This baked cabbage roll casserole recipe makes an unstuffed cabbage roll casserole or lazy cabbage rolls. Blanched cabbage leaves are layered lasagna-like with a rich tomato sauce, farmer’s cheese, and a cabbage roll fried rice made from the savoury ground pork, onion, garlic and carrot filling usually stuffed in the cabbage leaves to make traditional cabbage rolls. It’s so delicious!
If you enjoyed my recipe for traditional Russian cabbage rolls stuffed with savoury rice and mince, baked in a rich tomato sauce called golubtsy (голубцы), which are cooked in Russia, Ukraine and neighbouring countries, then you’re going to love this baked cabbage roll casserole recipe for unstuffed cabbage rolls or lazy cabbage rolls.
I’ll tell you more about my cabbage roll casserole recipe in a moment, but if you’re a lover of comforting cabbage rolls, do try my original cabbage roll fried rice recipe, which is absolutely delicious, even if I do say so myself, and my hearty cabbage roll soup recipe, which probably had my baboushka rolling in her grave when I published that, but it’s also delish! And we’ve got more cabbage recipes here.
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Cabbage Roll Casserole Recipe for an Unstuffed Cabbage Roll Casserole or Lazy Cabbage Rolls
My easy cabbage roll casserole recipe makes a baked dish cabbage casserole inspired by the traditional Russian cabbage rolls cooked in Russia, Ukraine and other countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It’s also called an unstuffed cabbage roll casserole or simply unstuffed cabbage rolls or even lazy cabbage rolls.
It’s not a traditional dish of the region according to my research, but appears to have been a dish that sprung from the deep wells of creativity in the kitchens of the Russian and Ukrainian diasporas. If anybody has more detail as to the origin of cabbage roll casseroles, I’d love to hear from you.
Close cousins of this dish are also called unstuffed cabbage rolls or lazy cabbage rolls because they don’t actually stuff the cabbage rolls or roll the savoury minced meat and rice mixture up in the cabbage leaves.
Instead the cabbage roll ingredients are cooked, combined and baked in a ceramic casserole dish or baking tray in an oven as you would a casserole. I’ve tested that genre of cabbage roll casserole recipe a few times and find them really unsatisfying.
Maybe they’d work as a side dish – I might return to testing that one day – whereas this is really a main dish and a very satisfying one at that. I’m perfectly happy tucking into a slice of this with a salad, as I would a slice of lasagne.
Although I have to say that they were at least not as offensive as a cabbage roll casserole recipe I spotted, which, while at least layered, was layered with a thick spread of crème fraiche then topped with loads of mozzarella. Urgh.
Mozzarella has no place in traditional Russian cooking or traditional Ukrainian cooking – or traditional ‘Eastern European’ cooking as that particular cabbage roll casserole recipe was identified as. Can’t say we’ve ever seen that on our travels through Eastern Europe.
While experimenting with traditional dishes can be fun, names matter. That recipe probably should have been called an Italian-Eastern European cabbage roll recipe. Though then the Italians would have been just us offended as those of us with ‘Eastern European’ heritage, and who could blame them?
In my cabbage roll casserole recipe, the blanched cabbage leaves are layered lasagna-like with a rich tomato sauce, traditional farmer’s cheese, and a cabbage roll fried rice made from the savoury ground pork, onion, garlic and carrot filling that’s usually stuffed within the cabbage leaves to make traditional cabbage rolls.
It’s at least traditional in flavour. And it’s so very delicious!
Tips to Making this Cabbage Roll Casserole Recipe for an Unstuffed Cabbage Roll Casserole or Lazy Cabbage Rolls
As usual, just a few quick tips to making my easy cabbage roll casserole. In the recipe below, the first step is to make steamed rice, which I highly recommend you cook in a rice cooker, then set it aside to cool.
If you’re able, cook the rice the day before you plan to make this cabbage casserole and keep it in the fridge. Don’t try to fry it directly from the rice cooker. It will just go mushy. If you have leftover rice in the fridge, even better.
I much prefer to use a round flat bottomed wok to fry the onion, garlic, carrot, minced meats etc, and most other dishes to be honest, as the wok heats up quickly, retains heat well, and food just cooks faster. But having said that, your favourite frying pan or skillet will be just fine.
My recipe calls for traditional farmer’s cheese or tvorog in Russian. Back in the day, my baboushka used to buy it from one of the many Eastern European delis in Blacktown in Western Sydney, when it was one of the centres of the Russian, Ukrainian and Polish communities.
The deli owner would slice a big chunk off a huge long block that sat under the counter amongst all kinds of scrummy European cheeses, charcuterie, sausages, and pickles, and wrap it in a thin plastic sheet and a length of butcher’s papa. When we got home baba would cut off small cubes of it for she and I to savour before she changed and we began making pelmeni and vareniki
Look for tvorog or farmer’s cheese at your nearest deli that specialises in Russian, Ukrainian or Eastern European products or a farmer’s market. If you can’t find it, you could try combining two or three fresh white cheeses, such as a firm cream cheese, paneer, Mexican queso blanco, the French cheese Neufchâtel, goat’s cheese, havarti, ricotta, cottage cheese, or quark. You’re looking for a cheese that has a very subtle saltiness and subtle sweetness about it, but is far from bland. You only want to plop random blobs of the farmer’s cheese on the tomato sauce, you don’t want a whole layer of the stuff.
Serve this cabbage roll casserole straight out of the oven with a simple Russian garden salad, or if you’re cooking a family feast, serve it as you would traditional cabbage rolls with borscht, perhaps a beetroot potato salad, pelmeni and vareniki, and so on. You’ll find lots more of my Russian family recipes here.
Cabbage Roll Casserole Recipe for an Unstuffed Cabbage Roll Casserole
- 1 cup jasmine rice steamed – or 300g leftover steamed rice
- 1 small 800g cabbage head
- 3 tbsp olive oil – more if needed
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 brown onion 180g, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 carrot 200g, finely diced
- 125 g minced pork
- 125 g ground beef
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 2 tsp ground paprika
- 1 400 g tin of crushed tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp sugar
- 250 g farmers cheese – or a mix of feta cheese and cottage cheese
- 3 tbsp fresh dill
- If you don’t have leftover rice, steam one cup of jasmine rice in a rice cooker, then set it aside to cool.
- Half-fill a large stock pot with water, add a pinch of salt, and bring it to boil. Core the cabbage head, put it in the pot of boiling water, and as the cabbage leaves soften and yellow, use long tongs to carefully pull the leaves apart, taking care so that they do not break. Remove the leaves, shake off any excess water, and place each leaf separately on a clean tea-towel to cool.
- In a round flat-bottomed work, fry pan or skillet, fry the finely chopped onion in a tablespoon of cooking oil until soft and fragrant, add the chopped garlic and continue frying until the onion is translucent. Remove half the onion and garlic and set aside in a dish.
- Add another tablespoon of oil and the grated carrot, combine the ingredients, and fry for a few minutes. Add the minced pork, minced beef, cup of steamed rice, teaspoon each of salt, pepper and paprika, and combine well, adding another 1-2 tablespoons of oil if needed (so the mixture won’t dry out in the oven), and fry until just-cooked. Taste, add any additional seasoning if needed, then remove from heat, transfer to a plate, and set aside.
- In a fry pan, add the fried onion and garlic that you set aside, along with the tin of crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, and a teaspoon each of salt and sugar, and reduce on high heat until thickened, the remove from heat and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. In a greased ceramic baking dish or high-rimmed oven tray, create a layer of cabbage leaves, spreading them out flat so they slightly over-lap and reach the top of the edge of the baking dish/tray, then create a layer of the savoury minced meat and rice mixture, then a layer of the rich tomato sauce, and finally, randomly sprinkle on some farmers cheese and tablespoon of fresh dill.
- Repeat 2-3 more times until the baking dish/tray is full, place a few bay leaves on the top layer, turn the heat down to 180 degrees Celsius. then slide into the dish/tray into the oven and bake for 25 minutes minimum. If you have more time, cover the top with foil and continue to bake as the flavours will meld together even more the longer it’s in the oven.
- Slice it up as you would a lasagne, garnish with sprigs of fresh dill, and serve with a garden salad and homemade pickles.
Do let us know if you make my easy cabbage roll casserole recipe for an unstuffed cabbage roll casserole or lazy cabbage rolls in the comments below, as I’d love to know how it turns out for you.