Grandma’s Cabbage Rolls Recipe – a simple, cozy one pot family dinner

Grandmas Cabbage Rolls with cabbage and beef with red marinara sauce.

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Let’s bring back the old vibe with some of grandma’s cabbage rolls, a traditional recipe for beef balls laced with a cabbage shell served with a tomato sauce. Nostalgic comfort food.

two cabbage rolls on a plate with mashed potatoes in front of a white napkin and cabbage roll on a gray tabletop.

Cabbage Rolls

Yield: 6
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Cabbage rolls stuffed with beef, rice and comfort.


  • 12 Large Cabbage Leaves
  • 2 TBSP Butter or Margarine
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1- 16 ounce can of tomato sauce
  • 2 tsp light brown sugar
  • salt
  • pepper

Beef Balls

  • 2 lbs of ground beef
  • 1 cup of cooked rice (I use a microwave rice)
  • 1 bread slice -crumbled
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp minced garlic


  1. In a large bowl, mix ground beef, cooked rice, crumbled bread, egg, Worcestershire sauce, basil and garlic together. Make into 12 balls.
  2. Ideally, you want to cut off the bottom stump from the cabbage, put it in a large pot with about 1-2 inches of water, and steam for about 5 minutes. Then carefully remove the leaves. I do the opposite because I can't think straight, so I peel off 12 leaves using hot water from the kitchen sink, and then I steam them for 5 minutes in 1-2 inches of water. I find that a large pot is the easiest to do this in but some people use a large skillet.
  3. Now roll your beef balls into the cabbage (haha): Lay out your leaf. Place beef ball in the center. Turn in the sides toward center, turn the bottom up (the stumpy part that's narrow), and then roll it jelly roll style. But the truth of the matter is it doesn't matter as long as the beef is in the cabbage. Roll it like a burrito if you want. You might get inspired and come up with some kind of signature rolling technique. It's ok if you don't though. Dinner done is better than Martha Stewart fame. It's also ok if you ripped the leaf. Just jam it all together the best you can.
  4. Dump the water and any other stuff from the pot / skillet.
  5. Same pot, should be empty now, add butter and onion, and place over medium heat for about 5 minutes.
  6. Add tomato sauce, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Mix well.
  7. Place cabbage rolls seam side down in the pot of tomato goodness.
  8. Bring to a simmer (like medium heat until it starts moving, agitating, but not quite boiling) and then reduce heat to low, cover with a lid, and cook 45 minutes.
Nutrition Information
Yield 6 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 607Total Fat 32gSaturated Fat 13gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 14gCholesterol 176mgSodium 719mgCarbohydrates 34gFiber 8gSugar 14gProtein 48g

Where did I get this recipe for cabbage rolls?

I got this recipe from the Kitchen Bible, the Holy Grail of all Cookbooks, The Good Housekeeping Cookbook, 1973 edition.

This food was first introduced to my kids by my mom, and they just love Grandma’s Cabbage Rolls. I think they prefer when she makes it over when I make it. They also love her spaghetti, and anything tomatoes.


These cabbage rolls gets a little busy on the ingredients, but it’s not that bad once you get into it, and its worth it.

Cabbage Rolls

Beef Balls

  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 1 slice of bread crumbled
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire
  • 1/2 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp minced garlic

Cabbage and Sauce

  • Fresh Cabbage – 12 Large Leaves
  • 2 TBSP butter or margarine
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 16 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 2 tsp light brown sugar
  • Salt
  • Pepper

When it comes to the ingredients, I found several short cuts.

For cooked rice, you can find microwavable rice. The little tubs of Minute Rice that come in a 2 pack are seemingly exactly one cup each. How convenient.

For the chopped onion, my Walmart sells a tub of fresh chopped onion in the produce section near the fresh pico de gallo. BUT they and several grocery stores in my area also sell a small bag of frozen chopped onion.

See below for substitute ingredients for diabetic diets and keto diets…


So the original recipe has you kind of bouncing all over the place, and I feel like it’s most simplified to start with the beef.

Step 1: Make the Beef Balls

Cabbage Rolls 2

In a large bowl, mix the beef, rice, bread crumbs, egg, Worcestershire, basil and garlic together. Form them into 12 balls.

Step 2: Make the Cabbage Balls

Stuffed Cabbage

Cut off the stump from the head of cabbage. In a large pot or skillet, place cabbage head into pot with 1 inch of water and steam for 5 minutes, and then carefully peel off 12 large cabbage leaves.

The other option is to cut the stump off the head, run under warm water in the kitchen sink, and carefully peel off 12 leaves, and then steam those for 5 minutes in a large pot or skillet.

You want to steam the leaves so that they are mushier and easier to work with. You can’t roll them without breaking them if you don’t.

Then roll the beef in the cabbage.

  1. Place the beef ball in the center of the cabbage leaf
  2. Fold the sides of the leaf toward the center
  3. Fold the bottom (more narrow) side of the cabbage leaf upward
  4. Roll up toward the thicker side of the leaf jelly roll style

Step 3 – Make the sauce and cook cabbage

Clear out the pot or skillet (dump the water and any remaining cabbage).

Heat butter and onion for 5 minutes on a medium heat.

Add brown sugar, tomato sauce, salt and pepper, and place the cabbage balls with seam side down over the tomato mixture.

Bring to a simmer (when the tomato sauce starts to agitate)

Reduce heat to low, cover with a lid, and simmer for 45 minutes – covered with a lid.

It does not make much sauce

I usually use 2 cans of 8 oz of tomato sauce, and it doesn’t really make much sauce.

We like this with mashed potatoes, and it’s just enough to add a small bit of sauce over the cabbage roll and 2 small dollops over the potatoes.

But I’m seriously thinking of doubling up on the sauce, meaning double the tomato sauce, the onion, the brown sugar, and the salt & pepper, and then shred the leftover cabbage and add that to it too.

Diabetes & Keto Low Carb Considerations…

The main issue with carbs in this recipe is the following ingredients:

  • Rice
  • Bread
  • Brown Sugar

You can omit these ingredients entirely and still have the same taste for the most part.

Let’s talk about substitutes anyway…


Using brown rice is better than white rice for people with diabetes (as brown rice has a lower GI score than white).

Using Cauliflower Rice is low carb and best for Keto diets.


You can use a whole grain bread that is rich in fiber for people with diabetes. Fiber is good for diabetes.

For Keto, you could probably use a TBSP of almond flour in lieu of the bread to help bulk up the meat and absorb some flavor.


A lot of cooks add a little sugar, brown sugar, or honey to tomato sauce to take the edge off the acidic nature of it. But there are other methods to do so.

Carrots generally have a sweetness to them naturally, so instead of sugar, you could replace with a TBSP of shredded carrots or 2 tsp of carrot pulp (blended carrots).

Baking Soda will neutralize acid, so instead of carrots or sugar, you could always add a pinch or two of that to the sauce.

The main thing is to reduce the acid in the tomato sauce, so add what you can, and then taste to see if it’s where you want it. If it’s still too acidic, add some more.

Check out more Keto Recipes

What to serve with Cabbage Rolls?

We usually do ours with mashed potatoes.

I have considered shredding more cabbage and doubling up on the sauce and adding that as a side.

It’s also good with a hot roll and butter.

Like this recipe?

Pinterest pin for Grandma's Traditional Cabbage Rolls featuring two photos, one of a closeup of two cabbage rolls topped with tomato sauce, and a close up of one of the rolls cut in half showing its beefy goodness.
Pinterest Pin for Cabbage Rolls featuring two photos, a closeup of a cabbage roll cut in half and then an overview on a gray background of 2 cabbage rolls with mashed potatoes and tomato sauce.
Pinterest pin for Grandma's Cabbage Rolls featuring a photo of a cabbage roll topped with tomato onion sauce and one cabbage roll (tender enough to cut with a fork) cut in half showing beefy goodness with a gray and white background.

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