Wash and core the cabbage. Cut into quarters and pull apart roughly into chunks about 4 leaves thick (see process photo above).
In a large bowl, mix the ground meat with the rice, paprika, fennel, ½ teaspoon thyme, ½ teaspoon salt, and allspice plus half of each of the garlic and onions. Mix gently; feel free to use your hands.
In a 4-cup or larger glass measuring cup, measure the tomato sauce and mix with the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, ½ tsp. salt, molasses, ½ teaspoon thyme, oregano, and cayenne along with the remaining onion and garlic.
In the bottom of a 5-quart or larger slow cooker (greasing it is optional), pour a thin layer of sauce. Layer half the cabbage, half the meat, and half the sauce, then repeat. This pretty well filled my slow cooker, but if you have a large crock, you could use a larger cabbage. It looks like a lot but when it cooks down it practically seems to disappear.
Cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
Serve hot with optional toppings: sour cream, shredded cheese, sliced green onion.
* To have cooked brown rice on hand, I recommend simply planning stir fry or another dish with plain rice earlier in the week. No extra pots for this meal! Cooked rice can also be frozen, so you can make extra anytime and always have some on hand.
* Feel free to cut the molasses if you don't like added sweeteners; its only job is to bring out the flavor of the tomatoes.
* Grain-free adaptation: Omit the rice, and just before serving, make fresh "cauli-rice" (food processed cauliflower sauteed in oil). Serve the cabbage un-roll mixture over cauli-rice.
* Also works in an Instant Pot! The "soup" setting cooks for 30 minutes after pressure is attained, so if you forget to get your slow cooker going or would rather have not-so-overcooked food if you're going to be out of the house all day, get an Instant Pot.
* This is a pretty flavorful meal. If you prefer a more basic, bland recipe, you may want to start with half or ¾ of the herbs and spices.
* If you don't have all the right kinds of tomatoes on hand, feel free to substitute one for the other - more tomato sauce instead of diced tomatoes. tomato sauce and ½-1 cup water instead of the sauce, crushed tomatoes instead of sauce and diced, etc. As long as you have enough liquid in the cooker so that things don't dry out, it will be a forgiving recipe.
Slow Cooker "UN-Stuffed" Cabbage Rolls
Amount Per Serving
Calories 386Calories from Fat 108
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 12g18%
Total Carbohydrates 34g11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.