Unstuffed Cabbage Meatballs is an easy, family friendly weeknight dinner that takes delicious but time-consuming stuffed cabbage rolls and turns them into juicy meatballs baked in flavorful tomato and cabbage sauce, no stuffing required!
Cabbage rolls (gołąbki) are a Polish classic that everyone knows and loves but it requires pre-boiling the cabbage, making sure the cabbage leaves stay whole and then stuffing and wrapping the rolls with delicious meat and rice filling. In other words: it takes time and some skill to make these right.
Growing up Polish, gołąbki was a staple at our house but because they’re so time-consuming to make, my busy mom didn’t make them too often. When she did though, she’d make enough for an army and I never minded eating them for dinner for a couple days straight because they are SO good.
Though I love the traditional stuffed cabbage rolls, I’m always looking for ways to simplify complicated dishes without losing the flavor. Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls in this recipe are essentially meatballs made with brown rice and ground pork that are dropped raw into delicious tomato sauce made with onions and chopped up cabbage and baked until bubbly perfection.
WHAT YOU WILL NEED
Ground meat: for an authentic Polish flavor I recommend ground pork but you can also use ground beef or turkey, if you prefer.
Brown rice: you will need already cooked rice to make the meatballs. Though regular white rice will work and is more traditional, brown rice is a healthier, whole grain option. Make sure not to overcook the rice as it will still be baked in the meatballs.
Egg: used to bind the meatballs. You can also use a flax or chia egg instead.
Green cabbage: pick a fresh head of cabbage with green leaves. Green color usually means that the cabbage is fresh and crisp.
Canned tomatoes and tomato sauce: use good quality canned tomato products. You can use diced or petite diced tomatoes. If all you have is whole canned tomatoes, chop them up.
Onion: yellow or white onion will work best.
Broth: used to thin out the sauce a bit and to make sure the meatballs stay juicy and moist. You can use beef, chicken or vegetable broth.
Parsley leaves: to add a bright fresh flavor to the meatballs.
Marjoram: this sweet and slightly woodsy tasting herb is typical for many Polish dishes. If you don’t have marjoram, you can substitute it for oregano.
HOW TO MAKE UNSTUFFED CABBAGE MEATBALLS
Step 1: Heat the oven up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and get a 9×13 casserole dish ready.
Step 2: Sauté onion and cabbage in a little bit of oil until softened in a deep skillet with a heavy bottom or a dutch oven.
Step 3: Make the sauce. Add chopped canned tomatoes, tomato sauce and broth, and cook together for a couple minutes.
Step 4: Make the meatballs. In a large bowl mix together raw ground meat, cooked brown rice, an egg, paprika, marjoram, crushed fresh garlic, salt and pepper and mix with your fingers until combined. Don’t overmix! Using a cookie scoop, drop the meat and rice mixture balls onto a tray or a plate and roll into meatballs the size of a golf ball. Wetting your fingers with water makes rolling easier.
Step 5: Assemble the dish. Pour half of the cabbage tomato sauce in a 9×13 casserole dish. Place the raw meatballs in the sauce in one layer, top with remaining sauce and cover with tin foil.
Step 5: Bake covered in preheated oven for 40 minutes. Uncover, bake 10-15 more minutes and serve hot!
STORING, FREEZING & REHEATING TIPS
Unstuffed Cabbage Meatballs are a great option for meal prep. Just bake it, cool slightly, divide between airtight containers and store in the fridge for up to 5 days. I recommend about 4 meatballs per container. To reheat, take the lid off and pop in the microwave for a minute or 2 to warm it up.
To freeze, assemble the sauce and raw meatballs in the casserole dish and you have 2 options – cover tightly with a lid or aluminum foil and freeze unbaked, or bake first, let cool completely, cover and freeze. When ready to serve, take the dish out of the freezer and let it thaw overnight. If raw, bake in the oven according to the recipe, and if you froze it already cooked, reduce the baking time to 20-25 minutes until warmed through and bubbly.
SUBSTITUTIONS & SPECIAL DIETS
- This recipe uses brown rice because it’s whole grain and high in fiber but you can swap it for white rice, if you want.
- Ground pork is what is traditionally used in Polish gołąbki, but use whatever ground meat you like: beef, turkey, chicken or bison will all work.
- For a paleo/ whole30/ keto/ low-carb version, you can skip the rice all together and use more meat in the meatballs. They will also be delicious!
- Unstuffed cabbage rolls are naturally gluten-free.
- If you don’t have or like marjoram, use oregano instead. It will change the taste profile a little bit (more Greek than Polish) but will still come out delicious.
- Instead of fresh parsley leaves, you can use dried parsley though for best results I recommend using fresh herbs.
If you try these Unstuffed Cabbage Meatballs recipe, be sure to leave me a comment and give this recipe a rating. I would love to hear from you and see how it turned out for you! You can also share and tag me on Instagram!
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More Easy Healthy Dinner Ideas:Print
Unstuffed Cabbage Meatballs is an easy, family friendly weeknight dinner that takes a delicious but time-consuming dish and turns it into delicious meatballs baked in flavorful tomato and cabbage sauce, no stuffing required!
1.5 lb ground lean pork (or beef or turkey)
1.5 cups cooked brown rice
1 yellow or white onion, large, sliced into half or quarter circles
1 large garlic clove, crushed or minced
1 28oz can of diced tomatoes (or 2 x 14oz cans)
1 head small to medium green cabbage, chopped
1 8oz can tomato sauce
½ cup broth (beef, chicken or vegetable)
¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
¼ tsp paprika
1/8 tsp black pepper
1 tsp dry marjoram
1 tsp salt
- Heat the oven up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and get a 9×13 casserole dish ready.
- Sauté onion in oil in a deep skillet with a heavy bottom or a dutch oven for about 2 minutes, then add chopped cabbage and keep cooking until softened, about 5-7 more minutes.
- Add diced canned tomatoes, tomato sauce and broth, and cook together on medium heat for 5 minutes.
- Make the meatballs. In a large bowl mix together raw ground meat, cooked brown rice, the egg, marjoram, garlic, paprika, salt and pepper and mix with your fingers until combined. Don’t overmix!
- Using a medium cookie scoop, drop the meat and rice mixture balls onto a tray or a plate and roll into meatballs the size of a golf ball with wet fingers.
- Assemble the casserole. Pour half of the cabbage tomato sauce in a 9×13 casserole dish. Place the raw meatballs in the sauce in one layer, top with remaining sauce and cover with tin foil.
- Bake covered in preheated oven for 40 minutes or until bubbly. Uncover, bake 10-15 more minutes and serve hot!
To make 1.5 cups of cooked brown rice you will need half a cup of dry brown rice.
- Category: dinner
- Cuisine: Polish
Keywords: cabbage, cabbage rolls, pork, unstuffed cabbage rolls, golabki, Polish meatballs and cabbage