Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls, also known as lazy cabbage rolls, is a deconstructed version of the traditional Lithuanian balandeliai recipe. It has all the goodness and comfort of the original stuffed dish but requires less work!
You will love the one-pan-meal adaptation of this ultimate comfort food.
Before we deep dive into the unstuffed cabbage roll and all its glory, let's know more about the origin and variations of the traditional way of serving this dish.
It is said to have roots in the ancient Middle East and was introduced to Eastern Europe and other parts of the world as part of the trade when they migrated.
Cooked cabbage leaves are perfect wrappers for various fillings: from meat to seafood to tofu to shitake mushrooms. The rolls can be simmered, baked, or steamed and usually served with sauce.
Even the sauces vary, from using sweet and tart jams, tomato sauce, creams, and vinaigrette. There are different versions of this dish, depending on the cuisine.
📃 Why it Works
- This recipe eliminates the time and effort that goes with preparing and rolling the fillings into the cabbage.
- You will only need one pan to make this, so that is less after-meal cleanup for you!
- It's chock-full of flavors, so even the pickiest eaters love it.
- The unstuffed cabbage rolls recipe is more rookie-friendly as wrapping using cabbage leaves can be a rather daunting task.
🛒 Ingredients and Notes
The Lithuanian Balandeliai, also dubbed "little dove," includes meat fillings such as beef, lamb, or pork mixed with rice, vegetables, and seasoned with herbs and spices.
The sauce consists of tomato paste, ketchup, heavy cream, and sour cream.
⏲ Cooking Time
Less hassle and muscle-work but the same great flavors and texture that you get from the original version.
A mouthful of this dish will give you all the flavors and textures of the traditional dish in an hour from start to finish.
*Keep scrolling to get the full (printable) recipe, ingredient amounts, and more tips, or click on the "Skip to Recipe" button at the top of the page.
The meatballs, with a hint of sweet and peppery flavors from the spices, are nested in cabbage ribbons and cooked in a tangy sauce.
- Sauté the half of the onions and grated carrots until vegetables begin to soften.
- Add the cabbage and sauté, occasionally stirring, until cabbage is tender.
- Meanwhile, mix ground beef with the remainder of chopped onions, rice, egg, salt, black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and nutmeg. Shape the meat mixture into meatballs and place over cabbage.
- In a small bowl, mix the water, tomato paste, ketchup, sour cream, and heavy cream; pour over the meatballs, cover, and simmer.
If you have a picky eater who doesn't like this vegetable, you might try one of these 5 tips to make them love cabbage.
💪🏻 Healthy Options
- If you are cutting down on your carb intake, you can substitute the grain rice with quinoa. There are ready-made and packed versions of these in the market; just follow the package instruction for cooking.
- If you are looking for a leaner meat option, you can swap the beef with shredded turkey or chicken.
- Make it vegetarian by replacing the meat with either tofu or chickpeas and the likes.
You will find recipes of the same dish where it's baked in a casserole, which can also be an excellent way to enjoy it.
If you are pressed for time, you can also make this dish using an instant pot! You don't even need to precook the rice, just make sure to rinse it to get rid of the excess starch before adding it.
You will find most deconstructed cabbage rolls with ground meat not being formed into meatballs but browned into bits. This is certainly a faster but less visually appealing option. The choice is yours. 🙂
And if you opt to make this into a heartwarming soup, add broth and adjust the seasoning to your liking.
🍽 How To Serve It
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Lithuanian Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls Recipe
- cast iron skillet with a lid
For the cabbage:
- 1 head green cabbage (2-3 lbs), sliced into fine ribbons
- 2 tablespoons oil
- ½ onion, chopped
- 1 large carrot, grated
For the meatballs:
- 1 pound ground beef
- ¼ cup rice, partially cooked
- ½ onion, chopped
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
For the sauce:
- ½ cup water
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- Parsley, optional
- In a large cast-iron or a sauté pan with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and grated carrot and sauté until vegetables begin to soften.
- Add the cabbage and sauté, occasionally stirring, about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix ground beef with chopped onions, rice, egg, salt, black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and nutmeg. Shape the meat mixture into meatballs and place over cabbage.
- In a small bowl, mix the water, tomato paste, ketchup, sour cream, and heavy cream; season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour the mixture over the meatballs, cover the skillet with a lid and simmer for 45 minutes over medium-low heat, turning the meatballs halfway through cooking.
- Sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving, if desired.
- Swap the beef with shredded turkey or chicken for a leaner option.
- Substitute the rice with quinoa for lower carbs.
- Shape the meatballs as large or small as you like.
- Cast iron is oven-safe (make sure the lid is too), so you can move it from the stovetop directly into the oven. It will cook everything evenly and eliminate turning the meatballs half-way through the cooking.
- You can make these even faster in a pressure cooker.
- This cabbage dish makes great leftovers!
- Serve alone (keto-friendly) or with boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, or with crusty bread.