Slow Cooker Quinoa Cabbage Rolls

cabbage-rollsI have to admit it: I’ve never made cabbage rolls before, at least not until recently. It seemed like a daunting task. And with my chronic fatigue, the idea of spending hours making a dish that would likely be a flop was just not appealing. I have to plan my cooking projects carefully.

But then my husband and I were invited to a fellowship dinner at our pastor’s home. One of the dishes served was cabbage rolls.  With all of my food restrictions I had to ask what all the ingredients were, and was pleased to find out how few there actually were. And boy were they tasty!

So I decided to try making some myself. It’s officially fall now, so time to haul out the slow cooker and find some hearty recipes, anyway.

After doing some research, I wasn’t able to find an exact recipe that I wanted to try. So I came up with my own idea from a mix of the ones I researched.

First of all, I wanted to try using quinoa instead of rice. Rice is nice too, and I might try it next time. But quinoa is so good for you and sounded like a natural fit for this kind of dish. I also wanted to skip the addition of things like sugar that many recipes called for. I like this as a savory dish. Some people recommend V8 juice, while some use tomato juice, and still others prefer tomato sauce. I liked all of those ideas, so went with a hybrid of them. There are different ideas on how to prepare the cabbage as well. So, as I’m sure you guessed, I went with the one that sounded the easiest. 🙂

So, enough of the preamble already. Here’s my recipe:

Slow Cooker Quinoa Cabbage Rolls

The filling:

  • 1 cup cooked quinoa – note: it can be slightly undercooked, as it will continue cooking in the slow cooker anyway.
  • 4-5 cups lean ground beef (or your preferred ground meat)
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 3/4 cup finely diced onion
  • 3/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper (or any colour bell pepper)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 egg, whisked with a fork
  • Dash of pepper

You will also need:

  • 1 large head of cabbage
  • 3/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup V8 juice
  • Small amount of oil for the slow cooker (I used flavourless coconut oil)

Note: This recipe does not require salt because the V8 juice and tomato sauce are already salted. In fact even low sodium V8 Juice still has enough salt that you don’t need to add more.


Cut off any base of the cabbage that sticks out and then insert a long knife into the centre of the core a few times. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and place the whole cabbage head in. Let it sit for a few minutes and then begin to peal the leaves back with tongs. When they feel soft enough to remove, grasp the leaf with the tongs and gently pull or cut the leave near the base to release it. Keep checking the pot every few minutes to see when the inner leaves become soft enough to remove. Place them in a colander to drain and cool.

Mix the filling ingredients together in a bowl.
Rub a small amount of oil around inside the slow cooker.
Lay the smaller cabbage leaves along the bottom of the slow cooker to help prevent sticking.

With your hands, scoop about a handful of the filling into your hands and pack into an oval shape. The size will depend on the size of the leaf you are going to wrap it in. You want to make sure it fits completely inside the leaf when you wrap it up. If some meat is still showing or sticking out, you’ve used too much. Place the wrapped leaves in the slow cooker and pile them (fairly tightly) up until you are done.

Take your remaining tomato sauce, water, and V8 juice and mix together. Pour over the cabbage rolls and move them slightly with a spoon to make sure the liquid is equally distributed. Cover with the lid.

Put the slow cooker on low for five hours. If your slow cooker tends to take a long time to warm up, set it on high for 1/2 hour first and then turn it back down to low. You can also shorten your cooking time by cooking only on high instead of low. You will need to keep an eye on it to see when it is done. Use a meat thermometer to make sure the meat is fully cooked. If the sauce seems to be drying out, add a bit of water periodically to keep it moist.


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