Updated: Sep 20
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Some foods more than others remind me of home. This recipe very much makes me feel that I am at home in Ukraine. My mom and my sister love to make Golubtsi, (stuffed cabbage rolls) and this dish I ate at least once a week, back when I was growing up. Back then in my home country, everyone made laboring love food. Something that is good for your tummy and your soul. It is that particular type of dish that made us all get together at the dinner table.
What it is Golubtsi?
Golubtsi is a Ukrainian style stuffed cabbage classic dish made with steamed cabbage leaves, stuffed with a mixture of seasoned ground meat, rice, carrots, and onions. The cabbage rolls are baked or cooked in a stove and smothered in a rich tomato-based sauce and can be served with Creme Fraiche.
More than a year ago I posted my grandmother's recipe for stuffed cabbage. Her recipe is a more old-fashioned way of preparing stuffed cabbage, especially in the cooler months, because it calls for fermented cabbage leaves.
In her recipe, you can use any meat cooked that you have on hand along with cooked grains.
Today, as I write this blog, I realize it is my sister's birthday. Recently, I have been thinking about her a lot and about how much danger she is in right now. On the very first day of the War, she was walking on the street going to work, when suddenly she heard a big explosion. In the blink of her eyes, a huge building collapsed. She had not watched the news that morning and had no idea that Ukraine was under attack.
As I write this blog, I am thinking about her and my whole family for they are all suffering. Living in constant fear from day to day and having no idea if you are going to be alive tomorrow or not isn't easy.
This photo I took with her in 2019, when she and my mom came to visit me and of course we made Golubtsi together! I think her recipe is the best.
What do I need to make it?
Cabbage - purchase the largest head of cabbage that you can find so that you have enough cabbage leaves for the entire filling. If I have leftover cabbage leaves, I use them for a stir-fry dish.
Rice - My sister and I prefer to add cooked rice but not fully cooked. We prepare it Al Dente so that the rice can cook in the tomato sauce and absorb more flavors. Short grain around rice, the one that has more starch in it is the best choice, because it can hold the filling together and causes less trouble as you roll the cabbage leaves.
Meat: Although this recipe calls for ground meat, you can use any kind of meat you like.
Spices: Golubtsi is usually seasoned with salt and black pepper. That's it! I added some red pepper flakes for additional flavor and color. I also added a tiny bit of sugar to balance the sour taste and acidity: the tomato sauce.
Herbs: Sometimes parsley or dill are added to the filling and garnish.
Sauce: I prepared a sauce similar to what I use in my other recipe: Stuffed Sweet Peppers with Ground Meat and Farro.
I know there are many recipes where sauce can be made using Marinara sauce, tomato soup, etc., but it will not be true Ukrainian.
Let's do it...
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 60 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Author: Inna of innichkachef.com
Yield: 10 portions
*What is Zazarka?
Zazarka is a base for many Ukrainian dishes and consists of sautéed onions and carrots.
Freezing and Re-heating Notes
To Freeze: Once cabbage rolls are at room temperature, divide them into portions. Using freezer safe Ziploc bags, place the stuffed cabbages in single rows, adding a little sauce to each bag. Push out any excess air from the Ziploc bags. Seal and freeze.
To re-heat: First, thaw out by placing the Ziploc bag in the refrigerator and allow the cabbage to completely thaw. Keep the cabbage in the Ziploc bag until it is completely thawed. Add 1 Tbsp of butter to a non-stick skillet, then add thawed cabbage rolls, cover and cook over medium heat, turning a few times until thoroughly heated.
Ingredients for the stuffed cabbage
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 lb. ground meat (I used beef in the video)
1 large cabbage
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, shredded
2-3 Tablespoons sunflower oil
1/2 chopped parsley (optional)
Salt, and freshly ground black pepper
Ingredients for the sauce
5 cups tomato sauce (I used 3 cans of 15 oz. sauce)
1 Tablespoon sugar
3 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1 Bay leaf (optional)
1/2-1 cup water (beef or chicken stock)
Salt, and freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes (optional)
Creme Fraiche or sour cream (for serving)
Chopped parsley (for garnish)
Rinse 1 and 1/2 cups uncooked rice and cook in 1 and 1/2 cups water with a covered lid for 10 minutes, or until all water is absorbed (or use a rice maker). Rice should be cooked but not all the way, just Al Dente.
Fill 1/2 of a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Peel and discard the outer few leaves of the cabbage. Use a knife to cut out the cabbage leaves. For this step please, watch my video, which gives you an idea on how to do this procedure.
Place the cabbage leaves, two at the time into the boiling water and cook (blanch) for 30-60 seconds. Do in small sized batches until all cabbage leaves are blanched. For the leaves attached to the cabbage head that aren't easy to take off with a knife, simply put whole cabbage head gently into the boiling water with kitchen tongs.
Cook for a few minutes, then flip cabbage over and continue cooking for a minute or so. Pull off the leaves as they begin to soften. The leaves cook faster if pulled apart. Leaves are done when soft and some of the leaves will have turned a dull green color. Transfer cooked leaves to a platter to cool.
For the filling first make the Zazarka. To the pan add oil, chopped onion, shredded carrots, salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes, if using, and stir. Cook for 5-6 minutes on medium heat until the onion looks translucent and not brown.
Add to a large bowl the rice (cooked and cooled down), the Zazarka (cooled down), and the raw meat. Season with one and half teaspoons of salt and freshly ground black pepper. If using, add the chopped herbs and mix until well combined.
To make a Golubtsi, take a large leaf: cut the leaves in half down the center along the stem with a pair knife and remove the tough stem portion. Place 1- 2 Tbsp of the meat mixture at top of each leaf (or what you can fit since leaf sizes can vary). Roll the leaf into a cone shape with the thicker part of the leaf at the base and stuff the wide thinner leaves into the top. Arrange stuffed cabbage in a baking dish or Dutch oven.
For the sauce, heat 3 Tbsps. of butter in the same pan that you cooked the carrots and onion. Allow the butter to melt, then add sugar and stir all together. Then add tomato sauce and stir. Next, add the salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Add 1/2 cup creme fraiche or cream. Stir and let everything simmer for another minute.
Pour sauce over the stuffed cabbage. There should be more than plenty of sauce, but if you feel like your Golubtsi are not covered completely, just add little bit of water. Cover with foil or a lid and place in the oven at 325F, for at least 60 minutes, but sometimes it takes up to 90 minutes.
Serve with nice dollop of creme fraiche, sprinkle with chopped parsley. And Enjoy! Remember Golubtsi are always taste better the next day.