This lazy version for cabbage rolls is less fiddly but just as delicious, if not more! You get the same taste of the classic recipe of cabbage leaves, stuffed with meat and rice filling and baked in a creamy tomato sauce, but made considerably easier.
Serve with our fluffy mashed potatoes or sweet potato and swede mash.
Don’t you resent the notion that we have to choose between comfort food and healthy food? I am usually the one torn between something warm, creamy and delicious and a bowl of salad, especially in the winter.
Cabbage rolls are one of those nostalgic dishes, that many of us love, and despite their “stick to the bones reputation”, they happen to be quite healthy!
Cabbage is packed full of vitamins and minerals while being extremely low on calories. And when stuffed with a mixture of lean beef and rice, it turns out to be a very nutrient dense dish as well as very economical.
This recipe, for example, only uses 1 small head of cabbage, 2 lbs of extra lean beef and 1 cup of rice and it will easily feed 10 people. How is that for a low budget dinner? Eastern European cuisine is all about frugality as well as rich and delicious flavours.
As delicious the traditional cabbage rolls are, they are a major pain to roll! The old fashioned recipe is time consuming and takes a bit of skill to master.
However, that didn’t seem to deter many of your from making them. When I posted my family’s recipe you guys went crazy. It’s been re-pinned on Pinterest alone 189,000 times, which makes me very happy.
So I decided to do something even better and bring you a “lazy” version of this deliciousness, which is also a classic. Many women before us, my mother included, knew that a simpler version was necessary for busy people.
What are lazy cabbage rolls?
The concept for the lazy version is quite simple. Instead of separating a head of cabbage into leaves, and then stuffing each of them with a meat and rice filling, the cabbage gets chopped and folded into the meat mixture.
From that we shape patties, made of the same ingredients, and cook them in the tangy tomato sauce. I always add a healthy dollop of sour cream into my sauce for a creamy texture.
Cultured dairy like sour cream accomplishes two important things. Apart from making the sauce creamy and delicious, it also tenderises the meat and thickens the sauce without any flour or cornstarch.
While the traditional looking cabbage rolls are really good looking, I find the lazy version to be tastier. Why? The cabbage, which gets mixed into the patties, infuses them with moisture while baking. This creates juicy and delicious rolls!
While not exactly fast food as they do take a little bit of time to prep, they are definitely less fussy than the classic recipe. Shaping these doesn’t require any more skill than shaping meatballs. Easy!
Recipe Tips and Notes
- Apart from the main ingredients of the cabbage, meat and rice, it is important to add onions, garlic and herbs to the mixture to enhance the natural flavours. I added fresh dill and parsley but you can also use dried herbs. Go easy on dried dill as it tends to be a lot more potent than its fresh counterpart.
- You will also need to cook the onions, garlic and cabbage before mixing them with the meat and rice, which is also precooked. Cooked onions and garlic add a touch of caramelised flavour and is easier on digestion than when added raw.
- The sauce is a mix of crushed tomatoes, chicken or beef stock and full fat sour cream. I don’t recommend using low fat dairy as it tends to split the sauce.
- Season the sauce with salt, peppers and bay leaves. Simple and effective.
Storage and Reheating
This recipe makes enough to feed 10 people. If you have a small family, you can either half the recipe or freeze one half for later.
If you decided to freeze them, I would do that before baking. Pop them in a freezer bag uncooked and keep in a freezer for up to 1 month. Take them out of the freezer and defrost in your fridge overnight. Never on your counter!
Then make the sauce and follow the cooking instructions as written. Make sure the internal temperature of fully cooked cabbage rolls registers 165F/74C.
Favourite Eastern European Recipes to Try:
- Beef Stroganoff
- Ukrainian Borscht
- Potato, Bacon and Onion Vareniki (Pierogi)
- Kielbasa and Sauerkraut
Lazy Cabbage Rolls
- 200g/1 cup long grain rice
- 2 lbs ground beef extra lean 5% fat
- 2 tbsp olive oil divided
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 large onion chopped finely
- 2 cloves garlic
- 800g/1 small head of cabbage cored and sliced
- 1 tbsp flat leaf parsley fresh or dried
- 1 tbsp chopped dill
- 1 tsp salt
- 800 g/28oz canned crushed tomatoes or tomato passata
- 1 container of concentrated chicken stock by Knorr or a bullion cube
- 250ml/1 cup water
- 250ml/1 cup creme fraiche or sour cream full fat
- 2 bay leaves
- Cook rice according to package instructions and cool slightly. Or use leftover rice!
- Chop an onion finely and slice the cabbage, discard the core. Cook the onions and cabbage in 1 tbsp olive oil and butter over low heat until soft but not coloured for 7-10 minutes, add the minced garlic in the last 30 seconds before taking if off the heat.
- Preheat oven to 350F/180C. In a large bowl, combine the cooked rice, onion, cabbage, raw ground beef, dill and parsley. Add salt and pepper and mix well to combine. (Using hands works best here.)
- Shape patties the size of a golf ball but instead of round shape, make them oblong. Then brown them in 1 tbsp of olive oil. The patties should be browned, so they hold shape but don't need to be cooked all the way through. The patties are quite fragile, so take care when flipping them. Work in batches to avoid overcrowding.
- In a small saucepan combine the crushed tomatoes or passata and concentrated chicken stock with water. Heat while stirring continuously until the chicken stock dissolves into the sauce. Take off the heat and stir in creme fraiche or sour cream.
- Arrange the browned cabbage rolls in a baking dish, for which you have a lid. Pour the sauce over the lazy cabbage rolls, add bay leaves and cook covered in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, then uncover and cook for 10 minutes longer. (Alternatively you can cover with aluminium foil).
I tried this today and I will definitely make it again! It was a bit of an adventure though, hehe. I realized too late that I didn’t have chicken stock or chicken bouillon powder, so I threw in the packet from a package of vegetable flavor ramen. It worked! I was too nervous to try browning them first, so I put them in raw and added a few minutes to the bake time. I had 5 that didn’t fit in the pan, so I thought I would make them my test subjects for doing it the proper way, and I tried to brown them in a frying pan (nonstick). It mostly worked, but they did leave bits stuck on. I put a little of the sauce in the frying pan and a little extra water and put a lid on, and simmered them on the stove for 15 minutes on one side and 15 minutes on the other. Worked like a charm. The ones in the oven will make nice lunches this week. Thank you for the recipe. It’s a keeper.
Julia Frey (Vikalinka) says
I am so glad you enjoyed these, Jubie!
I was really looking forward to making this, but I have struggled to achieve the same results. It’s not just that’s the patties are fragile, there is nothing to bind them together. They barely stayed in one piece when being assembled. I tried to refrigerate half of them for 20 minutes, which did improve slightly the ability to turn them over! I basically ended up with a bolognaise type sauce, which was not what I was hoping for. Sorry I have made and enjoyed so many fantastic recipes on this site, but I really struggled with this.
Julia Frey (Vikalinka) says
Hi Debbie, I am sorry to hear you struggled with this recipe. I can troubleshoot with you to find out what exactly went wrong. My first guess would the cabbage wasn’t sliced finely enough or wasn’t cooked down enough before folding into the mix. The cabbage does need to be quite pliable in order not to break up the meatballs. The second guess would be the frying pan. I tend to go for non stick pans when I work with delicate food. That being said, you can skip the browning altogether and just bake the meatballs in the sauce if you are worried they will not hold their shape. As you can see from the process images in the post, my held up quite well, so it surprised me to hear you had issues. It is a very old recipe, that I’ve used for years and my mother and grandmother before me, so it is well tested and approved by many generations.
Sabrina Friend says
I would love your original recipe.
Here is the link to it, Sabrina. https://vikalinka.com/2014/02/07/cabbage-rolls-golubtsi/
Lazy and skinny? What could be more perfect? These look amazing. I can’t wait to try out your recipe.
Jen and Emily @ Layers of Happiness says
Ah! I love comfort food soooo much – and healthy comfort food is right up my alley. I need this in my life – especially on a bone-chilling cold day like today!
Большое спасибо за рецепт! Мы живем в Румынии, мой парень из Англии и обожает румынское блюдо сармале, а русские голубцы я ему так ни разу и не готовила (слишком энергозатратное блюдо 🙂 А ваши ленивые голубцы просто потрясающие, мы в восторге (а еще и полезные, разве так бывает?)
You are very welcome, Anastasia! I am happy you can find the recipe useful! We really love it around here. 🙂
Laura Waxman says
I’m thinking of trying this – but with coconut milk instead of the sour cream, as we are dairy free. thanks for the inspiration!!! your pictures are simply gorgeous!
Interesting! Let me know how it goes with coconut milk. 🙂
Jennifer @ Seasons and Suppers says
Love this! I don’t make cabbage rolls, because they’re so fiddly to make, so this is a great (healthy) alternative.
I make them about once a year for that exact reason, Jennifer. Most of Slavic food is very fiddly!