Favorite fall recipe: Slow-cooker {lazy} cabbage rolls with brown rice & herbs

Scarcely two weeks ago I wrote of clutching tightly to summer, but over the past few days, I’ve relinquished my grip, and admitted to spotting yellow-tinged leaves among the trees lining our lane.

At the markets, I can feel my excitement growing over the pallets laden with magnificent new squash of all varieties, and may have been caught snapping iPhone photos of a particularly attractive stalk of brussels sprouts. Obviously, fall is getting into my head.

I’ve trading shorts for leggings, wrapped an orange scarf around my neck, and donned my favorite mid-season gray jacket. Thus bundled yesterday, I joined the family for a Sunday walk along the river where the boys dashed here and there among the tall oaks, stuffing their pockets with fallen acorns and collecting brilliant yellow poplar leaves. The cool sting of the wind on my temples was revitalizing; a much needed stimulant for my groggy mind.

The combination of a week of rainy weather and an dramatic political sequence of events, not to mention kissing both my boys off to school, has left me tired and melancholy, looking to comfort food for a lift. The daily table d’hôte of summer salads and berrylicious desserts has been swiftly replaced with roasted root vegetables and bowls of steaming, creamy polenta.

To help pick me up further last week, I pulverized cinnamon and cardamom seed together to add to brown rice and coconut milk for a rich, spiced rice pudding that we ate by the bowlfuls, topped with the last peaches of the season. Then pale green heads of cabbage, firm to the touch and frugal to the pocketbook, caught my eye at the market. One handsome noggin made its way into my kitchen, and, not long after, into my slow-cooker for a simple, and utterly satisfying dinner.

Cabbage Roll Shortcuts

Who has time to roll two dozen cabbage rolls? Certainly not me. I was looking for the hearty comfort flavors of my mother’s cabbage rolls, but with a quicker preparation time. Layering cabbage-tomato sauce-rice/beef-tomato sauce-cabbage together in the slow-cooker took all of five minutes – less, even, and yielded all of the familiar flavors and textures we love about cabbage rolls.

I also speculated this was another dish that would benefit from the long gentle cooking time of the slow-cooker, and I was right. It gives the cabbage a chance to break down, the rice to absorb flavors, and the ground beef to soak up all the delicious juices.

Just because we skipped the rolling time in favor of a casserole format for these lazy cabbage rolls doesn’t mean they are entirely without work, but if you roll up your sleeves, crank up the oven, and bring your sharpest knife, I promise that you will have this dish started in the slow cooker in twenty minutes. Here are a few shortcuts to help you meet that time goal.

  • Use precooked (leftover) rice. Make a big batch of my no-fail baked rice pilaf (omitting the spices, keeping the onion) the day before and you’ll be one step ahead for the lazy cabbage rolls.
  • Combine the meat mixture in advance and let it marinate in your refrigerator for up to one day.
  • Prepare the sweet & sour tomato sauce in advance.
  • Roast the cabbage instead of boiling. Okay, maybe this doesn’t save on time, but it adds a lot of flavor to the dish.

Slow-cooker {lazy} cabbage rolls with brown rice & herbs

This party of cabbage + beef + rice, topped with a tangy tomato sauce makes a complete meal. All you need to add is the sour cream on top.
4.78 from 9 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Dishes
Keyword: Slow-Cooker
slow cooker: 4 hours
Servings: 8 people
Calories: 165kcal
Author: Aimee


  • 1/2 head green cabbage
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 medium onion diced or grated
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice

For the sauce:

  • 1 28-oz can whole tomatoes or diced tomatoes
  • 1 Tablespoon cane sugar or brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 small clove garlic chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  • Preheat oven to 400F and lightly oil a sheet pan. Slice the cabbage into wedges, 1/2 inch thick at the widest part. You should have about 14 wedges. Arrange cabbage on the baking tray; don't worry if a few pieces overlap each other. Season with salt and pepper, place in the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, combine beef, egg, parsley, salt, pepper, onion and cooked rice in a large bowl. Using your hands, mix the ingredients together until combined, but do not over mix.
  • In a blender combine tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, garlic and salt. Blend until smooth.
  • Once the cabbage is roasted you are now ready to assemble the lazy cabbage rolls in the slow-cooker. Begin with approximately 1 cup sauce: just pour it in and spread it around.
  • Add a bottom layer of cabbage wedges, about 7, then top with all of the beef/rice mixture. Pat it down a little, but do not pack it. Add another cup or so of sauce on top.
  • Arrange the second and final layer of roasted cabbage on top of the sauce. Add any remaining sauce around the cabbage. Top with sage leaves or more parsley, if desired.
  • Place lid on slow-cooker and set to low. Cook for 6 hours. Serve hot with plenty of sour cream as a garnish.


Calories: 165kcal | Carbohydrates: 17g | Protein: 14g | Fat: 3g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 58mg | Sodium: 639mg | Potassium: 360mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 245IU | Vitamin C: 23.9mg | Calcium: 40mg | Iron: 2.1mg

You’ll notice there are no images of the finished dish, and that is mainly because after 6 long, slow hours of cooking, it turns into a reddish-brown bubbling mass that is entirely unsuitable for it’s own photo shoot. Who even heard of a photogenic cabbage roll anyway?

What is a one-pot comfort food you like to serve up in the fall?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. I’m sorry, I couldn’t pay attention to the cabbage recipe, I was too distracted by the “cinnamon”, “cardamon” and “coconut milk”…I would love a recipe for your rice pudding, that sounds amazing!

  2. Yum! I have always wanted to make cabbage rolls, but was put off by the time commitment. This sounds like a perfect compromise! As for me, I am big on chili in the slow cooker.

  3. I love this idea! Last week we had a few one-pot meals and the family favourite (by far) was a baked Tuscan rice and beans with kale and Parmesan.

  4. This looks so good. Pinning it.

  5. My husband is lebanese and his family makes cabbage rolls boiled in hot water with lemon juice, dried mint and tons of garlic…then served up with hummus and labneh (plain yogurt) instead of tomato sauce of any kind…is there a way to do this without the tomato sauce? I know he would love to have cabbage rolls more often but it is a lot of work.

  6. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies says

    5 stars
    I tend to make carne guisada in the crock pot as soon as the weather turns cooler. It’s a Mexican beef stew that stays thick enough to eat in tacos, for breakfast or dinner. It’s heavy on cumin, garlic, onion and red pepper. My husband will tell you it’s his favorite hangover food. I’ll just tell you it’s my one of my favorite foods.

    My dad *adores* cabbage rolls, but my mom never makes them for him because she hates the rolling process. I’m going to email them this post, because I’m betting Mom will be willing to do this your way, and Dad will get his first taste of cabbage rolls since his mom passed.

  7. As if the word “slow cooker” in the title of a recipe isn’t enough to make my heart go pitter-patter, the word “lazy” in there makes me fall head over heels! I *love* the idea of simply slicing the cabbage – indeed, who has time to roll? Great, great idea.

    I am giving in to fall, too. Sigh. But, on the bright side, now I can get out that big huge cozy fuzzy scarf I bought on super-clearance last spring! Sounds perfect right about now; thanks for reminding me!

  8. Silly question- the ground beef is not pre-cooked?

  9. Love a new slow cooker recipe. Can’t wait to try it!

  10. Mmm…. I must admit I bought a head of cabbage last week, too. I sautéed it with leeks, carrots, red potatoes, and dill, and then tossed in some kielbasa and steamed till tender. I will have to get another head and make this recipe. Loved the roasted cabbage idea. Thanks Aimee and Happy Fall!

  11. Aimee – this sounds yummy! I have half of a huge cabbage my mom grew in her garden sitting in my fridge and now I know what I am going to make with it. Thanks for sharing and happy fall!

  12. Brian @ A Thought For Food says

    I could use a dish like this today. It’s so cold out! Yay for lazy slow cooker dishes!

  13. It’s like you wrote this post for me! Not only do I have leftover brown rice in my fridge, not only do I long for vegetarian uses for my slow cooker, but I am also reveling in the coming fall, including working right now in my summer-fall transition outfit of sundress, leggings, and wool slippers. Yea!

  14. Which size slow cooker did you use for this? I’ve been hungry for cabbage rolls (odd since I don’t normally like cabbage) and my family has never tasted one.

  15. Can Quinoa be used in place of the rice?

  16. Dinner tomorrow night – yum!

  17. this is excellent news! I love the IDEA of cabbage rolls, but can’t bear the thought of all that rolling when there’s no flavor payoff. Thanks for figuring out how to get the flavors without the extra work. Genius.

  18. I’m convinced that we need slow cooker. Like, right now 🙂

  19. I can’t even tell you how wonderful this sounds! I love cabbage rolls and appreciate this “lazy” version. 🙂 I will be on the lookout for cabbage at the farmers market today so that I can cook this up this week!

  20. 4 stars
    Made it1 Loved it!

  21. In southern California, it’s 94 degrees today. I’m definitely planning to make this, once the weather cools down, which I hope is soon! While I don’t especially mind the rolling of the cabbage rolls, I’m drawn to the idea of roasting the cabbage. Thanks for the great idea!

  22. I have my dinner figured out for tomorrow night (Hallowe’en). My slow cooker crock is shaped more like a bowl it is narrow at the bottom compared to the rim, so I will probaby have 2 layers of meat, but I’m sure it will still turn out delicious. :O)

  23. 5 stars
    I just wanted to tell you that I think this recipe is the best recipe I found on the web in 2012! I have it in the slow cooker for dinner tonight again, and I think I’ve made it almost weekly since you posted it. Really, really LOVE this one.

    • Gosh, thank you for letting me know, Allison!! That means a LOT. I admit, I’m addicted to the roast cabbage. I always snack on it when I’m making this dish. =)

  24. Thank you for this recipe, it looks delicious! I am planning to make it tonight. I’d be using brown basmati rice..my only question is if the rice being pre-cooked gets soggy or too swollen/mushy by the end of the cooking time or does it just kind of blend into the meat? Thanks!

  25. 5 stars
    I can’t get enough of this recipe! I’ve been eating it all week, and I think I’ve given the recipe to everyone I know! Thanks for another great one, Aimee 🙂

  26. Hi,
    I didnt have all your ingred. so i used what I had in the house. I ended up using chicken sausge, wild rice and brown rice syrup. The house smells yummy.

  27. So could we cheat on the prep time – by cooking the brown rice in the slow cooker for a period of time BEFORE we add the rest of the ingredients?

    Definitely making this sometime this week – has been very cold here in Atlanta but a warm spell just now – it won’t last! Thanks for another great batch of recipes!

  28. Hi Amiee,

    First let me say I’m new to your blog and don’t know how I fed my family before finding you! Love your style! Thank you for sharing your passion and your gifts.

    This meal is in my slow cooker as I write this message and I now have a half of a cabbage, some cooked brown rice and a half of an onion. I’m now thinking I should put together another casserole. How long and at what temp would you recommend baking in the oven or could I freeze now before baking it?

  29. 5 stars
    I am going to give this a try, but will substitute ground venison for the beef. My family prefers the venison and with ground beef nearly $4 a pound a great way to save $$ since I have a freezer full of deer.

  30. 4 stars
    Thanks for sharing a yummy recipe.

  31. 5 stars
    Would love to know how this adapts to the instant pot? Love this recipe!

  32. 5 stars
    Would love to know how this adapts to the instant pot? Love this recipe! Currently making it as I type.

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