Unstuffed Cabbage Rolls

Simple and easy to prepare both underway or at anchor, this dish is the perfect comfort food after a long sail.

March 29, 2016
cruising food
Simple and easy to prepare both underway or at anchor, this dish is the perfect comfort food after a long sail. CW

Complete Comfort Food

When the winds gave us a respite after blowing hard for weeks, my husband, David, and I escaped our South Florida marina aboard Winterlude, our Passport 37, and sailed to the Marquesas Keys, 25 miles west of Key West. Weather conditions allowed us to stay anchored longer than anticipated in idyllic, uninhabited, palm-fringed islets. Food supplies were running low. Searching for something for dinner, I remembered a recipe I’d seen and mentally filed away to try “someday.” We’d had no luck fishing that day, which meant that someday had arrived. § I love stuffed cabbage rolls but don’t make them on board because they’re just too much trouble. This idea, which calls for similar ingredients but not stuffing or rolling the cabbage leaves, seemed boat-perfect. Cabbage, onions and garlic keep forever. You can use ground beef, sausage or even canned chicken, and the remaining ingredients are typical staples on any cruising boat. Plus, it’s a one-pot, stove-top meal! I borrowed the “unstuffed” idea, but made my own modifications to create this recipe. It’s now one of our favorite comfort foods.

Ingredients (serves two)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (or to taste)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef (see variations, below)
  • 4 to 5 cups cabbage, chopped
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1/2 cup or more uncooked rice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Dash of oregano
  • 4 green onions, chopped, for garnish


Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Saute onions over medium heat until tender. Add garlic and beef and saute until meat is browned. Add all remaining ingredients ­except green onions. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 25 minutes, checking and stirring intermittently, adding more liquid if rice requires it. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. When rice is done and cabbage is fork-tender, serve topped with chopped green onions and a warmed loaf of crusty bread.


For a lighter but very tasty version of this dish, omit ground beef and substitute the equivalent amount of chicken, cooked and shredded (you can use canned), and a bit of spicy sausage, crumbled, for added flavor. When preparing, brown the sausage in place of the ground beef, but set aside the cooked chicken. Use chicken broth instead of beef broth, and add a bit of Cajun seasoning. (You can make your own by mixing equal parts oregano, paprika, cayenne and black pepper, then adding salt to taste.) Add the cooked chicken just before the rice is done — after about 15 to 20 minutes — so it heats through and absorbs the flavors but doesn’t turn to mush.


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