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This 30-minute Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls recipe is loaded with nutrition and has all the flavor of Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, but with much fewer carbs!

close up top view of unstuffed cabbage rolls in dutch oven

For the longest time, cabbage just wasn’t my thing. And to be honest, I think it was mostly because of the smell.

Growing up, if coleslaw was a side option I’d opt for anything else.

When cabbage rolls were on the menu I’d unroll them and eat the filling.

And as a kid, sauerkraut night was the worst! There was no escaping that pungency.

I’m not sure when or how it happened, but over time I grew to realize that not every recipe with cabbage was offensive.

For example, in Guinness Beef Stew the cabbage basically cooks down into the rich stew and you can’t even tell it’s there!

front view of easy unstuffed cabbage rolls in serving bowl

And then I realized that not all slaw has to have loads of mayo and sugar. You can easily make a crisp, fresh cabbage slaw with bright citrus flavor and it’s perfect on Tilapia Fish Tacos.

Or if you sauté cabbage with onion, salt, and pepper in butter, it’s pretty much a melt-in-your-mouth perfect side dish that’s made even better when you mix it into creamy mashed potatoes. (Hello, Colcannon.)

After that, a whole new world of delicious cabbage recipes opened up to me!

This deconstructed cabbage rolls recipe uses cabbage and crushed tomatoes as the base. Onion, garlic, herbs, and spices add complex savory flavor. Ground beef adds protein and richness, and helps make it a filling meal.

lazy cabbage rolls served in bowls

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

  • If you’re on a tight grocery budget, this is a good meal idea to have up your sleeve. With a base of ground beef, fresh cabbage, and canned tomatoes, it’s a very economical recipe.
  • You can easily make this dish feed more people. To stretch the meal, serve Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls with rice!
  • This recipe takes just 30 minutes to whip up, which makes it a great healthy choice for busy weeknights. It’s also lovingly called Lazy Cabbage Rolls!
  • It’s the type of dish that’s even better a day or two later once the flavors have had the chance to blend, so it’s perfect for meal prep.

The Best Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls Recipe Ingredients and Substitutions

This recipe uses minimal ingredients, and most of them are from the produce department! It’s loaded with real-food ingredients, and accented with a few simple herbs and spices.

  • Extra-virgin olive oil – We cook the cabbage down in a little bit of olive oil. You can use just about any type of oil you keep on hand; avocado oil or ghee (clarified butter) are also good options.
  • Cabbage – Use regular green cabbage here. You can use other types of cabbage, but the cooking times will change, as this recipe was developed using regular green cabbage.
  • Ground beef – Use lean ground beef for this recipe; my preference is 90% lean here.
  • Onion and garlic – These savory vegetables add depth of flavor and aroma.
  • Crushed tomatoes – Canned crushed tomatoes is the base of this dish.
  • Coconut sugar – Here we use a touch of coconut sugar to help create a balanced flavor profile. Coconut sugar is a paleo sweetener; if you want to make this dish low carb, use keto brown sugar instead. Alternatively, if keeping this dish paleo or low carb isn’t a concern, you can use regular brown sugar.
  • Salt and black pepper – These basic seasonings help make sure our meal isn’t bland.
  • Fresh thyme – I like to use fresh thyme here, but you can use about 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme instead. Or swap out the thyme for another herb, such as marjoram.
  • Smoked sweet paprika – I like to use Hungarian smoked sweet paprika if possible because I find the flavor is more intense.
  • Fresh parsley – We use a little bit of fresh parsley for a pop of green color, but this is completely optional.

Instructions

With this dish, we’re essentially make deconstructed cabbage rolls (aka Lazy Cabbage Rolls). It’s much easier than making regular Stuffed Cabbage, but still has all the same flavors.

  1. Heat a 5-quart pot over medium to medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil and the cabbage. Cook until the cabbage starts to wilt, about 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add the beef, onion, and garlic, cover the pot, and cook until the meat is browned, about 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up the meat.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes (with their juices), coconut sugar, salt, thyme, black pepper, and smoked paprika. Cover the pot and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Serve warm, garnished with parsley if desired.
close up top view of unstuffed cabbage rolls recipe served in bowl

Storage

Store leftovers covered in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Tips

  • You can swap out the ground beef for ground lamb, chicken, or turkey.
  • Try this dish with kale instead of cabbage.
  • If you have leftovers, make them into soup! To do so, simply add enough beef stock or chicken stock to cover.

Special Diet Friendly

As it’s written, this recipe is naturally gluten free, grain free, and paleo. To make it Whole30 compliant, omit the coconut sugar. And to make the low carb version, omit the brown sugar or use keto brown sugar instead.

Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls Recipe FAQs

Can I Freeze Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls?

Yes! You can freeze this recipe for up to 3 months.

The day before you want to eat it, thaw it overnight. It reheats well in a skillet on the stovetop or in a microwave-safe dish in the microwave.

What is the Best Type of Cabbage to Use?

For this recipe I like to use regular green cabbage because it’s a bit sturdier than other types, such as Savoy cabbage or Napa cabbage. That helps make sure that the end result isn’t mushy!

cabbage and beef saute aka cabbage rolls in pot

What Should I Serve with Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls?

If You Want to Keep the Meal Paleo:

For a Low Carb and Keto-Friendly Meal:

If You Don’t Have Dietary Restrictions:

How Can I Make This Into Stuffed Cabbage Casserole?

It’s easy make this into Stuffed Cabbage Casserole. To do so:

  1. Make this Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls recipe recipe as written.
  2. Prepare 1 cup of uncooked rice. You will end up with about 3 cups of cooked rice. White rice is fine, and brown rice would also be delicious!
  3. Spread the cooked rice into the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch casserole dish. Spread the cabbage mixture evenly on top of the rice. Sprinkle 1 cup of shredded cheese on top, such as mozzarella, monterey, provolone, white cheddar, or manchego.
  4. Cover the dish with foil and bake at 375F until the casserole is warm throughout and the cheese is melted, about 30 to 45 minutes. If you want to brown the cheese on top, run it under the broiler briefly.

More Dinner Recipes with Cabbage

low carb gluten free deconstructed cabbage rolls

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Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls Recipe

Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Yields: 6 servings
This 30-minute Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls recipe is loaded with nutrition and has all the flavor of Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, but with much fewer carbs!

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Ingredients
 

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium head green cabbage thinly sliced (about 7 to 8 cups sliced)
  • 1 1/2 pounds 90% lean ground beef
  • 1 large onion thinly sliced
  • 7 cloves garlic crushed
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes with juices
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons coconut sugar or light brown sugar or keto brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Minced fresh parsley for garnish (optional)

Instructions
 

  • Heat a 5-quart pot over medium to medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil and the cabbage. Cook until the cabbage starts to wilt, about 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the beef, onion, and garlic, cover the pot, and cook until the meat is browned, about 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up the meat.
  • Stir in the tomatoes (with their juices), coconut sugar, salt, thyme, black pepper, and smoked paprika. Cover the pot and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Serve warm, garnished with parsley if desired.

Notes

  • Paleo and Whole30: This recipe is paleo as written. To make it Whole30 compliant, omit the coconut sugar.
  • Low Carb Version: Use keto brown sugar instead of coconut sugar. Without the coconut sugar, this recipe has 12g net carbs per serving.

Nutrition

Calories: 347kcal | Carbohydrates: 20g | Protein: 26g | Fat: 19g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 74mg | Sodium: 1240mg | Potassium: 930mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 433IU | Vitamin C: 43mg | Calcium: 104mg | Iron: 5mg

Nutritional information is automatically calculated and should be used as an approximate.

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls, Lazy Cabbage Rolls, Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls, Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls Recipe

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Faith, author of An Edible Mosaic.
About Faith

I’m the writer, recipe developer, photographer, and food stylist behind this blog. I love finding the human connection through something we all do every day: eat! Food is a common ground that we can all relate to, and our tables tell a story. It’s my goal to inspire you to get in the kitchen, try something new, and find a favorite you didn’t know you had.

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2 Comments

  1. Aunt Gretchen says:

    Perfect timing… I have half a head of cabbage I want to use up, and this sounds yummy. Thanks, Faith :-)

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