Slow Cooker Cabbage Rolls

Slow Cooker Cabbage Rolls

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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? Two Slow Cooker Cabbage Rolls on a white plate with a fork on a grey table.

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.

Three cabbage rolls with tomato sauce on an embossed white plate with a fork.

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. 

The ingredients for making cabbage rolls on a wooden board.

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.

Ingredients for the sauce for cabbage rolls in glass bowls on a wooden board.

 

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.

Freeze 

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.

Blanche

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.

Microwave

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. 

A half eaten plate of stuffed cabbage with a fork.

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.

 

 

A close up of cabbage rolls covered in tomato sauce on a plate.

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: 

  1. 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. 
  2. Don’t use the freezer method to soften the cabbage if you plan to freeze the rolls.

A top down view of two cabbage rolls on a plate.

Want more cabbage in the slow cooker? Try, Slow Cooker Red Cabbage & Apples, or Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Cabbage.

A plate of food on a table

Slow Cooker Cabbage Rolls

Colleen
These Cabbage Rolls, stuffed with lean ground beef and rice, and topped with tomato sauce, are easy and delicious in the slow cooker.
3.57 from 16 votes
Prep Time 1 hr
Cook Time 6 hrs
Total Time 7 hrs
Course Main Course
Cuisine European
Servings 8 servings
Calories 270 kcal

Equipment

Ingredients
 
 

  • 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

Instructions
 

  • 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

Notes

Make ahead: You can make the cabbage rolls the day before, keep them in the fridge overnight and transfer them to the slow cooker in the morning.
Leftovers: These cabbage rolls will keep in the fridge for 2-3 days and can be reheated in the microwave
Of course, the cooking time here is passive because we're slow cooking, but all slow cookers are different, so cook time can vary depending on your cooker.
Use the remainder of your cabbage in soups or stews, and you can save the cabbage cooking water for soup, too.
This recipe is gluten-free if you use a gluten-free Worcestershire sauce

Nutrition

Serving: 2gCalories: 270kcalCarbohydrates: 43gProtein: 18gFat: 4gSaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 56mgSodium: 582mgPotassium: 979mgFiber: 5gSugar: 17gVitamin A: 1012IUVitamin C: 70mgCalcium: 96mgIron: 4mg
Keyword cabbage, cabbage rolls, crockpot, crockpot recipes, Ukrainian food
Tried this recipe? What changes did you make?Let us know how it was!

 

 

28 thoughts on “Slow Cooker Cabbage Rolls

  1. I have made these half a dozen times they are so delicious!!! The only thing I have changed is I use whatever organic ingredients I can find! I am an organic girl. Still comes out delish!!!

    1. Hi Irene! I’m so happy to hear this because these are a favourite at my house. And I always use organic when I can, too! Thanks so much for dropping a note, & Happy New Year!

    1. Hi Suzanne! The addition of brown sugar will mellow out the taste of the tomato sauce so that cabbage can shine. Leave it out if that makes you more comfortable! Cheers.

  2. Hi! Any variations like if I would like to cook this in the oven instead? Also, I’m a vegetarian so I was planning on using beyond meat ‘hamburger’ instead. (Not the crumbles but the stuff that looks like a pound of hamburger). Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Jenny! Yes cook them in the oven @ 350 for 1.5 – 2 hours. Beyond meat will work fine. I would love to hear how they turn out for you. (I’ll use your experience for my recipe notes) Thanks so much and good luck with your cabbage rolls,

  3. I am absolutely loving the sound of these! It’s been a very long time since I’ve had cabbage rolls – I suddenly have a craving…..!

    1. I really want to try this recipe but I do have a question do you cook the beef first or leave raw and mix the rice and other ingredients in?

      1. Hi Kristy, no, you don’t have to pre cook the ground beef, just mix it raw with the other ingredients, as the slow cooker will do the cooking for you. Enjoy!

  4. I’ve heard of cabbage rolls before but never actually tried. They look scrumptious! I really like the filling, they look very similar to Italian cannelloni 🙂

  5. I am a total sucker for cabbage rolls, though I have yet to try making them at home. Bookmarking this to make once the weather gets cooler and I start craving these sorts of saucy, stick-to-your ribs meals!

  6. I used to hate Cabbage rolls, I don’t know why! The concept of meat wrapped in a leaf is classic brilliance. Awesome post!

  7. I saw your post for Easy Slow Cooker Cabbage Rolls on Instagram and the first thing I thought was “I must make this!” It is such a comfort food to me. I am looking forward to trying your version. Thank you for the inspiration, Colleen!

    1. Hi Denise, I’m with you on that! Cabbage Rolls are a true comfort food. I love making this easy version, and it’s great to bring out the slow cooker once again. 🙂

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