If you love cabbage rolls but don't have the time for all the prep, these delicious unstuffed cabbage rolls are your ticket!  Easy. Tasty. Meal-prep friendly. Freezer friendly. All the things!

You'll love the combination of brown rice, seasoned ground beef and cabbage in a tangy red sauce.  Make it stovetop or in the slow cooker. Read through for tips and step-by-step tutorial.

Unstuffed cabbage rolls in a large pot

My mom makes the best cabbage rolls. She can literally roll those things in no time, and they turn out perfectly every single time!

But if you're like me and you love cabbage rolls but don't want to deal with the hassle, then this lazy but equally tasty version is for you.

My unstuffed cabbage rolls is a time saver option that skips all the fuss in favor of a hearty one-pot dinner with cooked brown rice, seasoned ground beef (or turkey), torn cabbage pieces and a tangy, flavor-packed tomato sauce. 

What I love about this unstuffed cabbage rolls recipe? 

  • Easy
  • Healthy
  • Freezer friendly
  • Make it stovetop or  in the slow cooker
  • And the flavors will surprise your taste buds in the best way possible!

Mediterranean-Style Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls served in bowl with drizzle of olive oil and more fresh herbs on top

Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls Ingredients

  • Green Cabbage- Cut up into chunks
  • Meat- You can use lean ground beef, ground turkey, or even ground chicken if you like.
  • Brown Rice- 1 ½ cups of cooked brown rice (you can use white rice if you prefer)
  • Aromatics-onions, garlic, fresh parsley and dill (if you don't have dill, parsley alone is fine).
  • Spices- ground cumin and  a good pinch of allspice bring warmth and depth to the rice and cabbage. You can also use oregano if you have some.
  • Canned Tomatoes- a combination of tomato sauce and diced tomatoes for the perfect flavor and texture

How to Make Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls

 Step 1: Prepare the CabbageI like to core and cut my green cabbage into large chunks (they don't need to be of equal size or neat in any way.) Then cook the chopped cabbage in boiling water until nice and tender (it'll turn a brighter green.) Dump water out and leave the cabbage in a colander to drain.

Chopped cabbage leaves cooking in boiling water

Step 2: Brown the Meat 

Wipe the same pot dry and let's cook the meat. You can use lean ground beef or turkey. I like to start with a little extra virgin olive oil to cook the onions until golden, then add the meat and garlic. Cook until fully browned (drain any fat). Season with a little salt and pepper.

Ground beef, sauteed with onions and garlic

Step 3: Put everything together in the pot 

To the cooked beef, add the cabbage, cooked brown rice, and loads of parsley and dill. Add spices, salt and pepper. Stir to combine everything

To make unstuffed cabbage rolls, a large pot with ground beef, cooked brown rice, cooked cabbage leaves, herbs and fresh herbs

Now add tomatoes (diced and sauce) and some water to help everything come together. Boil, then lower heat to simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Diced tomato, tomato sauce and water are added to the large pot of unstuffed cabbage rolls ingredients

Step 4: Serve

Transfer unstuffed cabbage rolls to serving bowls. I like a drizzle of Private Reserve EVOO and maybe a little crushed red pepper flakes on top.

To me, the beauty of one-pot recipes like this one is that you really don't need much else for dinner, but a big fresh salad is always great to add.

Make Ahead Tips

If you want to get a head start on the unstuffed cabbage, you can work one night in advance.

1. Prep and boil the cabbage, then drain well and store in tight-lid glass container.

2. Brown the meat. Cool completely and store in the fridge in another container

3. Cook your brown rice (according to package). Again, cool and store in the fridge

The next day, you can throw everything in your Dutch oven or pot for a quick dinner.

One bowl of unstuffed cabbage rolls

Make it in the Slow Cooker

Corckpot unstuffed cabbage rolls could not be easier. You can throw in the cabbage pieces without boiling and you can use uncooked brown rice. Here is how:

1. Brown the ground beef according to the recipe with onions and garlic.

2. Lightly oil the bottom of a large slow cooker. Add in cabbage pieces (uncooked), ground beef, ½ cup uncooked brown rice, herbs, spices, diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Add 2 ¼ cups water and stir everything together.

3. Set the slow cooker on high for 3 to 4 hours or low for 6 to 7 hours.

Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls served in bowls. Large pot and a small dish or hot pepper flakes on the side

Vegetarian Option

If you're wondering about a meat alternative for your vegan family and friends, there is a way!

Swap the meat out for a plant-based protein. Try 2 cups of canned beans or chickpeas instead.

Storing and Freezing Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls

In my book, anything you can make ahead is a winner. And these unstuffed cabbage rolls are even better the next day once all the flavors had a chance to meld.

Cool completely before storing. Store in the fridge for 3 days or so in a tight-lid shallow container.

Can you freeze unstuffed cabbage rolls? Absolutely!  Once cooled, divide unstuffed cabbage rolls into freezer safe containers. Freeze for later use. Thaw overnight in the fridge.

To reheat, set stovetop to medium heat. Add a little water and heat stirring occasionally  until warmed through.


Need more hearty prepare-ahead meals? You'll love this collection of easy bean recipes. And here are some soups and stews to try!




4.88 from 33 votes

Mediterranean-Style Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls

The Mediterranean Dish
One Pot Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls, Mediterranean-Style
BEST unstaffed cabbage rolls recipe, prepared Mediterranean-style with brown rice and lean ground beef. Fresh herbs and warm spices bring it together! Gluten Free
Prep – 10 minutes
Cook – 28 minutes


  • 1 small head cabbage cored and chopped into large pieces
  • Boiling Water
  • Private Reserve Greek extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 lb lean ground beef or ground turkey
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 ½ cup/nearly 600 g already cooked brown rice
  • ½ cup/12.5 g chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • ½ cup/6 g chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tsp/1.90 g ground allspice
  • 1 tsp/2 g ground cumin
  • 1 15- oz/425.243 g can diced tomatoes
  • 1 15- oz/425.243 g can tomato sauce


  • In a large pot or Dutch oven like this one, boil plenty of water. Add cabbage and cook for 5 to 7 minutes until tender (cabbage will turn brighter in color.) Discard water and transfer cooked cabbage to a colander to drain.
  • Wipe empty pot and return to heat. Add 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and  heat on medium until shimmering but not smoking. Add onions and cook, stirring regularly, for 3 to 4 minutes then add garlic and ground beef (or turkey.) Break the meat apart using a wooden spoon. Raise heat to medium-high. Cook until meat is fully browned, stirring occasionally. Carefully drain any fat, and return to  heat. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Now add cooked cabbage, cooked brown rice, chopped herbs, and spices. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine.
  • Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and  1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat. Cover and let simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Transfer to serving bowls and drizzle a bit more extra virgin olive oil.  Enjoy!


  • Cook's Tip: For the brown rice, you need to use 1 ½ cups of already cooked brown rice. Consult your package instructions for raw amount and cooking instructions. Cook the brown rice in advance of using in this recipe.
  • Vegan Option: You can make a vegan version of this unstuffed cabbage recipe. Swap the meat out for 2 cups cooked chickpeas (canned chickpeas are fine here) and follow recipe as written!
  • Prepare Ahead Tip: If you want to get a head start on the unstuffed cabbage, you can work one night in advance. Prep and boil the cabbage, then drain well and store in tight-lid glass container. You can also brown the meat and cook your brown rice (according to package) refrigerate each in separate glass containers for one night.
  • Slow-Cooker Version: Making unstuffed cabbage rolls is the slow cooker can be even easier. You can throw in the cabbage pieces without boiling and you can use uncooked brown rice. Brown the ground beef according to the recipe with onions and garlic.  Lightly oil the bottom of a large slow cooker. Add in cabbage pieces (uncooked), ground beef, ½ cup uncooked brown rice, herbs, spices, diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Season with a little kosher salt and pepper. Add 2 ¼ cups water and stir everything together. Set the slow cooker on high for 3 to 4 hours or low for 6 to 7 hours.
  • Tips for Storing Leftovers: Refrigerate leftovers in shallow airtight glass containers for 3 days. You can also freeze leftovers in portions for use as needed. Thaw overnight in the fridge, heat stovetop over medium heat with a little more liquid added, stir regularly till warmed through.
  • Recommended for this Recipe: Private Reserve Greek extra virgin olive oil (from organically grown and processed Koroneiki olives.) And from our all-natural spice collection: ground allspice and ground cumin.
  • SAVE! Try our Greek Olive Oil Bundle! Create your own 6-pack or 3-pack from our spice collection, or try the Ultimate Spice Bundle.
Tried this recipe?

*This post originally appeared on The Mediterranean Dish in 2019 and has been updated with new information and media for readers' benefit. Enjoy!

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I'm Suzy; born and bred right on the shores of the Mediterranean. I'm all about easy, healthy recipes with big Mediterranean flavors. Three values guide my cooking: eat with the seasons; use whole foods; and above all, share! So happy you're here...
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  1. Do you just use regular tomato sauce? Or is it more like a Passata sauce? Thanks in advance! So keen to try.

  2. Great recipe! I made a few changes. First, I didn't have brown rice, so I substituted 1 cup uncooked white rice. I increased the cooking time to 40 min. I also added chicken broth instead of 1 cup of water since I needed to use up what I had open in my refrigerator. I also added 1/2 cup red wine. The recipe turned out fantastic. Even my partner, who reluctantly eats meat commented on how flavorful and fantastic it was. Suzy's recipes are always winners 🙂

  3. This was scrumptious :). My husband and 4 out of 5 children loved it. I used 1/2 cup dry coarse bulgur wheat in place of the rice. I just threw it in raw and it cooked with everything wonderfully. NRC

  4. Hi there -
    I'm so excited to have found your site - and can't wait to try some of your recipes 🙂
    I would like to make the Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls however we are a primarily grain free household - so I would be omitting the rice - it doesn't look like it would have a huge impact - just looking for your opinion


    1. Hi Teri, you could omit the rice and just cook the cabbage with the rest of the ingredients for a grain-free option. Enjoy!

  5. great recipe did not wanted to roll it, so i decided to have your recipe, they all love it serve with a crusty bread, so easy ,love it I will be making it again, Thank you.

  6. This is easily the best unstuffed cabbage roll recipe I have tried (out of 3). I doubled the parsley and added 1 tsp cinnamon and 2 tsp. thyme. It froze well too.

  7. I just discovered your site and am really excited to try this recipe. I will probably use my slow cooker, so I wanted to clarify, will the fresh herbs lose their flavor if they cook all day on low or do I add them at the end? I have read through the comments and am confused on how much liquid is necessary to cook the rice in the slow cooker. Thanks so much for your time and consider. Make it a great day!

    1. Hi Tricia, the better option is the stove-top. But if you need to use your slow cooker, it should still be fine. As written in the notes, add 1 1/2 cups more liquid (that is in addition to what is in the recipe.)

  8. Just made this tonight and everybody loved it. Made it in the crockpot. I have to let you know that I had yet to find a stuffed cabbage that I actually liked. Turns I prefer savory VS sweet, and yours was what I was looking for. I have also made 4 other of your recipes and they were all enjoyed.

  9. If I'm making this in a crock pot, exactly how much liquid should I add? Should it be just 11/2 cups more than the instructions for the rice? Also I assume the rice should be the uncooked amount resulting in the amount the recipe calls for.

    1. Hi there, I would still cook the rice first per package instructions then use the same amount of cooking liquid for the crock pot.

  10. Made the stovetop version opting for ground turkey...and oh my gosh this is delicious!! I have made actual cabbage rolls with various meats including the Sicilian Itailan family recipe and this unstuffed recipe rivals my Sicily roots!

  11. I apologize, shortly after I posted the above comment my original comment from several days ago all of a sudden appeared in the comment section. It was not there when I looked for it an hour or so ago. But I am still disappointed that you didn’t reply to my question.

    1. Hello, Lydia. I'd love to be able to answer every comment and question the very moment it is posted here, but unfortunately, it is not possible for me. Comments are very important, and I try to answer them personally as soon as I am able. But as you may be aware, I spend a lot of time on the various aspects of this site, including recipe development and photography and many many more behind the scenes tasks in order to make recipes an articles available free of charge to all my readers. I hope this explains.

    1. Great, Priscilla. In my experience, glass containers with a tight lid are a good way to store food so that the flavors are well-preserved. It's really up to you if you prefer something else to store.

  12. I will probably change to five stars after I make this recipe. I did have another recipe for unstuffed cabbage rolls and it is OK but I was unhappy with the lack of flavor/spices. And that is the reason I want to make this recipe because I believe with the fresh herbs and spices is going to make it so much better. I only have one question before I make this, why are you pre-cooking the cabbage? Once you combine everything, you say to cook 20 to 25 minutes. Seems to me in my experience with cooking cabbage, if you just add the raw chopped cabbage at that point and cook for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, that will cook the cabbage. It doesn’t take that long to cook cabbage and you would probably not need to add additional water as cooking the cabbage with the rest of the ingredients will draw the water out of the cabbage. Cabbage does release water when it’s cooked. But it just seems to me like the cabbage would get overcooked by cooking it twice. Am I wrong in thinking that it would be better to just add the raw chopped cabbage when you add all the rest of the ingredients and cook until the cabbage is tender? or is there a different reason that you are cooking the cabbage first?

    1. Hello, Lydia. Thanks for your thoughtful question. In my experience, this recipe is best when you have boiled the cabbage briefly first...it's meant to be sweet and tender, and the boiling is only a short step. But if you'd like to try it as you described with raw cabbage, it may very well work for you. Enjoy!

      1. Thanks for responding. I just wanted to ask before I tryed it in case there was some other reason that the pre-cooking of the cabbage was necessary. I absolutely love cabbage but I don’t like it when it’s cooked to death and I suspect if I just add it with all of the other ingredients and give it 30 minutes it will probably cook just fine along with everything else. May be a little like your slow cooker method only this will cook a bit faster. I will let you know how it turns out. And thanks for such a great recipe I’m looking forward to trying the fresh herbs and spices in this dish.

      2. Wanted to let you know how it turned out not pre-cooking the cabbage. I chopped my cabbage probably smaller than you did and I threw it in with the ground meat onions and garlic. Sautéed the cabbage with that mixture for about five minutes or so. Then followed the rest of your recipe and I let it simmer for about 30 minutes. I did use one cup of vegetable stock instead of water. And I have to say I really love the combination of fresh herbs and warm spices added to this dish. I have made on unstuffed cabbage recipe before and it was missing flavor. This is really great and I thank you. The only thing I might do different when I make it again is to use less rice. One and a half cups of raw brown rice cooked makes about 3 cups of cooked rice and that’s a lot of rice. Which was fine but I would like less rice and more cabbage to be honest, just a preference. I did assume when you said one and a half cups of brown rice cooked that you meant one and a half cups of raw brown rice cooked which like I said makes about 3 cups cooked. If I assumed incorrectly here, let me know. I did love this recipe and thank you.

      3. Thanks, Lydia. The recipe specifies 1 1/2 cups already cooked brown rice (so the amount is measured after it's already been cooked according to package instructions.)

      4. Thanks Suzy! My mistake, I read it wrong. And that makes perfect sense now. I just added a little extra stock to it and it was absolutely delicious. I will know better next time. Appreciate your patience.

  13. Yet another hit in my family! I love how this is the least time consuming "cabbage roll" I have ever made. The only mistake was that after boiling the cabbage I thought that there was too much for the remaining ratio of ingredients so I didn't put all of it back for the second cooking portion and it really boiled down. Keep the full head of cabbage!

    1. Awesome, Laura! And thanks for sharing your experience. Yes, you do need the entire cabbage here 🙂

  14. I love this shortcut! I'm not very good at rolling them either so this is the perfect way to get all of the flavor without the work.