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Instant Pot Cabbage Rolls (Unstuffed, 35 Minutes)

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.

bowl of unstuffed 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?

I more or less used my Bubbie’s (grandmother’s) cabbage roll recipe from 60 years ago, carrots and all (she swore they added sweetness and tenderness). She, of course, made a more traditional recipe, rolling the meat in cabbage and simmering them forever. A labor of love that took several hours.

What to expect

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, you really can’t tell the difference taste-wise from regular stuffed cabbage rolls.

It’s true that 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 compared to traditional cabbage rolls:

  1. The preparation is MUCH quicker  -about 5-7 minutes compared to 30+ minutes. And they taste the same. 
  2. The cooking is MUCH faster – about 35 minutes compared to 90 minutes. And they taste the same.
  3. 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 more.
  4. Freezer-friendly: Unstuffed cabbage rolls can be frozen after cooking. Regular ones don’t freeze well – they fall apart and get watery.

Ingredients – tailored to your taste

 ground beef, tomato sauce, tomato paste, garlic, onion, seasonings, Worcestershire sauce, cabbage, beef broth, carrot.

Ground beef: I use ground beef (more traditional) or ground chicken (lower fat and calories). You can also use a mixture of pork and beef or ground turkey. For a vegetarian version, try a plant-based ‘meat’ like Beyond Burger.

Cabbage: regular green cabbage or savoy cabbage will work fine.

Tomato sauce and tomato paste: I use a rich tomato sauce such as White Linen from Costco or Rao’s. If you prefer to use a 28 oz can tomatoes like San Marzano instead, I suggest increasing the tomato paste. The paste adds depth.

Seasonings: I use thyme and oregano. Some people add dill and parsley.

Broth: Beef broth works really well with ground beef and chicken broth is best with ground chicken or turkey. But any full-flavored broth will work

  • Add baby spinach at the end for color and extra nutrition. I always do this.
  • Some recipes include raisins to add sweetness. If you do, you might want to cut down on the sugar a little.
  • Add cooked rice – see options under Tips below.

Step-by-step instructions

chopped cabbage, chopped carrots and chopped onions.
Chop cabbage leaves and dice carrots and onions.
onions and browned ground beef in instant pot.
Saute ground beef, onions and garlic.
onions, carrots, cabbage and browned ground beef in instant pot.
Add cabbage, carrots, seasonings
tomato sauce and paste on top of ground beef and cabbage mixture in instant pot.
Add broth & tomato sauce on top. DON’T stir. Pressure cook.
unstuffed cabbage rolls with spinach added in instant pot.
After cooking, stir in spinach if you like.
unstuffed cabbage rolls in bowl on a plate.
Serve in a bowl like a stew or over 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:

  1. Simply serve the unstuffed cabbage rolls over white rice or
  2. Mix in cooked rice at the end after the pressure cook step.

What to serve with cabbage rolls

For a side dish other than rice, try serving this recipe with a salad, mashed potatoes, microwave green beans and, most importantly, fresh crusty bread or cheddar biscuits for dipping.

You can also add a topping to your instant pot unstuffed cabbage rolls such as sour cream or a splash of half and half for a mellower finish.

Make Ahead

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.

bowl of unstuffed cabbage rolls p

Looking for other low calorie dinners? 

This recipe for unstuffed 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. 

If you like this recipe, please leave a 5 star rating 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟in the recipe card below. And if you REALLY like it, consider a review in the comments. Thanks very much!

bowl of unstuffed cabbage rolls
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4.85 from 26 votes

Instant Pot Cabbage Rolls Unstuffed

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. 
Prep Time6 minutes
Cook Time11 minutes
Rising to pressure & release18 minutes
Total Time35 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Eastern European
Servings: 6 -8

Equipment

  • Instant Pot (I use a 6 quart)

Ingredients

  • 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

Seasonings

  • 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

Liquids

  • 3 cups Tomato sauce
  • 1 cup beef or chicken broth plus extra if too thick, particularly the next day

Instructions

  • PRESS SAUTÉ BUTTON ON INSTANT POT. Let it heat until it says HOT while you chop vegetables.
  • SAUTÉ: Add oil, then ground meat (or chicken). Sauté until browned, about 3 minutes. Add onions and garlic. Sauté another 2 minutes. Add cabbage, carrots and all seasonings. Stir well and sauté 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.

Recipe Notes

  1. Variations
    • Add baby spinach at the end for color and extra nutrition.
    • Some recipes include raisins to add sweetness. If you do, you might want to cut down on the sugar a little.
    • Add cooked rice, there are two options:
      • Simply serve the unstuffed cabbage rolls over white rice or
      • Mix in cooked rice at the end after the pressure cook step.
  2. Can you double the recipe? I would not suggest doubling the recipe if you have a 6 quart instant pot. If you have an 8 quart pot, you should be fine. 
  3. Adjustments for thickness: If too thin after cooking, select the sauté button and cook the unstuffed cabbage rolls down for a few minutes until desired thickness. Another tablespoon of tomato paste may help as well. If too thick (and it will be the next day), add a bit of water or broth. 
  4. No Instant Pot? Use the stove top instead: Sauté meat, onions and veggies as per recipe above. Add seasonings, broth and tomato sauce. Heat to a boil. Cover, lower heat to simmer and simmer the unstuffed cabbage rolls for 30-40 minutes until cabbage and carrots are tender.
  5. Make Ahead: This is a perfect make ahead recipe. It tastes even better on day 2 or more (it will keep for at least a week in the fridge). Store it in an airtight container. It also freezes well for 2-3 months. Defrost in fridge and reheat in the microwave, covered, for a few minutes, stirring in between. 
 
Nutrition values are estimates.  

Nutrition

Calories: 193kcal | Carbohydrates: 17g | Protein: 20g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 47mg | Sodium: 1181mg | Potassium: 1012mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 10g | Vitamin A: 3754IU | Vitamin C: 38mg | Calcium: 83mg | Iron: 4mg
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Recipe Rating




21 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I rarely leave comments but this dish was AMAZING! Like a few others, I veganized it with Abbott fake beef. Everything else I kept the same. I think my meat sub didn’t have enough fat/oil to release so I got a burn warning on the instant pot but I added water and restarted it. No problem! The flavors in this were totally delicious and my husband and I ate the entire pot between us with a baguette. I topped it with vegan sour cream and plenty of dill. Thank you for the wonderful recipe!

    1. So glad you liked my grandmother’s recipe! Ok, she didn’t use an instant pot or fake beef 🙂 Good to hear that veganizing the recipe worked well. Is veganizing a word? Thanks very much for sharing your tweaks Sonia. Much appreciated.

  2. 5 stars
    EXCELLENT!!!
    Instead of 3 cup tomato sauce, I used 2 cans Muir Glen organic fire-roasted tomatoes, no salt added. I’m a vegan so I used Beyond Meat crumbles.
    I also substituted maple syrup for the sugar and my homemade vegetable broth. The carrots and spinach were a great addition and will probably use more next time.
    This recipe is definitely a KEEPER.
    Thank ladies.

  3. 5 stars
    This was delicious- a hit with my whole “anti-casserole” family! Growing up in a Ukrainian family, our cabbage rolls never contained meat of any kind so to me it’s more beef & cabbage casserole than a cabbage roll dish but very tasty. I will definitely make this again. The spinach is a great addition, I wouldn’t have thought to add that on my own.

    1. Great to hear about the whole family liking the recipe. There are so many variations of cabbage rolls – happy to hear you tried ours (as I mentioned my grandmother also came from Ukraine).

  4. I was also wondering about adding rice. How much and how would you modify the recipe if rice was added! I’ve been making a casserole for year that’s very similar and was wanting to modify for IP. It has 1/2 cup rice and 1 can of tomato soup with can of water. Thanks in advance for your help!

    1. Hi Debbie, In the recipe, I suggest stirring in cooked rice at the end if you like your cabbage rolls with rice. I haven’t tested the recipe with uncooked rice so I am a bit hesitant to give you advice. From what I’ve read in other recipes, though, you can try stirring in 1 cup of rice with the cabbage. Then add the liquids without stirring – but you will need more liquid for the rice, say about an extra 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups of broth. Another option – perhaps and safer one that is tested – is to check out other recipes that incorporate rice. Up to you. Just be very careful when releasing the pressure as the instant pot will be very full. Best of luck. If you try it, I’d love to hear how it works out with the rice.

  5. 5 stars
    I’ve never had cabbage rolls before so I have nothing to compare to, but I was absolutely in love with this recipe. It was so flavorful and comforting. I didn’t add the spinach because I only have frozen, but I wish I had just for the color.

  6. 4 stars
    Made this today, very good recipe, more like a stew. My cabbage rolls normally have rice in them, will try adding some next time along with some liquid for them. Tasty though.

    1. Yes it is like a stew. Rice is a tradition with many cabbage roll eaters so hope you like your next try with it. Thanks for leaving a comment.

  7. 4 stars
    I made this vegan – using veg crumbles and vegetarian broth.
    Very Delicious and super easy.
    A different spin on the sweet/ sour variation I’m used to.