Slow Cooker Cabbage Rolls take a classic comfort dish and make it even more comforting. Because the slow cooker is all about comfort food. It’s a wonderful thing to come home to a house filled with mouth-watering aromas and dinner already made. I get a happy feeling just thinking about it as I go about the day. When I get home, I don’t have to think about dinner or cook it. How great is that?
Cabbage Rolls, A Big Batch Dish
Homey, humble cabbage rolls are one of those classic, big batch dishes. Big batch because, well, cabbages are big.
Stuffed cabbage dishes are featured in the cuisines of many cultures but in particular Eastern Europe.
The cabbage rolls that most Canadians are familiar with are of Ukrainian origin. They’re usually a filling of ground meat and rice, rolled up in cabbage leaves. Then you top them with tomato sauce and bake. Cabbage rolls are a delicious staple in many generations of Canadian homes.
Classic Cabbage Rolls
Cabbage roll recipes vary greatly, and many Moms and Grandmas have their own cherished recipe versions. Some recipes use bacon, ground pork, or turkey. Some versions have different vegetables and sauces.
This recipe is as basic as you can get, but it’s still delicious. You can roll these up on a Sunday, and on Monday morning, plug in the slow cooker for a hearty and satisfying dinner when you get home.
Here’s What you Need to Make This Recipe
You don’t need a lot of ingredients to make slow cooker cabbage rolls.
For the rolls:
- Cabbage, of course. You can use regular green cabbage, savoy cabbage, napa, or even red cabbage. Learn about the differences: 4 Types of Cabbages
- Ground beef or pork, or a mixture of both. Because you won’t be able to drain the fat from this recipe, lean ground meats are the ideal choice.
- Rice. Long white rice such as basmati is traditional, but you can use brown rice, barley, or really any grain if you want to experiment.
- Egg: a beaten egg helps to bind the meat without overworking it.
- Onion: I’m using a medium onion, which is about one cup diced.
- Garlic: I find that buying jars of fresh pre-minced garlic is a huge time-saver and just a good as fresh.
- Herbs: I used dried oregano and thyme for this recipe. If you want to substitute fresh herbs for the dried ones, use one tablespoon fresh for every teaspoon of dried herbs.
For the Sauce:
- Tomato Juice: Many recipes use canned tomato soup, but I prefer to limit the amount of sodium, sugar and other ingredients. Tomato juice also has a brighter, fresher flavour.
- Tomato paste: Tomato paste thickens the sauce and adds body and flavour
- Worcestershire sauce: I use a gluten-free Worcestershire sauce, but if gluten isn’t an issue, use your favourite brand. Just don’t leave it out.
- Brown sugar: Even though I do like to limit the sugar, a touch of sugar balances the acidity of the tomato sauce.
How To Soften The Cabbage Leaves For Cabbage Rolls
In order to make cabbage rolls, the cabbage leaves must be softened. .It may seem daunting, but there are three ways to do it.
If you simply freeze the whole cabbage, then allow it to thaw, the leaves will be perfectly softened. This is due to moisture released during thawing. This method is fuss-free. However, it does require planning ahead for freezing and thawing time. If you know you will be making cabbage rolls this week, put your cabbage in the freezer as soon as you bring it home from the store or market.
Blanching the cabbage in boiling water is the traditional method. It’s also the most tedious and can be hazardous. You’ll need a large pot to boil the cabbage. Use tongs to remove the outer leaves as they soften, which means tending the pot while each layer of leaves softens. There is a risk of getting splashed with boiling water, so make sure those tongs are long ones. Keep a colander suspended over a bowl, next to the stove.
Using the microwave eliminates the tedium, and does a good job of softening the cabbage leaves. For this method, you are basically steaming the cabbage. Place the cabbage in a large bowl with a few inches of water. Microwave on high for ten minutes. Turn, using forks or tongs, then microwave for another ten minutes. Once the cabbage is cool enough to handle, the leaves will be soft and easy to remove.
Some Tips For Success
If your slow cooker is not large enough to cook the cabbage rolls in a single layer, use cabbage leaves to separate the layers.
You don’t need to remove the core from the cabbage before microwaving. If you want to remove the core, it will speed up the microwave time. You will need a sharp knife and a stable surface.
If you love cabbage, you can wrap the filling in two leaves for each roll, making a double layer of cabbage.
Can You Freeze Cabbage Rolls?
Cabbage rolls are perfect for the freezer, but they should be frozen uncooked because they won’t hold their shape or texture if they are frozen cooked. To freeze them, after filling the rolls, place them on a parchment-lined or lightly oiled baking sheet in a single layer. Place in the freezer for about an hour or until they are firm. Then pack the rolls in freezer bags or air-tight freezer-safe containers.
When you want to cook them, defrost them in the fridge, prepare your sauce, and cook as per the instructions.
A couple of things to keep in mind if you want to freeze slow cooker cabbage rolls:
- If the ground meat you are using was previously frozen, it can’t be frozen again after thawing, so only freeze the cabbage rolls if you are using fresh, not previously frozen meat.
- Don’t use the freezer method to soften the cabbage if you plan to freeze the rolls.
Slow Cooker Cabbage Rolls
- 1 cabbage
- 1 lb ground beef or pork (or a combination)
- 1 onion diced
- 1 cup uncooked rice
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 large egg beaten
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 4 cups tomato juice
- 6 oz tomato paste 1 can
- 2 tbsp gluten-free Worcestershire sauce
- 4 tbsp brown sugar
- Remove the tough outer layer of leaves from the cabbage
- Put the cabbage core side down in a large microwave-safe bowl and add 1/2 cup of water
- Microwave on high for 10 minutes
- Carefully turn the cabbage and microwave for a further 10 minutes
- When the cabbage is cool enough to handle, cut around the base to loosen leaves, peeling them off the head.
- When you have 16 softened cabbage leaves of roughly the same size, set them aside while you make the filling.
- In a bowl, combine egg, ground beef, rice onion, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper.
- In another bowl, combine tomato sauce, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar.
- Cover the bottom of the slow cooker with any excess cabbage leaves
- Pour 1/2 of the sauce over the leaves in the slow cooker
- To make the rolls, put a 1/4 cup of filling down the center of each cabbage leaf.
- Fold up the sides and then roll the leaves, placing each roll seam side down in the slow cooker, until you have one layer.
- Cover with the remaining tomato sauce mixture.
- Pour the remaining sauce over the top.
- Cover and cook on low 6-8 hours