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.
Ground turkey recipes
- 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.
did you make this recipe?
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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.
Comments & Reviews
Wow! Great recipe! Healthy! This is all I need for my turkey cabbage rolls. I did encounter a problem with the cabbage, though. I boiled the entire head for maybe 15 minutes, but most of the leaves were not soft. My brother said the water needs to be “super” hot so the cabbage will roll around. My pot was large, but I think the cabbage didn’t roll, so maybe I needed to keep flipping it while it boiled. He also suggested that removing the core before boiling it might do the trick. I don’t know… I don’t want the leaves to get too soggy. Anyway, I made the recipe as is, but instead of quinoa, I used 1 cup of brown rice cooked in 2-1/2 cups of chicken broth. The filling was so delicious! However, I might like it better without the 1/2 cup of marinara sauce thrown in. It gave the filling a slightly “vinegary taste” that dissipated after a day or so in the fridge. Also, after being in the fridge a few days, the cabbage leaves were a still a bit crunchy, but softer. I’ve eaten almost all of the cabbage rolls all this week and I’m getting ready to make them again. I love it when who can follow a recipe exactly the way it is written and result is fabulous! Thank you!
I’m glad you liked it! Some marinara sauces actually have vinegar in them which could’ve led to that taste. I really like the brand Rao’s (sold most grocery stores and even Costco) since it’s just tomato sauce, garlic and herbs. Hope that helps!
Nick Dinneen says
Can I use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth?
Of course! 🙂
I love this recipe! The filling is so good, I left some out to eat in a bowl for lunch the next day. This will be added to my regular dinners, so thank you!
Oh good! It reheats great!
Jill Blase says
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!
I’m thrilled my recipe had the honor of being your New Year’s Day dinner! Happy new year to you and your family! If you liked this one, check out my turkey spaghetti recipe – I serve it with spaghetti squash all the time and it’s absolutely delicious! 🙂
Do not attempt these rolls with savoy cabbage. It is a much more fibrous style of cabbage than the standard round heads typically found. I attempted this with savoy style and it was not enjoyable to eat. The stuffing is tasty. The carrots gave it a sweeter nod than my husband liked. If I tried this one again I would probably add some chili powder and possibly use a fradiavolo sauce to give it some zip. I liked the sour cream suggestion – that was very yummy in this dish.
Taste was phenomenal, however the cabbage was dry and tough.. When I reheated for leftovers I steamed them… that fixed them. When I make this again I will instead of putting these in the oven I will just steam them and once steamed I will put the sauce over them… If your cabbage is not fully cooked it will be tough and rubbery…. that was not enjoyable. YOUR FILLING though…..IS TOP #1…
Hmm, mine weren’t rubbery at all! Sorry to hear it turned out that way for you. The hot water rinse was an attempt to make the recipe faster to make but steaming or boiling is definitely the traditional and best way to go. Happy to hear you liked the filling!
Wow, you’ve nearly read my mind!!!! I finally had my first cabbage roll (at age 41, with Polish influences all around me!) and probably would never have tried them… but was invited to a dinner party where they were served, and was raised to ALWAYS eat your full served portion, thank the chef profusely and ask for the recipe.
My husband and I were amazed at how delicious they were! I’m trying to lose a bit of weight (crazy how the pounds pack on after your 40th bday) and the recipe was fairly calorie-packed… with sugar, white rice, ground beef/veal/pork and LOTS of oil.
So I figured I’d try to “dream up” a healthier version, and also google one. Our recipes are nearly identical! I opted to shred my carrots, use a mix of Quinoa and brown rice, add a bit more garlic , minced sweet onion and my own red sauce. For the sauce I just opened a can of tomato puree, added a bit of tomato paste, and a couple dashes of Worcestershire.
I also froze my cabbage the day before and defrosted it (it softens it without the extra pot and headache… and because its ME cooking, burned hands LOL).
Otherwise followed your instructions and Bam! What a delicious, much healthier version of my new favorite dish!!!
Thanks Christy, for helping my “vision” become a reality!!!
Hi Jessica! I’m absolutely stoked that you liked the recipe and can’t wait to try your variations! Especially that frozen cabbage idea – I’m mind blown! 🙂
I made this came out great the only thing I changed was I used turkey Italian sausage(just took it out of the casting and ground it), also add parm to the mix and ommited the carrots used red bell peppers instead instead of sour cream used Greek yogurt. Sooooooo goooddd and part of my diet
Using turkey Italian sausage would add a ton more flavor! Great idea!
It’s high in sodium and need to watch my sodium intake for health reasons. Is there any way to lower the sodium in this recipe?
I’m actually not sure Ashley. If you are used to eating with less salt then it may work for you. Salt levels are all based on preference. Good luck with the new diet!
Yes. Use Herbox NO sodium chicken broth, and tomatoes with no salt.
Good to know! Thanks for the tip!
I made this for my daughter and we all loved it! She is home from college and has requested I make this dish for her while she is home. There was a link for your favorite jarred marinara you like to use. I’m pretty sure I used that link last time. Now when I click on the marinara it takes me to a dead link within a webpage. Do you know the recipe for the marinara or have a good suggestion? Thanks!
So happy that you all loved this recipe! I didn’t realize the link was dead – thanks for letting me know! It was the Simple Truth brand and I updated the link to show which one but honestly, it doesn’t really matter. Any good sauce will do!
Maggie Williamson says
Delicious Love these rolls. I freeze my head of cabbage for 24 hours then let stand for 24 hrs then the leaves separate very easily. No need to boil Thank you for this recipe
Very cool! I’ve never heard of that method but can’t wait to try it!
Connie Hargrave says
I followed recipe exactly but cabbage leaves were very tough but dish was quite tasty. I wonder why? Any idea??
Hmm, I haven’t had that experience before. Perhaps the water wasn’t hot enough when you prepared the cabbage or maybe there wasn’t enough sauce on top? Its hard to say what when wrong for you here, but I’m sorry the recipe didn’t work out for you. It normally turns out great!
Wow, made these last night and they are an instant new favorite! I am aking the leftover filling and will stuff sweet peppers this afternoon! Amazing it’s healthy eating!! Thanks so much Christy!
Glad you liked them Jay! 🙂
I made these. And I will share that these hit the CHARTS!!!!
I made up my quinoa with some fresh, and finely, chopped portobellos, and also added.some chopped celery to the mix at the same time as the carrots and onions.
Just before done, I added a few slices of portobello, as well, because I didn’t want them to end up in the garbage. Afte
After the 30 minutes, I grated some fresh parm and chopped some parsley, and I PROMISE YOU, THEY WERE A HIT. I ALSO ADDED FRESH RICOTTA.
THANK YOU!!!!!!!! I served on a bed of the remaining quinoa and with a side of broiled bread!!!! ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
Daaang lady! Your additions sound so good! I love the idea of adding all those veggies to the quinoa like that and serving it with bread is a must! Got to soak up all those juicy red sauces. 🙂
Ohhhh I wish I’d read everyone’s comments before I posted my own… what a great idea! I’m going to be adding minced mushrooms to mmine next time, and probably some finally chopped, cooked spinach as well!!! Woo-hoo, you have a lovely fan base Christy!
This might be a dumb question, but when you bake them do you need to cover them with foil or a lip or something or just keep them uncovered? I can’t wait to try this!
Not a dumb question at all! I didn’t cover mine and loved the way the sauce bakes onto the rolls and becomes thick this way. I know some recipes suggest covering, especially when you stuff the cabbage rolls with raw meat to speed up the cooking time but it really isn’t necessary with this version since the meat is pre-cooked and the bake time is shorter.
I made this recipe on Sunday. I added some finely chopped celery and carrots. The cabbage rolls were so delicious, and the leftovers were great. I actually used the leftover cabbage rolls for breakfast – I sliced them up into thin slices, heated them and made some delicious cabbage roll sandwiches. I ran out this morning, unfortunately. It may soon be time to make more!
Oh nice! I like the sandwich idea. 🙂
Ana B says
This turkey cabbage roll recipe looks so good and am bookmarking it to make it 🙂 I loovee cabbage too it’s easily one of my faves in veggies.
Ana B says
Hi Christy, I made the recipe and they were delicious. I had to try it as it looked so good. This is now my go to recipe for cabbage rolls. I like the turkey but you can also even make this recipe with beef which I might try next time around.
So happy that you liked the recipe Ana! You can certainly make this with ground beef or even ground chicken. You might need to adjust the seasonings a bit but overall, the same recipe works pretty well with any ground meat. Enjoy!
I made this recipe over the weekend and my husband and I loved it! Healthy and delicious. I had leftovers for 3 days and it was as good as the day I made it. I will definitely make it again.
Awesome! I love this recipe too. Such simple flavors but so delicious together. 🙂
Hi. Do you think that this could be prepared and then frozen? If so should it be baked before freezing? I’m always looking for delicious meals to prep ahead. Thanks.
I haven’t tried yet, but if I did I would slather in sauce and then freeze before baking. The leaves might get a little watery when you defrost and bake, but it doesn’t seem like it would freeze too poorly. That being said, I haven’t tried it so I can’t vouch for that method. Good luck!
Cooking Bettyboop says
My family loves this recipie and they are from Louisiana. That says a lot!
Awesome! Always reassuring to get kudos from Louisiana. 😉
Joanne Graves says
So happy to have found your recipe. Most of them call for raw meat and I cooked my turkey beforehand. Thanks for the save!
So happy to hear that Joanne! 🙂
do I need to use the whole cabbage roll? I’m hoping to free the meat for a second meal 🙂
Do you mean use the whole cabbage? I normally have some of the inner leaves and center leftover which you could use for something else. Hope that helps!
Made these last night and they were delicious! I’ve been craving cabbage rolls and came across your recipe. Couldnt even tell a difference between my regular beef and rice cabbage rolls and this healthy version. Great recipe!
Glad you liked them Haley! Its one of my favorite recipes.
This might be a dumb question, but I am new to cooking with cabbage. Do you just put the whole head of cabbage in without pulling it apart to boil?
Not a dumb question at all! Cabbage can be a tricky one. I just boil it all whole and then peel the leaves off. I can’t vouch for it, but could see it working fine to do it the other way though and it would probably mean you would only need to boil the leaves for a few minutes. If you do try it that way, let me know how it works! I love any trick that shaves a few minutes off cooking time.
This is not a dumb question at all! Unfortunately, I did not ask the question before I cooked the cabbage, and I followed the recipe assuming that I was supposed to peel the cabbage leaves off the head first. The problem with this is that if you follow the instructions and cook it for 10 minutes the leaves are way too soggy and pretty much disintegrated when I pick them up. Has been just went to the store to get another head of cabbage while I sit here with all of the ingredients ready to finish the recipe. LOL
I just updated the recipe to make it clearer that you need to keep the cabbage head whole. Thanks for the feedback ladies! 🙂
Hi. I just read a helpful. Hint Rap the unwashed head in foil a freeze it for 3 days. The immerse the unwrapped head into a bowl of warm water for about 30 minutes.
Slice off the stem slightly. Pull off leaves gently under running warm water (gentle flow). Let cool slightly if warm or ca refrigerate the leaves for later. Only a couple of days.
Found in a Sunset issue.
Wow, thanks Lisa! I’ll have to try that next time!
Rebecca m. says
I crosscut the bottom where the core is and run a knife around it to partially remove some core and the leaves will loosen easier. I put a tad bit of water in a microwave safe bowl cover with Saran Wrap and microwave for 10 mins. Cool and pull leaves off. ** I have a 1100 watt microwave so use you best judgement on time.
Wow, thanks for the detailed guidance on this! You can always steam in a pot, but I just hate taking that extra step if you don’t have to.
Thalia @ butter and brioche says
what a healthy and delicious dish! think this would be perfect for dinner tonight – thanks for the recipe.
You’re very welcome Thalia! These cabbage rolls have kind of become my obsession lately. Who knew cabbage could taste so good? 😉