These unstuffed Instant Pot cabbage rolls taste exactly like my grandmother’s without all the work! They’re a breeze to make in about a third of the time. And just delish.
Call them lazy cabbage rolls.
Cabbage rolls are a comfort food from Eastern Europe. Each country or ethnicity makes them a little different. The Spruce Eats has a wonderful post that includes 19 different ethnic cabbage roll recipes. Who knew?
You can see what unstuffed means from the pictures. There’s no pre-cooking and rolling of cabbage. You basically cook all the ingredients together in one pot. Like a stew. If you close your eyes to eat it, you really can’t tell the difference taste-wise from regular stuffed cabbage rolls.
I more or less used my Bubbie’s cabbage roll recipe from 60 years ago, carrots and all (she swore they added sweetness and tenderness). I added some beef broth and extra seasoning. That’s about it.
She, of course, made a more traditional recipe, rolling meat in cabbage and simmering them forever. A labor of love that took several hours.
Cabbage rolls with and without rice
Our recipe originates in the Ukraine where my grandmother was born and doesn’t include rice like many do. Bonus – a low carb meal.
If rice is important to your cabbage roll experience, no problem. You have two options:
- Simply serve the unstuffed cabbage rolls over white rice or
- Mix in cooked rice at the end after the pressure cook step.
What to serve with it
Why make unstuffed cabbage rolls vs traditional cabbage rolls?
It’s true, the process won’t take you back to the old country and they don’t look like cabbage rolls, but there are some big advantages and they are much less labor intensive. I think my Bubbie would approve of this evolution.
- The preparation is MUCH quicker -about 5-7 minutes compared to 30 minutes. And they taste the same.
- The cooking is MUCH faster – about 35 minutes compared to 90 minutes. And they taste the same.
- Shortcut: If you’re feeling lazy, buy pre-shredded cabbage (for coleslaw) instead of cutting up a whole cabbage. And they still taste the same, but the cabbage may disintegrate.
- Freezer-friendly: Unstuffed cabbage rolls can be frozen after cooking. Regular ones don’t freeze well – they fall apart and get watery.
How to make instant pot unstuffed cabbage rolls
Tailor To Your Taste
My goal was to replicate the taste of my Bubbie’s recipe which I loved. But here’s a few variations and substitutions you could try to create a recipe of your own.
- Ground beef variations: I use ground beef (more traditional) or dark meat ground chicken (lower fat and calories). You can also use a mixture of pork and beef or ground turkey.
- Seasoning options: I use thyme and oregano. Some add dill and parsley.
- Cabbage: regular green cabbage or savoy cabbage will work fine.
- Best liquids to use: I use a rich tomato sauce (White Linen from Costco) and beef broth (with ground beef) or chicken broth (if I’m using ground chicken). Any broth will work. I suggest a full flavored broth. If you prefer to use a 28 oz can tomatoes like San Marzano instead, I suggest increasing the tomato paste.
- Optional add-ins:
- I add diced carrots as my grandmother did, but feel free to leave them out. I also like to add baby spinach at the end for color and extra nutrition.
- Some recipes include raisins to add sweetness. If you do, perhaps cut down on the sugar.
- Add cooked rice at the end of the pressure cooking part of the recipe. Or, if you want to include rice without the carbs, try adding cauliflower rice after pressure cooking. It will only take a few minutes to cook on the Saute function.
- Toppings: Top your unstuffed cabbage rolls with a dollop of sour cream. Or add a bit of sweet cream to the recipe at the end.
- Vegetarian version: try using a plant based ‘meat’ like Beyond Burger.
If there is ever an easy one-pot meal to make ahead, this is it. It tastes even better on day 2, day 3, day 4 and day 5. It will keep for at least a week in the fridge. (We eat a cup every day for lunch!). It also freezes well for 2-3 months.
Looking for other low calorie dinners?
This recipe for stuffed cabbage rolls is very low calorie despite its rich satisfying flavors. If you’re looking for other lower calorie meals, check out our 31 delicious meals under 400 calories. Lots of variety. Light does not mean sacrifice.
Instant Pot Cabbage Rolls Unstuffed
- Instant Pot (I use a 6 quart)
- 2 teaspoon oil
- 1 pound lean ground beef (or ground chicken or turkey or plant-based meat substitute)
- 1 medium onion, yellow or sweet (about 2 1/2-3 cups chopped)
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (3 tsp)
- 5 cups cabbage chopped (about a 2 lb cabbage)
- 1 medium carrot, diced small to ~1/4 inch
- 3 cups fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped (optional) to be added after pressure cooking
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or more to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 3 cups Tomato sauce I used Costco White Linen Marinara sauce
- 1 cup beef or chicken broth plus extra if too thick, particularly the next day
- TURN ON SAUTÉ BUTTON ON INSTANT POT. Let it heat until it says HOT while you chop vegetables.
- SAUTE: Add oil, then ground meat (or chicken). Saute until browned, about 3 minutes. Add onions and garlic. Saute another 2 minutes. Add cabbage, carrots and all seasonings. Stir well and saute 1 minute. Press CANCEL.
- ADD LIQUIDS: Add broth and tomato sauce on top of vegetables and meat. DO NOT STIR.
- SET PRESSURE COOKER: Place lid on top of instant pot and set valve to 'SEALING', then set PRESSURE OR MANUAL button on High for 5 minutes (use + or – buttons). The Instant Pot will take about 10 minutes to come to pressure depending on size of pot before it starts the 5 minute cooking process. When finished (it will beep), do an 8 minute natural release. Then quick release the remaining pressure by turning valve to VENT using a spoon (be careful as the steam may be quite strong from the pressure). When button drops, you can open the lid.
- FINISH AND SERVE: Give the cabbage and beef mixture a good stir. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add baby spinach if desired and stir 1 minute until wilted. The unstuffed cabbage rolls will thicken upon standing and even more in the fridge. Serve in bowls (over white or brown rice if you like) with a dollop of sour cream or with crusty warm bread for dipping.