One thing which my family has always enjoyed is cabbage. They really like it when we have it as a side dish, but they absolutely love it when I make them cabbage rolls. They are also very fond of this fabulously tasty Cabbage Roll Casserole. I confess, of the two, the Cabbage Roll Casserole is a real favourite with me. You have all of the flavours of the traditional Cabbage Roll without all of the fuss and bother! Once again, simple ingredients put together in a way that results in a dish that has spectacular flavours!
Cabbage Roll Casserole is a simple bake composed of a rich and meaty tomato based sauce, layered in a dish with rice and semi-cooked strips of cabbage. Covered tightly and baked in a moderate oven, the flavours mingle together to create something which is quite delicious, homey and most comforting. I have worked for years to perfect this recipe. It is the result of about 35 years of trial and error and scrupulous testing to get it exactly right. This bake is never soupy, or sloppy. The cabbage is perfectly soft. The flavours are spot on in my opinion.
I never used to top it with cheese, because let’s face it, cheese is not normally seen in cabbage rolls. After having seen a few other cooks adding a final layer of cheese, I tried it myself a few years ago. Whilst not traditional, I had to admit it was a very scrumptious addition. It became a part of my casserole that I now never leave out.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO MAKE CABBAGE ROLL CASSEROLE
I am guessing you probably have everything you need in your kitchen right now to make this fabulous casserole for your family tonight. I confess I forgot to show the grated cheese in the photo of ingredients and by the time this was realised, it was too late. I know you will forgive me this one time!
|3 tsp canola oil, divided|
|3/4 pound ground steak|
|1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped|
|1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced|
|¼ tsp dried thyme|
|½ tsp sweet paprika|
|Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste|
|1 medium head of cabbage, trimmed and hand shredded|
|1 tin of diced tomatoes in tomato juice (14 1/2 ounces)|
|8 ounces of tomato sauce (1 cup)|
|1 TBS soft light brown sugar, packed|
|¼ cup of water|
|1 cup cooked long grain rice (you can cook your own or use a packet of pre-cooked rice)|
HINTS & TIPS TO MAKE THE BEST CABBAGE ROLL CASSEROLE EVER
- Read through the recipe several times before beginning to help familiarise yourself with the recipe and any ingredients or equipment you might need.
- Assemble all of your ingredients before you begin. If you already have everything together before you start, this can save you a lot of time when it comes to actually putting things together. You are also less likely to leave something out.
- I like to use ground steak for this casserole. It is leaner than regular hamburger and results in a healthier, less fat filled casserole. I have my steak ground by my local butcher, or you can grind your own at home. Did you know that often when you buy a pack of ground beef at the shops, the beef in that package could have come from more than one animal? I might be a bit picky, but I prefer my meat to have come from only one traceable source.
- White (green) cabbage works best in this recipe. The heads are heavy, like cannon balls and lend themselves beautifully to a long cook time, almost becoming meltingly tender like butter at the end. I find the colour to also be a lot more attractive in the finished dish.
- Trim any wilted or discoloured, old leaves from the cabbage and then remove the core. I hand shred my cabbage, using a sharp knife and cutting it into a ¼ inch shred. This is what works best and what looks best and what is easier to eat.
- I like to use a quality brand of chopped tinned tomatoes, Italian tomatoes, in tomato juice. They have the best flavour. I also like to use a quality brand of tomato sauce. Choose whatever you feel is the best for your family and brands which fit well within your food budget.
- I always add a bit of brown sugar to the tomatoes/sauce. Tomatoes can sometimes be very acidic, and this helps cut down on that. Feel free to leave it out if you wish.
- Because ground steak is very lean you will need to use a bit of oil to fry it in. You will not need a lot, only about 1 tsp. I like to dry scramble it, breaking it up with my spatula as it cooks. You do not want overly large chunks of beef. If you have used ground steak you will not need to drain it. If your beef is very fatty, I recommend draining it well and then rinsing it under hot water to remove any excess fat.
- You can chop your onion by hand, or by using a small food processor. You do not want big chunks of onion.
- Using precooked rice helps to cut back on the time for preparing this recipe. I recommend long grain rice, not basmati rice.
- You can use whatever kind of cheese your family enjoys to top this delicious casserole with, or a combination of cheeses. Just do not use a cheese that is too melty/stretchy. I like to use a medium strength white cheddar or a Jack cheese. It is quite acceptable to use a pre-grated cheese in a recipe such as this where it will not be a part of a sauce, but merely a topping.
- You can completely assemble this casserole ahead of time (without the cheese topping) and store it, covered, in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it, allowing it to come to room temperature prior to baking it.
- This recipe doubles very easily. You can also freeze any leftovers in a covered container, tightly wrapped, for up to six months. Thaw completely before reheating. I freeze it in individual servings. That way if I need an easy meal for just one person I can just grab, thaw, and reheat.
HOW TO MAKE CABBAGE ROLL CASSEROLE
Begin by reading through the recipe and familiarising yourself with any ingredients, steps, or equipment you will need.
I like to prepare all my vegetables before I begin. Peel your onion, cut it into quarters and then finely chop the onion with a sharp knife. Set aside.
Trim your cabbage, discarding any discoloured leaves and cutting off the stem end. Cut it into quarters and then cut out and discard the core. Shred using a sharp knife into a ¼ inch shred. Set aside.
Heat 1 tsp of oil in a large skillet. Crumble in the ground steak and scramble fry it, breaking it up with a wooden spatula as it cooks. As you can see my beef is very lean and there is no fat to discard. If you are not using ground steak, drain off any visible fat. Set aside.
Wipe out the skillet and add another teaspoon of the oil to the skillet. Add the chopped onion and cook over medium heat until it softens and becomes translucent. Add the garlic, thyme and paprika. Cook for a minute or so longer and then add the undrained tomatoes, tomato sauce, brown sugar, and seasoning. Stir in the browned beef. Mix everything well together.
Simmer over moderate heat until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.
While the meat sauce is simmering, add the remaining oil to a large saucepan and heat over medium heat. Add the cabbage. Cook, lifting and turning it with a pair of tongs, until it is wilted and crispy tender. This will take about 10 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 350*F. Spray a deep 9-inch square glass baking dish lightly with canola oil spray.
Add the cooked rice to the finished sauce, stirring it in completely to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning as required.
Begin assembling your casserole by layering the meat sauce/rice mixture and cabbage in the baking dish as follows: ½ the cooked cabbage, ½ the meat sauce/rice, the other half of the cooked cabbage, the remaining meat sauce/rice mixture. Smooth the top over and cover tightly with aluminium foil.
Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until the casserole is beginning to bubble around the edges.
Remove the foil and sprinkle the cheese evenly over top of the casserole. Return the dish to the oven and bake for a further 20 minutes until the cheese has melted and is turning golden brown.
Let the casserole stand for about 10 minutes before cutting into squares to serve.
As you can see this Cabbage Roll Casserole has a beautiful texture and consistency. It is neither too soupy, nor too dry. I call it exactly right.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH CABBAGE ROLL CASSEROLE
This hearty casserole is pretty much a meal in one, however you will still want to add a side dish to balance out the meal. I like to add some steamed vegetables sometimes, and at other times I will add a tossed salad. Both work very well. My husband likes bread with every meal. I am sure every home has one of those. Thick slices of buttered Italian bread go really nicely with this.
This casserole has always been popular when I bring it to Potluck or Covered Dish Suppers. I always come home with an empty dish! It doubles very easily for such occasions.
Because this casserole is relatively low in fat and carbohydrates you can feel good about feeding it to your family. It is a really delicious way to get in some of their five a day! I can almost guarantee that this is bound to become a new family favourite!
- 3 tsp canola oil, divided
- ½ pound ground steak
- 1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
- ¼ tsp dried thyme
- ½ tsp sweet paprika
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 medium head of cabbage, trimmed and hand shredded
- 1 tin of diced tomatoes in tomato juice (14 1/2 ounces)
- 8 ounces of tomato sauce
- 1 TBS soft light brown sugar, packed
- ¼ cup of water
- 1 cup cooked rice
- 1 cup of grated cheese (optional) (Cheddar, mozzarella, Jack, or a combination)
- Preheat the oven to 350*F.
- Spray a deep 9 inch square casserole dish with some canola cooking spray set aside.
- Heat a skillet over moderate heat. Add 1 tsp of the oil. Once it is hot crumble in the ground steak and scramble fry until it is brown and cooked through. Break it apart as it cooks. Remove and set aside.
- Add another tsp of oil to the skillet. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent. Add the garlic, thyme and paprika.
- Cook for about a minute then add the chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce, brown sugar, and cooked ground beef. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes until slightly thickened.
- While the meat sauce is simmering, trim the cabbage and cut out its core, discarding. Hand shred the cabbage into strips. Add the remaining oil to a large saucepan and heat. Add the cabbage and cook over medium high heat, until the cabbage is wilted and semi-tender. This will take about 10 minutes.
- Stir the cooked rice into the thickened meat sauce.
- Layer the ingredients into the casserole dish as follows. Half the cabbage, half the meat sauce, remaining half of the cabbage and the remaining meat sauce.
- Cover tightly with aluminium foil and bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes, until the casserole is beginning to bubble around the edges. Remove the foil and discard. Sprinkle the cheese over top and return the casserole to the oven for a further 20 minutes until the cheese has melted thoroughly and is turning golden.
- Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting into squares to serve.
Marie Rayner is a retired Chef, freelance writer, recipe developer, food blogger, and Cookbook author. She makes her home in Chester, UK, where she lives with her husband, Todd, and their much beloved English Cocker, Mitzie. Her motto is “Life is far too short to eat bad food,” and her goal is to share delicious and easy recipes which anyone can enjoy and cook in the comfort of their own home.