Lithuanian Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls

5 servings
1 hr

Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls, also known as lazy cabbage rolls, is a deconstructed version of the traditional Lithuanian balandeliai recipe. It has all the goodness and comfort of the original stuffed dish but requires less work!

You will love the one-pan-meal adaptation of this ultimate comfort food.

The Lithuanian Balandeliai, also dubbed "little dove," includes meat fillings such as beef, lamb, or pork mixed with rice, vegetables, and seasoned with herbs and spices.

The sauce consists of tomato paste, ketchup, heavy cream, and sour cream.

This recipe eliminates the time and effort that goes with preparing and rolling the fillings into the cabbage. Plus, you will only need one pan to make this, so that is less after-meal cleanup for you!

Less hassle and muscle-work but the same great flavors and texture that you get from the original version. 

I also find this way of serving more rookie-friendly as wrapping using cabbage leaves can be a rather daunting task. 

A mouthful of this dish will give you all the flavors and textures of the traditional dish. It's a great option, especially if you have leftover rice and do not know what to do with it.

If you are pressed for time, you can also make this dish using an  instant pot! You don't even need to precook the rice, just make sure to rinse it to get rid of the excess starch before adding it.

You can enjoy these alone (keto-friendly) or serve with boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, or with crusty  bread.

Lithuanian Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls
Recipe details
  • 5  servings
  • Prep time: 10 Minutes Cook time: 50 Minutes Total time: 1 hr
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For the cabbage
  • 1 head green cabbage (2-3 lbs) sliced into fine ribbons
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 onion chopped
  • 1 large carrot grated For the meatballs:
For the meatballs:
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/4 cup rice partially cooked
  • 1/2 onion chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
For the sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Parsley optional

In a large cast-iron or a sauté pan with a lid, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and grated carrot and sauté until vegetables begin to soften.
Add the cabbage and sauté, occasionally stirring, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix ground beef with chopped onions, rice, egg, salt, black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and nutmeg. Shape the meat mixture into meatballs and place over cabbage.
In a small bowl, mix the water, tomato paste, ketchup, sour cream, and heavy cream; season with salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the mixture over the meatballs, cover the skillet with a lid and simmer for 45 minutes over medium-low heat, turning the meatballs halfway through cooking.
Sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving, if desired.
  • Swap the beef with shredded turkey or chicken for a leaner option.
  • Substitute the rice with quinoa for lower carbs.
  • Shape the meatballs as large or small as you like.
All that's Jas
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  • Indre Koch Indre Koch on Oct 05, 2020

    My mother still insists on making them the old fashioned way. Personally, I think I would prefer your way because the meat is cooking directly in the sauce, and my favorite part is the cabbage simmered in the sauce. Mom, however has always used tomato soup and beef boullion for her sauce. Not very lithuanian, but still delicious.

    • All that's Jas All that's Jas on Oct 05, 2020

      I very much love traditional way too, especially dishes that we grew up eating, but sometimes it's also good to switch things up. :) Thank you!

  • Tamika Tamika on Aug 23, 2022

    If using quinoa should it be prepared? It generally doesn't take long to cook, but after 45 minutes it may be overdone

    • All that's Jas All that's Jas on Aug 23, 2022

      Hi Tamika,

      I haven't tried making it with quinoa, but I think if you're using white quinoa, which cooks faster than rice, you wouldn't need to precook it. Let me know how it turned out!