Ground turkey cabbage rolls simmered in tomato sauce with a quinoa turkey filling are a healthy, lighter twist on this Eastern European meal. With a few shortcuts built in to make the process easier than traditional cabbage rolls, this version uses jarred marinara sauce and pre-cooks the meat mixture making this the easiest cabbage roll recipe you’ll ever make!
Stuffed cabbage rolls are comfort food at its finest. The cabbage is merely a vessel for the savory, hearty filling and sauce ensemble, which are the real shining stars of this recipe. The seamless cohesion of ingredients comes together in neat single-serve bundles that are low in calories and high on flavor.
Is the recipe authentic? There are so many versions of cabbage rolls in Eastern Europe from Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, Turkish and everything in between with many methods and variations of ingredients. This is my version of cabbage rolls with ground turkey, pulled from various recipes with my own twists to make this classic dish healthier and easier.
Why make this recipe
After countless tries at making this dish, I’ve finally got a fabulous recipe for delicious cabbage rolls that I can’t wait to share with you all! This recipe has multiple steps and processes and is not my standard quick weeknight meal. The results are worth the extra effort though and I’ve come up with some shortcuts to make it more approachable.
This recipe has shortcuts to make it faster and easier. Cabbage rolls require some extra work no matter how you make them but I’ve shortened the overall process to take just an hour. The shortcuts include pre-cooking the ground turkey, using jarred pasta sauce, boiling the whole cabbage head instead of removing each leaf as it boils.
Ground turkey cabbage rolls are healthier than traditional cabbage rolls. This recipe uses a blend of veggies, quinoa and seasoned ground turkey for filling making this a lighter, yet filling and delicious alternative to using ground beef or pork.
Its the most delicious stuffed cabbage I’ve made yet! You’d never assume the filling was on the healthier side with how flavorful it is. Also, the cabbage rolls and sauce perfectly blend to make the tastiest twist on this dish yet. Don’t take my word for it, check out the reviews and comments!
“I made this recipe for New Years Day! It was a HUGE hit with my entire family! Thank you for sharing! I’m going to check out your other recipes!”– Jill Blase (Featured Comment)
It’s naturally gluten free, dairy free and loaded with protein. Each cabbage roll has over 18 grams of protein so almost 40 grams total per serving! Most of that comes from the turkey but the quinoa adds an extra dose as well. Cruciferous vegetables are full of nutrition and cabbage has Vitamin K, Vitamin C, fiber and other health benefits.
If you love red sauce as much as we do, check out my homemade turkey spaghetti sauce recipe, my zucchini lasagna or my eggplant lasagna roll ups. If you’re craving veggies, I also have a layered ratatouille dish that is out of this world delicious!
The ingredients for this turkey cabbage roll recipe are simple and most you probably already have in the pantry. Here’s what you’ll need, suggestions for substitutions and more detail on exactly what to get.
- quinoa – the instructions include rinsing the quinoa but if yours comes pre-rinsed you can skip this step. You can also substitute 3 cups of cooked white rice, brown rice or even store bought cooked rice packets to make this even easier. For low carb, substitute cauliflower rice.
- chicken broth – this adds a lot of extra flavor to the quinoa so don’t skip it. You can substitute vegetable broth or just toss a bouillon cube into the cooking water if needed.
- cabbage – make sure to choose a large head of cabbage so you will have enough leaves to work with. Use regular green cabbage or savoy cabbage
- onion – just a plain yellow onion is fine. You can substitute a white onion if you prefer.
- minced garlic – the pre-minced jarred kind is fine here.
- ground turkey – use regular ground turkey with about 7% fat NOT the 1% fat option. If you do, the meat in your cabbage rolls will be dry. You can substitute another ground meat like ground chicken, ground pork or ground beef instead if you prefer.
- carrots – this adds extra nutrition and texture.
- oil – I use avocado oil due to its mild flavor and low smoke point. We aren’t heating things up very high here though so olive oil would probably be fine.
- salt – the seasonings are simple and salt is essential and can be adjusted to your preference.
- black pepper – just regular ground pepper will do here.
- paprika – this spice is essential to the overall flavor. You can substitute in smoked paprika or Hungarian paprika but do not skip adding paprika in some form.
- Worcestershire – use a gluten free version if needed.
- egg – egg helps bind the filling together. If you need to exclude it, the end result will taste pretty similar but the filling will be looser.
- jarred marinara sauce – you can make your own tomato sauce but this is an EASY turkey cabbage roll recipe so we’re using store bought. Any good one will do but I prefer Rao’s (the one I linked to, but I buy it at Costco to make it more affordable) or another brand that uses simple ingredients without extra sugar or additives.
- Sour cream – you can use dairy free or plain yogurt if you prefer but this really adds creaminess and authenticity to the end result!
- Chopped parsley and/or dill – optional, but chopped fresh herbs add contrast and a touch of extra flavor so I recommend using something here.
How to make ground turkey cabbage rolls
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190° C).
- Use a mesh sieve to rinse quinoa before adding to a small sauce pan with the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes.
- Simmer a whole head of cabbage in a large pot of water for 7-8 minutes. Remove from boiling water and cool.
- In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat and sauté onion and carrot for a few minutes.
- Add garlic and sauté a minute longer before adding ground turkey. Cook turkey using a spatula to break it up into small pieces as it cooks.
- While turkey is cooking, season with Worcestershire, salt, pepper, paprika, and 1/2 cup of the marinara sauce. Add cooked quinoa to turkey mixture and mix it in over medium heat. Taste and add more salt if you prefer. Add the egg and stir to mix in.
- Spoon 1/2 cup of the marinara sauce into the bottom of the baking dish in a thin layer.
- Carefully peel the tender cabbage leaves and scoop 1/2 – 3/4 cup of the turkey filling into the center of each cabbage leaf. Fold the bottom half over the filling and then tuck the sides in. Fold the upper half over and place cabbage rolls seam side down in the prepared casserole dish. Repeat with the rest of the cabbage leaves.
- Spread the rest of the tomato sauce on top of cabbage rolls. Bake for approximately 30 minutes until cabbage is fully cooked.
- Garnish with parsley and serve with sour cream or plain yogurt.
Storing, re-heating and freezing leftovers
One of the best parts about this dish is the leftovers! They are almost better the next day and reheat great. Here are instructions on how to freeze, reheat and store these healthy cabbage rolls.
Storage: Store leftover cabbage rolls in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. They’ll still be okay to eat for about 5 days but can become a little watery at that point.
Freezing: Allow the cabbage rolls to cool completely before freezing in an airtight container or freezer-safe bag. Remove as much air as possible or if using a container, use an appropriately sized one so there is just a little bit of extra room at the top, not more than 1/4″, to minimize freezer burn. Label and freeze for up to 3 months.
Defrosting: If frozen, let defrost in the refrigerator overnight. Alternatively, you can use the defrost setting on your microwave or if the container or bag is airtight, you can defrost by submerging in a bowl of water for an hour or two. Amount of time to defrost will depend on the number of cabbage rolls and method used.
Re-heating in the microwave: To reheat from the refrigerator either place the cabbage rolls in the microwave, spacing each roll apart on a plate for even heating between each roll. Microwave on high for 1 – 1 1/2 minutes until the center of each roll is warm. If microwaving from frozen, use the defrost setting to make sure they thaw and heat evenly.
Re-heating in the oven: Reheat in a baking dish in the oven covered by aluminum foil at 350° F (175°C) for 20 minutes if defrosted and 30-40 minutes if frozen.
What to serve with cabbage rolls
Cabbage rolls are like a casserole so no sides needed! Pair with a dollop of sour cream or greek yogurt (diary free is fine!) and you’re good to go. That being said, if you’d like to serve something alongside and are wondering what goes with cabbage rolls, I have some suggestions.
Adding a simple kale salad or this citrus kale salad adds some extra veggies to the mix. If you truly want to make the meal Eastern European, a good crusty bread is a must too. A bowl of borscht would be a welcome accompaniment and my summer borscht recipe is top notch!
If you want to add a drink to the meal, pair with a sauvignon blanc, dry pinot gris or a fun cocktail like a Rumchata white Russian. While not authentic, white Russians are delicious and the creaminess would pair well with the rich red sauce in the cabbage rolls.
Removing cabbage leaves: if your cabbage rolls are not peeling away easily without ripping you can cut out the stem of the cabbage. To do this, cut 1/2-1″ (about 2 cm) above the stem core area making a v-shaped cut in each leaf.
Don’t skip the sour cream: topping the piping hot cabbage rolls with cool, creamy sour cream is part of what makes this dish so delightful! Using dairy-free sour cream or yogurt is fine or substituting for plain greek yogurt. They’re best paired with that tangy creaminess and are traditionally served with sour cream for this reason.
Substitution for quinoa: for those of you that don’t like quinoa, don’t worry! Cooked white rice or brown rice works perfectly fine in this recipe. Substitute 3 cups of cooked rice for the quinoa in the recipe. If you’re really rushed on time, pre-cooked microwave rice packets can come in handy. You can even substitute cauliflower rice to make the recipe low carb or keto if needed.
Use regular ground turkey: don’t use that 1% fat option, sometimes labeled fat free. This will result in dry meat mixture and overall less palatable texture.
Use a standard, large green cabbage to make cabbage rolls. A savoy cabbage will work too since their leaves are large and pliable.
There isn’t a definitive answer on where cabbage rolls originated. The general conclusion is that cabbage rolls have existed for 2,000 years and originated in the Middle East. Tomato sauce based stuffed cabbages are common in Jewish communities, Eastern Europe, Turkey, Poland, Germany and other places in the region. They are often called holubtsi in Ukraine and Russia where they are a very common dish.
Not in this recipe. Some recipes require cabbage rolls to be covered with tin foil while baking but it isn’t necessary here. This recipe pre-cooks the meat mixture and has a shorter cook time so covering is unnecessary. Covering will prevent the sauce from thickening and becoming more flavorful while it bakes so leave it uncovered.
- 1 small sauce pan with lid
- 1 fine mesh sieve (for rinsing quinoa, disregard if yours is pre-rinsed)
- 1 9×13 casserole dish
- 1 spatula or flat sided wooden spoon
- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1 large head of cabbage (damaged outer leaves removed)
- 1 medium onion (chopped)
- 2 large carrots (chopped)
- 2 tsp. minced garlic
- 20 oz. 7% lean ground turkey
- 1 Tbsp. oil (I use avocado oil)
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt (adjust to your preference)
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- 1.5 tsp. paprika
- 2 tsp. worcestershire
- 1 egg
- 16 oz. marinara sauce
- sour cream
- chopped parsley and/or dill
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190° C).
- Rinse quinoa and add to a small sauce pan with broth. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Let simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for 3-4 minutes before removing lid. Do not let quinoa sit longer while covered or it will get mushy.
- Heat a large pot of salted water separately over high heat to bring to a boil. Add whole head of cabbage, cover and reduce heat to low. Boil cabbage for 7-8 minutes, rolling it over while cooking to make sure all sides are submerged for at least a few minutes. Remove cabbage from pot and let cool in a strainer.
- While quinoa and cabbage are cooking, heat oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add onion and carrot and sauté for 3-4 minutes to soften.
- Add garlic and sauté a minute longer before adding turkey. Cook turkey for 6-7 minutes until fully cooked. While cooking, use a spatula to break the turkey up into small pieces. You do NOT want large pieces of turkey, only small crumbles or you can get bites that are bland.
- While turkey cooks, add Worcestershire, salt, pepper, paprika, and 1/2 cup of the marinara sauce. Add cooked quinoa to turkey mixture and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning levels if desired. Remove from heat, add the egg and stir to mix in.
- Spoon about 1/2 cup of the marinara sauce into the bottom of an empty 9 X 13" casserole dish and spread out to a thin layer.
- Peel leaves from cabbage carefully to keep them intact. Scoop 1/2 – 3/4 cup turkey filling into the center of a cabbage leaf. Fold the bottom half over the filling and then tuck the sides in. Fold the upper half over and lay seam side down in the prepared casserole dish. Repeat with remaining cabbage leaves until dish is full and filling is gone (typically 10 rolls).
- Spread remaining marinara sauce on top of cabbage rolls and bake for approximately 30 minutes until cabbage is fully cooked.
- Garnish with fresh herbs and serve with sour cream or plain yogurt.
Recipe originally published February 4, 2015. It was updated to include more detail in the recipe and change the instructions on how to cook the cabbage on September 15, 2021. The post was updated again in May 2023 to add additional content and detail to the recipe.