. Follow the second method if you want whole leaves to work with. (I also use this method for stuffed cabbage, using larger heads.)

  • Deanne

    Core your cabbage. Place the whole head in the freezer. Thaw out, pull apart and use just as if you steamed the leaves. With a little for thought you can have traditional cabbage rolls without the steaming. :)

  • BeccaM

    I made cabbage rolls once, and never made them again–so time consuming (by the way, my recipe called for blanching the cabbage, which helped them cook in the oven, but added an extra step)

    The only reason for browning the meat first that I can think of, is for added flavor. Browning meat and onions adds a lot of yummy flavor :-) But skipping this step saves time for sure.

    casey Reply:

    I have found with some recipes that if you use ‘regular’ beef and don’t brown and drain it first you end up with a lot of grease. Especially in soup recipes where the grease floats to the top. However, I dont’ know if that would be an issue with this one.

  • Amanda

    Ooooh, this looks so good! I am definitely making this SOON with a cauli-rice. Beautiful photos, too!! Makes me want to eat it right now :)

  • Raia

    This is great! I’m all about saving time in the kitchen. :)

  • Julie

    Back in 2010 you hosted a healthy meals carnival; as a result of that linkup, I found a recipe for UnStuffed Cabbage Rolls (at Songberries) which could be done in the oven or the slower cooker. Her recipe is VERY SIMILAR to this one. (So similar that, if this were school, there would be a referral for academic dishonesty).

    http://songberries.blogspot.com/2009/09/works-for-me-wednesday-and-un-stuffed.html

    My family loves the songberries recipe. I hope that you will give appropriate credit to songberries

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Julie,
    I’m so glad you enjoyed a recipe from a carnival so long ago and I’m always tickled to bump into people who have been reading for so long.

    In the world of food, I’m not sure there will be anything completely new created anymore that doesn’t seem reminiscent of something else…that said, you should know that (1) recipes are copyrighted differently than other pieces of writing. Only the method description can be attributed to one author, and even that is questionable, only if it’s creative. Also (2) I did not use the songberries recipe as inspiration. I cited the 3 recipes I did use when I embarked on this project last year. And finally (3) the recipes are actually so dissimilar that no cooking academic board would call my recipe into question. The only ingredients that are the same are probably in every stuffed or unstuffed cabbage roll recipe: beef, cabbage, rice, onion, tomato sauce, salt, pepper. All of my seasonings are unique, we prepared the cabbage differently, my recipe has no brown sugar or vinegar, her main flavors, and the method, even in the slow cooker, is completely different. It would be pompous of me to think that I’m the first person in the entire world who thought to make cabbage rolls flat or in a slow cooker. I’m okay with the fact that someone else has thought of this before. I am a bit hurt and disappointed that a longtime reader thought I was being consciously dishonest and stealing someone else’s recipe.

    I may have to remove the link above because my computer received two virus messages as it redirected to songberries’ new site, but I assure you, I am not doing anything sneaky.

    Julie Reply:

    Copyright (the right to make and distribute copies) is completely different from passing off another person’s ideas or work as your own (plagiarism). I am not talking about copyright, I am talking attribution.

    When a blogger comments that cabbage in a crockpot is a great idea, then creates a cabbage in a crockpot recipe – it is time for inquiry. Yes, your sweetener is different with additional spices – we all adapt recipes to the likes/needs of our own families and philosophies.

    I am “slightly hurt and disappointed” that the comment was taken as an accusation of intentional dishonestly, instead of an editorial point of courtesy.

    Erase the link. Delete the whole comment thread if you like – it makes no difference to me.

    Pat Robinson Reply:

    As bloggers and internet readers we are exposed to thousands and thousands of *ideas* every day.

    The whole idea of using a stove to cook food is attributed to whom? The idea of “stuffing cabbage” is attributed to whom? The idea of using spices in food is attributed to whom?

    Katie’s recipe is developed (as described above) way more extensively than the 4 sentence “recipe” that was linked. That is not plagiarism; it is creativity.

    Here are thousands of articles, recipes and posts about cooking cabbage in a crock pot predating the linked post: https://www.google.com/search?q=cabbage+crock+pot&client=firefox-a&hs=Gkf&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&channel=sb&sa=X&ei=6HAcU_7aEKvt0wHdnYGwCQ&ved=0CBsQpwUoBg&source=lnt&tbs=cdr%3A1%2Ccd_min%3A3%2F1%2F2005%2Ccd_max%3A3%2F1%2F2009&tbm

    Pat

    P.S. My mom cooked cabbage rolls in a crock-pot when I was a child in the 70′s.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Julie,
    That comment was made in 2010, and honestly, I was surprised to see my own words there when I visited from your link yesterday! I did not remember reading that particular recipe in the midst of visiting all the entries in my carnival 4 years ago. I’m sure you don’t remember every text of every email you read or received 4 years ago either. Again, courtesy, editorial accuracy, honesty and integrity all taken into account, I did not utilize the songberries recipe to develop mine, and neither she nor I were the first to ever put cabbage and beef in a crockpot.
    Best, Katie

  • Karen

    Thank you for this recipe! I have not made cabbage rolls since before my babies were born, since they are so much work (the cabbage rolls AND the kids Lol). My husband loves them, though. Will be trying this.

  • V. Gingerich

    I live in Eastern Europe, where cabbage rolls are well nigh a staple. They take time I don’t always have, though, and I sometimes have trouble keeping the little rascals rolled up. This looks like something I’ll be trying. Thank you!

  • Michaeleen

    I can’t wait to try this method Katie! And I’m grateful to be a subscriber here because you offer a great PRINT button; I could not get it to print when I voted for you at BH&G! Keep up the great work.

  • Michelle

    I have this recipe ready to go in the slow cooker – can’t wait to taste it when it’s done! Thanks, Katie, for another nutritious, easy recipe!

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Can’t wait to hear Michelle, hope you love it! :) Katie

  • Ellen Bovee

    To save even more time making “lazy man’s cabbage rolls” as my kids used to call them, I never precooked my long-grain rice. I just browned the meat with the onion and drained the fat when necessary, then mixed in the rice. I don’t layer anything either and it tastes wonderful..baked in the oven or the crockpot.

  • Rachel

    This sounds yummy! Crockpot recipes are my favorite because when I come home from work dinner is already waiting.

    BTW, i wanted to comment to tell you how much prettier your pictures have gotten this year. They were always “fine” but now they really make me drool. :)

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Thank you so much Rachel! I’ve really been working hard on them, so I love the positive feedback!! :) Katie

  • Julie@teachinggoodeaters

    This summer my mother-in-law taught me how to make my husbands favorite cabbage rolls (i.e. “pigs in a blanket”)… I often make them “unrolled,” because the rolling is too much work!! Since you’ve mentioned sauerkraut lately, I wanted to let you know that her “secret” ingredient is sauerkraut… she puts a small layer between the sauce and the cabbage both at the bottom and the top of the dish— it really gives it a great tang! (You might want to leave out the molasses and allspice if you try it though— seems like maybe it would be a different flavor profile?)

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Super cool, Julie, thanks! :) Katie

  • Erin

    I made this – as you described – for my family tonight. We all loved it! I did find that it took me longer than 17 minutes to prep (more like 47 minutes), but maybe I’m just slow. I diced the onion and peeled and crushed the garlic … did that add the extra half hour? Who knows! :-) Anyway, thank you for another wonderful recipe. We will add this to our rotation.

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Erin,
    Maybe the second time around it will be faster as you’re familiar with the recipe? Dried onion and minced garlic do save time though! So glad you liked the final result, woo hoo! :) Katie

  • Trudy

    Cook hamburger, drain.
    Chop cabbage into bite size.
    Use everything you put into cabbage rolls into pot. Seasonings
    Cover with beef and chicken broth.

    Best soup ever.

  • Sarah

    I wonder about doing them sort of like lettuce wraps? Perhaps cook the filling in the crockpot and steaming the cabbage separately and filling them at the table? Or would that not work so well?

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Sarah,
    Hmmm, it might work. You’d have to do the work of steaming the cabbage anyway, which takes some time and patience to get all the leaves flexible. At that point, I’d probably just cook the filling on the stovetop since you’re working in the kitchen and it’s not “ready when you are” convenient, if that makes sense. If you ever try it, I’d love to hear how it goes so I can update the post with the option if it’s a success! :) Katie

  • Cheryl

    Quick question… Am I correct, you don’t have to steam the cabbage, if doing the un-rolled version of your cabbage roll? Thank you…

    Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship Reply:

    Correct! Just throw it in!

Welcome!  Meet Katie.

I embrace butter. I make homemade yogurt. I eat traditional real food – plants and animals that God created, not products of plants where food scientists work. Here at Kitchen Stewardship, I share how I strive to be a good steward of my family's nutrition, the environment, and our budget, all without spending every second in the kitchen. Learn more about the mission of KS here.

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