Serves a Crowd

Unstuffed Cabbage with Meatballs (Crockpot)

February  7, 2012
2 Ratings
  • Serves 4-6 (can be multiplied)
Author Notes

This month my book group read the book “Miriam’s Kitchen” by Elizabeth Ehrlich. It is a memoir by a woman who came to know her mother-in-law by learning to cook old time Jewish recipes. We had a potluck dinner for which each of us brought a dish that made memories--either something from our family, or something we make for our families and friends. One of the women brought a dish she called “unstuffed cabbage”-- sweet and sour cabbage with meatballs. It was amazing, and I ate way too much of it. Her recipe called for meatballs that you bake in the oven while you make a sauce of shredded cabbage, jellied cranberry sauce, and something called Chef Emilio’s tomato sauce (which she said was really hard to find). I wanted to re-create it with fresh ingredients. (In case you were wondering, I did find Chef Emilio’s tomato sauce and I think the main ingredient is MSG--it has 560 mg of sodium in a 3 ounce can.)

This is a stew so it gets better as it sits. You could make it in a slow cooker. I formed the meatballs in the morning and refrigerated them, and made the sauce and let it simmer on the stove for about an hour. Then I browned the meatballs and added them to the sauce and let it all cook together for another hour or so. You can change the amounts of sugar and add vinegar to your taste--just add a little at a time.

What You'll Need
  • For the meatballs:
  • 1 lb. Ground beef or turkey
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 egg
  • olive oil
  • For the cabbage:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil plus more to brown meatballs
  • 1 sweet onion, sliced
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 1 small head cabbage, shredded
  • 1/2 cup fresh cranberries
  • 3 cups crushed tomatoes (I used 1 box of Pomi)
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • Vinegar and more brown sugar as needed
  1. For the meatballs:
  2. Fold all ingredients together till well-blended. Place a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add a little oil and sauté the meatball until it is cooked through. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Form the rest of the mixture into meatballs--about a tablespoon of mixture per meatball. Pack them lightly. Refrigerate meatballs while you make the sauce.
  1. For the cabbage:
  2. In a large dutch oven, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat and sauté onions with a pinch of kosher salt till soft. Add cabbage, and cover, stirring occasionally, till cabbage cooks down. Stir in cranberries, and continue to cook, covered, stirring occasionally until cranberries start to burst and release their juices. (They will continue to cook as you add the rest of the ingredients.) Stir in tomatoes, onion powder, brown sugar, cayenne and ginger. Cover, and let all ingredients stew together.
  3. Remove meatballs from refrigerator. Place a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add a tablespoon or so of olive oil, and brown meatballs on all sides. Gently add meatballs to cabbage mixture when they are browned. Stir them in gently till submerged. Let meatballs cook in cabbage mixture until they are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Taste sauce, and add salt, pepper, vinegar and/or brown sugar if needed to your taste. I served it with a crusty multi-grain boule.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • boulangere
  • Elana Stein-Maya
    Elana Stein-Maya
  • Sue Pace
    Sue Pace
  • EatArt
  • sexyLAMBCHOPx

31 Reviews

Danielle E. August 30, 2017
How much vinegar does this recipe call for?
drbabs August 30, 2017
To taste. The cranberries add quite a bit of tartness; you might want more.
Danielle E. August 30, 2017
boulangere September 18, 2015
Dr.B, could I finish the meatballs in the oven, then add them to the mix? The cabbage soup alone is enough to make me consider converting.
drbabs September 18, 2015
Hi Cynthia! Yes, I'm sure you can do that. This is one of those very forgiving recipes that's way to play around with. I hope you enjoy!
drbabs September 18, 2015
"Way" was supposed to have been "easy."
boulangere September 18, 2015
Thank you. This has fall written all over it.
Elana S. September 14, 2015
Absolutely fantastic! The only recommendation I would give to those making this dish, is to double up on the meat. Keep everything else the same. The meatballs are so extraordinary, you don't want to be stingy with them. I served this at my Rosh Hashanah dinner. My guests loved it.
drbabs September 16, 2015
So glad you liked it! Happy New year!
Sue P. September 15, 2014
This was off the hook good! Can't wait for leftovers tomorrow, which will be better, I'm sure.
drbabs September 16, 2014
Thanks-- yes this is one of those recipes that gets better the next day. I'm so glad you liked it.
Jo September 15, 2014
I was just thinking the other day, how much I miss eating stuffed cabbage! I used to buy it from a cafe and have never made it myself - seems pretty labour intensive. So I'm super excited to make this!! Thanks for sharing!
drbabs September 15, 2014
Thank you! I hope you enjoy it.
EatArt February 1, 2014
So glad I happened upon this recipe! My mom's stuffed cabbage was my favorite of all of her dishes. But it was a major project. Your recipe is brilliant. Amazing flavors and a breeze to make. This is a new favorite!
drbabs February 3, 2014
Thanks--that's why I like this, too. I hope you enjoy it.
SunnyIowa January 16, 2014
I'm going to admit ignorance: what kind of cabbage is used in this recipe? Green? Red? Either??
drbabs February 3, 2014
I use green, but I don't think it matters.
Kateq July 21, 2012
Oh delicious! And so simple...I had fresh made whole berry cranberry sauce (not too sweet) which I used instead of berries and sugar. Tart and sweet enough without any added sugar or vinegar. And I made it in the crockpot.
Thank you!
drbabs July 22, 2012
Thank you so much for commenting! I'm really glad you liked it.
boulangere February 8, 2012
This looks fantastic, drb.
drbabs February 9, 2012
Thanks, b. I'm loving your blog.
Tarragon February 8, 2012
Coincidentally I ordered stuffed cabbage in a restaurant last week - their preparation did nothing for me at all and I'm getting ready to make my own this weekend. This recipe looks great - (and I loved the book Miriam's kitchen!)
drbabs February 9, 2012
It was kind of embarrassing how much I liked my friend's version--especially when she told me the recipe. This comes together really easily, and you can make it sweeter/more sour to your taste. (The cranberries are little bombs of sour, but they eventually melt into the sauce.)
sexyLAMBCHOPx February 8, 2012
If my Father was alive, I would make him this dish. Stuffed cabbage was part of his Jewish heritage comfort food. Great recipe.
drbabs February 9, 2012
My parents are both Jewish, but I guess because we lived in new Orleans, not ethnically so. I first tasted stuffed cabbage as an adult, and have always loved it. In fact, one year we took my mother in law to Ben's delicatessen for Thanksgiving (don't ask), and I had stuffed cabbage for Thanksgiving dinner.
Bevi February 8, 2012
My grandmother made a dish similar to this, and she did use jellied cran sauce out of a can. My husband will love this as he was raised on this type of food.
drbabs February 9, 2012
It must have been used a lot--I have another friend who makes tiny meatballs and serves them with toothpicks in a sauce made of jellied cranberry sauce and Lipton's onion soup mix.
drbabs February 8, 2012
Have fun with your mom!
ellenl February 8, 2012
Love this. Check out Gourmet's unstuffed sweet and sour cabbage--I made it once after stumbling upon the recipe and sliced the cabbage, rather than leaving it in chunks, to get more sauce in it.
drbabs February 8, 2012
Thanks! That one looks good, too.
aargersi February 7, 2012
Oh I am SO making this. Maybe this weekend with my mom if we have time. Cranberries and meatballs and cabbage! I am in heaven.