lazy stuffed cabbage rolls

I am striking out all over the place when it comes to making meals that my family enjoys. For awhile there I was a dream mom, serving up the honey-baked chicken, the spaghetti and meatballs with vodka cream sauce, the pepperoni pizza, the egg and sausage bake, the mac and cheese, etc.

But then, all of a sudden, I got sick of it. The meals were too easy! Too predictable! Too boring! Too nice! I missed the weird grains, lentils, and spices, the not-our-standard veggies, the unusual sauces, the from-scratch hearty fare. I missed challenging my family.

See, if I don’t keep hammering my loved ones over the head with broadening-their-horizons eats, they will invariably turn into club-wielding, nose-picking, grunt-grunting cavemen. A mama’s gotta be careful of these things! So I stocked up on little white beans, red lentils, and fresh spinach. And I started push-ush-ushing the envelope.

Now mealtimes are pretty much hell. What with all the yell-ell-elling and groan-oan-oaning, one might even go as far as to call them barbaric.

Certainly, a lesser person would admit defeat and wave the white flag. But not me! Onward ho I go, slinging legumes and roasting cabbages. Certain progeny are beginning to look a wee bit peaked, but that’s okay. If nothing else, at least we’re saving money.

So, Saturday’s supper. In keeping with my general mission of inflicting massive doses of mealtime misery, I made lazy cabbage rolls. I had high hopes. What with the beef and sauce, the family would be sure to like it, right? And I would be sure to get a little buzz from feeding them their evil nemesis (brown rice) and an entire head of knobby cabbage. It could only be win-win.

I was wrong. The masses revolted. Which was royally irritating since the meal was most definitely a gold medal winner, at least in my opinion. I couldn’t stop eating it.

For reals. I’ve been eating the leftovers ever since.

Yesterday my mother stopped by and I fed her the last of the crock pot cabbage. And whaddaya know? She loved it! I almost didn’t know how to interpret her loud moans of delight, so foreign to me are the sounds of mealtime appreciation.

“You like it?” I asked.

“Oh my, yes,” she said. “Yes. Yes!

(For those of you worried about my wasting-away children: tonight’s supper is pasta with pesto, peas, pickled beets, and applesauce. They will happily consume one-half of the meal. The other half they will simply consume. Then tomorrow they’ll sup at The Grands and pig out on hot dogs. The next night will probably be pizza. Because I am battle-worn.)

Despite my family’s unfavorable rave reviews, this dish is quite spectacular. The assembly takes minutes (with the addition of the roasted cabbage, which is a fairly mindless step), and the final product is like a rich, very thick stew.

Lazy Stuffed Cabbage Rolls 
Adapted from Aimee of Simple Bites.

1 small head of cabbage, cored and cut in wedges
olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 pound ground beef
1 egg
2-3 cups cooked brown rice
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons salt, divided
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 quart canned tomatoes
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon each sugar and cider vinegar
sage, optional

For the cabbage:
Lay the wedges on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 450 degrees for 20-25 minutes, turning the cabbages over at the halfway mark.

For the filling:
Put the onion, beef, egg, rice, parsley, black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. Combine, using your fingers.

For the sauce:
Whirl the tomatoes, garlic, sugar, vinegar, and the remaining teaspoon of salt together in the blender.

To assemble:
Pour half of the tomato sauce in the bottom of your crock pot. Place half of the cabbage on top. Evenly distribute the meat over the cabbage (as you would the topping for an apple crisp—in other words, don’t pack it). Arrange the remaining cabbage wedges on top. Drizzle the remaining sauce over all, and sprinkle with some dried sage, if desired.

Cook on high for six hours.

Wear earplugs to the table so you don’t have to hear the kids fuss.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (1.20.14), on the relevancy of growing onions, world’s best pancakes, multigrain bread, moving forward, chocolate cream pie, on thank-you notes, and on not wanting.    


  • Zoë

    I've made my cabbage rolls the lazy way several times but for some reason, it goes over better with everybody if I actually do the rolls. Maybe it's the presentation? I prefer them rolled too.

    I'm not as nice as you. I don't think I've ever gone through a "please everyone" spell of cooking. I do make those meals, of course, but I am constantly throwing curve balls, too. They all know they don't have any other option and will have to finish their food at the next meal (if we didn't give them too much to begin with).

    Won't be long til they figure out Brad doesn't touch creamed spinach or lentil salads. I shouldn't complain tho. He eats a lot of things he doesn't like because he knows it's good for him and because it makes me happy!

  • Margo

    I made this recipe with some tweaks which I can't now recall. It was delicious. I love the idea of cabbage rolls, but not the tedious assembly.

    We've been having picky syndrome at our house too and it MAKES ME SO MAD. So I'm enjoying all the comments. My husband is pretty good at backing me up but I hold on to the bitter end and often he's sick of it before that. One thing I say to the kids is that there are hungry people in the world and we need to be respectful and grateful for our food as one way to be mindful of this problem.

    Maybe you could challenge your kids to find recipes with brown rice or cabbage or whatever they think they hate and then they have to cook the recipe(s) for dinner. They might change their tune when it's their time and fingers that have gotten the food on the table. . . (and how terribly tempting it would be to turn the tables on them and complain bitterly about the food they made – ack! – but we are more mature than that. . . . .right?)

  • Anonymous

    Yes, the husband backing you up is key. How many times have I seen a spouse acting worse than any child at the table, then grumping at the kids for imitating. Mystery!

    • Jennifer Jo

      My husband is pretty great about backing me up. The problem is, now that the kids are older, they can read between the lines. This makes things tricky!

  • Becky

    I am gifted with mostly non-picky eaters, but they do have their moments. Which is when I play the 'if you didn't cook it, then you can't complain about it' card. That usually works. That and the occasional strike.

  • Anonymous

    This recipe sounds awesome. I too have problems making everyone happy at the dinner table. So, the kids have to take a Thank You bite and try it then they can make themselves PB&J.

    • Anonymous

      My kids are grown and I am now enjoying great grand kids, ages 10 & nearly 13 when I can. That said, when my kids were growing up I had only one rule at the dinner table; the MUST take a very small bite of anything unfamiliar that I served. If they didn't like it, they need eat no more of it, until the next time it was served. Then, the same again; with the exception of peas for my eldest, and okra for the least one, as these had a way of coming back up to the table in a most unpleasant fashion. over the years, their taste buds grew and lo & behold, they began to like the foods they had at first abhorred.

  • Suburban Correspondent

    From one battle-worn cook to another, I salute you! This sounds delicious. I would make it for the meat-eating half of our family, but one-third of that half has a visceral aversion to roasted cabbage-like vegetables, due to the unfortunate St.Patrick's Day stomach flu incident. I could weep.

    • Anonymous

      Laughing… "unfortunate St. Patrick's Day stomach flu incident" has a very different resonance in my heritage. Involving Jameson whiskey, hair o' the dog, and deep regret.

      I'm a bit of a jerk about picky eaters, me. Which is just filthy hypocrisy, because I was the pickiest. I'm likely to suggest a second helping if the first isn't making them happy and, strangely, it works.

      But what works best is a bunch of small dishes on the table and no pressure. They seem to take a little of everything and are most happy with that. But man is it time consuming, the mezze way.

  • Anonymous

    Amen, Sister! You go! I have two sons, 14 and 20 years old, and I've been doing this to them their entire lives. They don't like everything I've made, but they learned to try it and discovered that lots of things they thought they wouldn't like were pretty good. Now they far broader palates than any of their friends and they are actually pretty proud of themselves when they can say that they've tried just about any far out food that their friends can think of and lived to brag about it.

    Years ago, when the kids were still pretty young, I grew tired of the grousing at the table. I told them that I worked hard on dinner and it hurt my feelings to hear them talk bad about the good food I made and if they couldn't say something nice, then they should say nothing at all. No pouting or fake gagging allowed either. My husband backed me up and if they forgot, a simple "don't hurt Mom's feelings" reminder stopped it. And, like you, we occasionally have pizza or more popular foods, but not every day. No adult should have to endure that on a regular basis and we're raising future adults that should eat a wide variety of foods for their health, pocketbooks, and to be polite when eating with people from many backgrounds.

    The lazy cabbage rolls recipe sounds fabulous. I'll be making it this weekend because of course, I'm the kind of mom that always has a cabbage in the fridge and brown rice in the pantry. –Ann

    • Jennifer Jo

      I need to follow your example and crack down on polite ways to respond when they don't like the food. When they complain, I do often send them away and have them reenter with a "Thanks for making supper, Mama," but still, the fussing leaks in around the edges until we're drowning in negativity. It's high time to caulk the holes and batten down the hatches!

    • katie

      My five-year-old has started occasionally coming into the kitchen saying, "I hope you're making something GOOD for dinner tonight, Mom." The main irony being that he is really not picky at all, so I don't consider this much of a challenge. I figure he's just warming up for when he's a few years older and learns to get picky and pouty and stubborn.

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