Slow Cooker Cabbage Rolls take a classic comfort dish and make it even better. You get to come home to a delicious, nutritious dinner without having to cook. These stuffed cabbage rolls are hearty and filling and always a hit!
About Cabbage Rolls
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. Ukrainian cabbage rolls are a delicious staple in many generations of Canadian homes.
Classic Cabbage Rolls
Stuffed cabbage recipes vary greatly, and many Moms and Grandmas have their own cherished cabbage roll 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! Here they are:
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: Buying jars of fresh pre-minced garlic is a huge time-saver and just as 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 Make It, Step by Step
- Combine the filling ingredients in a bowl
- Mix well
- Spoon filling into the center of each cabbage leaf
- Roll the leaves around the filling
- Fold the ends inside before wrapping the cabbage rolls completely.
- Mix together the sauce ingredients and add a layer of sauce, along with any extra cabbage, to the slow cooker.
- Place cabbage rolls, seam side down in a single layer.
- Cover the rolls with the remaining sauce.
Tip: How To Soften The Cabbage Leaves
In order to make cabbage rolls, the cabbage leaves must be softened. It may seem daunting, but there are three easy ways to do it.
If you simply freeze the whole cabbage, then allow it to thaw, the leaves will be perfectly softened. This is because of moisture released during thawing. This method is fuss-free. However, it requires planning for freezing and thawing time. If you know you will make 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.
You can also peel the leaves from the cabbage before blanching them. This is less tedious and less messy, but more time-consuming. If you do it this way, blanche the leaves in batches for three minutes.
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.
- 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. However, if you do remove the core, it will speed up the microwave time. You will need a sharp knife and a stable surface.
- If you love cabbage and have extra, 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 you should freeze them uncooked because they won't hold their shape or texture if you freeze them after cooking. 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 uncooked 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.
The rolls can be tough if the cabbage leaves didn't get softened enough before cooking, or if the rolls didn't get cooked long enough. When pre-softening the cabbage leaves, they should be pliable enough to roll around the filling, but not limp.
You can keep your cooked cabbage rolls in the fridge for 3-4 days.
We like these slow cooker cabbage rolls as a meal by themselves, but you can also serve them with side dishes, like Mashed Potatoes, or Sautéed Green Beans. And you can never go wrong with a salad. These are perfect: Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad or Classic Potato Salad. And it's always great to have something to mop up that yummy sauce. We like Soda Bread.
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 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 4 cups tomato juice
- 6 oz tomato paste 1 can
- 2 tablespoon gluten-free Worcestershire sauce
- 4 tablespoon 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 ½ 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, garlic, onion, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper.
- In another bowl, combine tomato juice, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar.
- Cover the bottom of the slow cooker with any excess cabbage leaves
- Pour ½ of the sauce over the leaves in the slow cooker
- To make the rolls, put a ¼ 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