Golubtsi (stuffed cabbage leaves)

Sorry for completely disappearing on ya! Hopefully you follow me on Facebook and saw that I announced I would take a little break from blogging and weren’t surprised to keep seeing those delicious looking chocolate covered cheesecake lollipops every time you loaded the page. For over a month. But anyways, this whole hot and cold act I’ve been putting on with this blog is going to stop because I quit my day job last week (today is actually my very first day “off”) which means a lot more cooking. And blogging. And sharing. I hope you’re as excited as I am. Yay for more Russian treats!!

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Speaking of sharing, I received 2 emails from 2 different Elinas in the last 2 months. I’ve never ever met another Elina before (and yes, Elina and Elena are two different names!) – let alone 2- so this is exciting. What’s even more exciting – my fellow Elinas love Eastern European food as much as I do and they’ve been sharing some favorite recipes of their own. Sharing is pretty awesome!

One of these recipes was for golubtsi (meat stuffed cabbage leaves) which I haven’t had in ages. These are pretty popular all over Eastern Europe with each region having a slightly different take on the dish. In Moldova (where I’m from), stuffed grape leaves were also popular – which are also called golubtsi and have the same exact filling (they’re not like the Greek dolma which are mostly rice)… and I’m now discovering pickled cabbage leaves were also quite famous. I’ve never actually had that version but am thoroughly intrigued. Maybe there will be a part II to this post in the future Smile

Ok, so let’s talk golubtsi. These little guys are stuffed with meat, rice, garlic, shredded tomato (for moistness) and simmered slowly in a creamy tomato sauce. They’re adorable. And I’m going to be honest, a pain in the ass to make! You see, my head of cabbage was pretty tight and after the top few leaves came off, the rest really didn’t want to go without tearing. I had to re-steam it several times with a few top leaves loosening, then doing it again. And then I’d get frustrated and accidently poke holes in the leaves once rolling. I almost gave up taking pictures mid-way, figuring it’s just too much work for you to make. But… but… at the end, none of these little mishaps really mattered because once you sear the leaves they hold shape. And better yet, the end result was delicious! Adam isn’t a fan of cabbage but gobbled up quite a few for lunch yesterday and was happy to take more to work today. If you’ve got time and feeling calm, I say this is a great dish to make over a weekend and share with company.

Printer friendly-recipe (Adopted from a reader Elina)

Ingredients (makes approx. 20 rolls):

  • 3/4lbs ground beef
  • 1 cabbage
  • 1 tomato, shredded
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup uncooked rice (I used brown)
  • 2 minced garlic cloves, divided
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (I used reduced fat)
  • 2 cups chicken broth, divided
  • salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of olive or canola oil

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Steam cabbage, whole (if your steamer doesn’t fit the cabbage, boil the whole cabbage head for a few minutes). This will loosen the leaves from the core as well as will make them flexible enough to work with.

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Combine beef, shredded tomato, egg, rice and 1 minced garlic clove + salt & pepper (I typically use 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to 1lb of meat).

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Once cabbage leaves are steamed (they should visibly start coming off the core), carefully separate the leaves from the core and blot with paper towels.

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It’s time to roll the golubtsi! Place approx. 2 tablespoons of meat mixture on the base of the cabbage leaf (leaving a bit of a border), the roll towards the outside of the leaf, tucking in sides. Leave approx. 1 golubtsi-worth of meat mixture "naked."

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Heat oil on medium high in a large dutch oven. Place golubtsi seam side down and brown lightly on all sides. If the golubtsi don’t all fit in one layer, do this in several batches.

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Whisk together tomato paste, sour cream, 1/2 cup chicken broth, remaining garlic, salt, pepper and sugar to taste. Return all rolls (as well as a little ball of meat mixture) to the dutch oven, cover with creamy tomato sauce. Add chicken broth until all rolls are fully covered in liquid.

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Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 60-120 minutes until the rice is ready (I used brown rice so it took longer). The little "meat ball" is your tester for doneness (you’ll see if the rice still looks crunchy and don’t be afraid to taste it… the meat will cook a lot faster than the rice so it will be safe to taste).

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You worked hard – enjoy your fruits of labor! :)

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Printer-friendly recipe

20 comments to Golubtsi (stuffed cabbage leaves)

  • I make these with my mom (maybe the Lithuanian background) — but we bake them in the oven rather than boil them. We usually put a ton in the freezer, and that’s when all the hard work pays off… you can just reheat them whenever you want them.

    • elina

      Ooh, I love the idea of freezing them. I never do stuff like that. Thanks for the tip! :) Oh and I’ve seen recipes were they are baked as well but Elina’s recipe said simmer and I had something in the oven already so I went with it. It’s good for a lazy day.

  • I had cabbage rolls for lunch today :-) I make them very similar to these, but I like the sound of the sauce you pour on yours. I love sour cream!!

  • Nzie

    I love golubtsi/golumpki/holubtsy… I definitely want to try to make these (although I am busy with school… if push comes to shove, the Ukrainian church has an ethnic dinner fundraiser quarterly and they make these). My grandma always made the stuffed peppers, but I don’t care for peppers so these are my favorite. Yay for the recipe…

    I don’t really have time to cook much from scratch that’s this time intensive, but then again, tonight I made the pirohi/potato vareniki just making it up as I went along (from how the lady at church showed me on the dough — I don’t have a stand mixer so I did it old school flour well – it worked but could be better… and I’m Slavic, so if I need help making a potato filling, I will have to give up my Slavic cred!). 😀

    Glad to see you back, and with a recipe I definitely want to try!
    ~Nzie

  • Loving these! My grandma makes these all of the time so they make me feel warm and fuzzy! :-)

  • ooh, we have a version of those too! my mom would make a “quick” version where everything’s chopped up together more often though, lazy golubki :)

  • Yana

    SHannon, my mom always makes the ‘lazy ‘ version and they turn out absolutely delicious minus the hard work!

  • I am a huge fan of stuffed cabbage and have always wanted to make it myself. Might have to try your recipe:-)

  • Bundle Wade

    So nice to see this recipe this week. I’m from the Caribbean and had no idea this dish was popular in Eastern Europe. :) Our recipe is actually quite similar to yours.
    Mom was going to make “niños envueltos” (“wrapped children” is what we call golubtsi -sorry it sounds so weird in English!) a few days ago, but since it was so much work, she made a casserole/pie out of these. The dish turned out delicious!

  • You inspired me to make a batch of cabbage rolls and freeze them as part of my mission to have meals waiting in the freezer! The filling was a bit different based on what I had around, but it’s the same idea =)

  • Julia

    Thank you for the recipe! We used to eat these with a little sour cream on the side dipping each bite. ..

  • MARINA

    I love this recipe and i love your website. Im also from Moldova :)
    I just started my own food blog if you’d like to check it out:
    http://letyourfaithbebiggerthanyourfear.blogspot.com

  • I made these for the first time. I disagree with one comment, though, they are NOT a “pain” to make. I enjoyed every minute of making them. It was, however, a pain to clean up the kitchen.

    I have a porcelain covered casserole. I decided to make them in the casserole. I sprayed the bottom and sides with cooking spray. Then I placed the browned golubtsi in the casserole in rows, and poured the sauce over them. Simple!

    Baked them in the oven for about 90 mins.

    My wife is RUSSIAN, and she loved them!

    Four stars!

  • Julz

    Hi- love reading your recipes, thanks for posting them…what do u think can be used instead of sour cream. We recently relocated to Peru and haven’t found sour cream here yet. Maybe heavy cream?

  • wayne

    You can freeze a whole head of cabbage. Then when it thaws the leaves are easy to take off.

    Also make sure you cut the thick spine off each leaf before rolling.

    I’ve never heard of cooking on stovetop, always in the oven. Top layer covered with extra leaves. Save the slightly burnt ones on the edges for me though.

  • wayne

    And browning them in a pan before cooking? whose got time for that when you typically make a dozen dozen at a time? Straight into a leaf lined roaster, covered with some liquid, and bake.

    Oh and I guess some use uncooked rice, we use cooked/almost cooked rice.

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