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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.

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?

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:

  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 it

Other than rice, try serving this recipe with a side salad, mashed potatoes, chunky applesauce and most importantly, fresh bread.

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.

  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.
  4. 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

instant pot cabbage rolls ingredients
Ingredients: ground beef, tomato sauce, tomato paste, garlic, onion, seasonings, Worcestershire sauce, cabbage, beef broth, carrot.
chopped cabbage, carrots, onions
Chop cabbage leaves and dice carrots and onions.
bowl of unstuffed cabbage rolls 5
Serve in a bowl like a stew or over rice.
bowl of unstuffed cabbage rolls p

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.

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.

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. 

bowl of unstuffed cabbage rolls
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4.64 from 11 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 mins
Cook Time11 mins
Rising to pressure & release18 mins
Total Time35 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Eastern European
Servings: 6 -8
Author: Cheryl

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 I used Costco White Linen Marinara sauce
  • 1 cup beef or chicken broth plus extra if too thick, particularly the next day

Instructions

  • 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.

Notes

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.
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. 
Adjustments for thickness: If too thin after cooking, select the sauté button and cook the 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. 
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.
 
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
Tried this recipe?We’d love you to rate it above under ‘rate this recipe’ or in the comment section below. Thanks!

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13 Comments

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.