I remember as a child visiting my Grandma Dorothy. She always greeted us with a bowl of her famous sweet and sour cabbage rolls. I could have devoured a whole pot of these Jewish meatballs...they were that good.
Now, you can make Grandma's best cabbage rolls in an unstuffed cabbage rolls version in an Instant Pot or pressure cooker! Talk about a huge timesaver!! I hope you like this unstuffed, easier Instant Pot Meatballs recipe as much as we do!
If you love this recipe, check out my Grandma's Homemade Chicken Soup recipe too!
As my grandmother got older, arthritis kicked in. It was hard for her to roll the cabbage rolls, so she started making unstuffed cabbage rolls. She would use the meat and rice to create meatballs, then shred the cabbage, and finally toss it all in a pot.
It was so much easier this way, and even better the meatballs retained their delicious flavors! It was like she was able to take the recipe apart. I hope you love this deconstructed version of Grandma's cabbage rolls as much as we do.
Which is better stovetop or Instant Pot?
For this Instant Pot stuffed cabbage recipe, I am giving you the directions for the traditional slow-simmered recipe. This is the same one my grandmother would allow to simmer for hours.
I am also going to show you how easy this recipe is to make in your Instant Pot or pressure cooker. I will be honest that the flavor is deeper when you make this recipe stovetop, but if you are in a hurry, the Instant Pot is definitely your friend.
Why my Grandma's meatballs are best:
Not only are my Grandma's meatballs full of flavor, but they are filled with memories. They make a healthy dinner, freeze perfectly, and everyone loves them.
These sweet and sour meatballs get even better as they sit in the refrigerator. It is like homemade spaghetti sauce, the flavors blend together overnight making the next days flavors the best.
Either way, this is our family's comfort food! This recipe is gluten free and full of love!
What you need to make this:
When you first look at the ingredients, you may think I am nuts that these flavors will all come together. Trust me, these sweet and sour meatballs are going to taste incredible!
- Ground beef - Use 90% lean ground beef to keep this a little more low fat. You can also use ground turkey or chicken, but the flavor will turn out a little different without the fat.
- Rice - You can use white or brown rice. Basmati types with a long grain turn out better than short-grain rice.
- Grape jelly - This flavor is the best, but in a pinch, I have used apricot successfully.
- Raisins - Do not use golden raisins.
Recipe step by step directions:
Step 1: Set your Instant Pot or pressure cooker to sauté. Add the onions and sauté for 4 minutes. Add half the shredded cabbage in for the last minute.
For the stovetop cooking, brown the onion until softened then add the shredded cabbage.
Step 2: Add ground beef to a bowl with uncooked rice, and egg. Mix well. Form small meatballs.
This is the same for both stovetop and pressure cooker! Some people call meatballs with rice inside Porcupine Meatballs.
Step 3: Put the meatballs on top of the cabbage. This step is the same for teh Instant Pot and stovetop.
Step 4: Add the rest of the ingredients to the Instant Pot. Close the lid and set the Instant Pot to 40 minutes (stew setting).
For stovetop, add the rest of the ingredients. Do NOT stir everything yet, your meatballs will smoosh and break. Wait until it cooks for 30 minutes and the meatballs firm up from cooking. Cover the pot and cook on medium heat until it boils. Turn the heat to low and allow to simmer.
Step 5: When the Instant Pot beeps that it is done, follow Instant Pot directions to release the pressure. DO NOT open the lid without doing this first.
Expert Tips and Recipe FAQ:
This unstuffed cabbage rolls recipe can easily be made stovetop as you can see in the directions above!! If you are cooking stovetop, check periodically to see if you need to add more water. Simmer on low for 1-2 hours. (Technically, it is ready in an hour, but cooking it longer allows the flavors to really blend in.)
You can definitely make this recipe low fat by using ground turkey or ground chicken instead of beef. The flavor will turn out a bit different because you won't have the meat fat in cooked into the sauce.
You are welcome to substitute breadcrumbs instead of the rice but note the liquid levels in this recipe will be way off because you will not be cooking the rice inside the meatballs porcupine style
The cabbage should be sliced thinly so it is easier to eat.
These meatballs will keep up to 4 days in an air-tight container, or up to 4 months in the freezer.
More delicious Instant Pot recipes:
- This Instant Pot Potato Cheese Casserole is a huge hit with everyone...potatoes and cheese, what is not to love about that?
- My Grandma's homemade soup in an Easy Instant Pot Chicken Soup version
- You can make gluten free pasta in the Instant Pot with this easy Instant Pot Tuscan Chicken Pasta recipe
- My favorite Instant Pot BBQ Meatballs are perfect for a party.
If you love this unstuffed cabbage rolls recipe, check out these popular Gluten Free Meatball Appetizer recipes!
Grandma's Unstuffed Cabbage Recipe
- 14 ounces diced tomatoes no salt added
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- ¼ cup brown sugar (coconut sugar works too!)
- ⅓ cup raisins
- 1 onion
- 4 cup cabbage (1 medium cabbage)
- ⅓ cup ketchup
- ¼ cup grape jelly (apricot jam also works)
- 1 ½ pounds ground beef * see note
- 1 cup rice * see note
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 ½ cups water
- Set Instant Pot to sauté and cook onion and olive oil for 4 minutes. The last minute, add the cabbage. (Stovetop: brown onion with olive oil until the onions are soft. Add cabbage to the pot.)
- In a large bowl, add ground beef, egg, and uncooked rice. Mix well. Form small meatballs and drop them into the Instant Pot.
- Add the rest of the ingredients to the Instant Pot or stovetop pot.
- Instant Pot, set it to stew and cook for 35 minutes. Stovetop: cover and set to low temperature. Simmer 1-2 hours.
- Serve hot
- Follow the above directions to make the meatballs and slice the cabbage.
- In a large soup pot, add the oil and sauté the onion until it is soft.
- Add the rest of the liquid ingredients to the pot.
- Drop the meatballs gently into the pot and add the cabbage.
- Do not stir the meatballs while they are raw or they will break apart.
- Cover and cook on medium heat for 30 minutes, then reduce the heat to simmer.
- Gently stir being very careful not to break the meatballs.
- Continue cooking an additional 30 minutes. This can simmer much longer and the flavors will continue to develop and blend overnight in the refrigerator.
- You can use any ground meat in this recipe. Ground turkey and chicken will make it low fat, but ground beef will give the most flavor.
- Use plain no salt added canned diced tomatoes, not seasoned.
- I recommend using long-grain rice. You can use brown or white rice for the porcupine meatballs.
- Note this recipe can also be made stovetop.
- The flavor of this cabbage and meatballs recipe will continue to get better overnight as it sits in the refrigerator.
- These meatballs will keep up to 4 days in an air-tight container, or up to 4 months in the freezer.
Nutritional information is an estimate provided to you as a courtesy. You should calculate the actual nutritional information with the products and brands you are using with your preferred nutritional calculator.
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This post was updated from an older June 2015 post with more details and easier-to-follow directions.