Every Russian family I know grew up eating golubtsi- stuffed cabbage rolls. And today I make them for my kids the same way my mom made them for me. I know cabbage rolls sound painstaking, but I promise you this recipe is simple, straightforward, and takes less time than you’d think.
Cabbage leaves wrapped around various ingredients are not just a Russian staple. Cabbage leaves are cooked, stuffed, and steamed or cooked in an oven ￼and usually accompanied by a sauce. Stuffed cabbage rolls are popular in Northern Chinese, various European, Greek, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Iranian, and even Egyptian cuisines.
Eastern European cabbage rolls are often made with a meat and rice filling, and include a tomato based sauce. In Ukraine buckwheat and sometimes corn grits are used instead of rice. In this recipe we will use basmati rice, and our sauce will be tomato based with sour cream. It comes out tasting kind of like a vodka cream sauce.
Other countries such as Lebanon omit the sauce and have some plain yogurt on the side with lemons. The sizes of the cabbage rolls differ in other countries as well, with some cabbage rolls ranging from sizes as small as cigars.
Ready to try Russian golubtsi out for yourself? Your friends and family will be so impressed by the presentation, and the flavorful taste of this main dish!
What You Need:
1 head cabbage
1 cup uncooked basmati rice
1 large egg
1 lb angus ground beef
1 onion- minced
4 cloves garlic- minced
5 carrots- grated
1 bottle mushroom marinara sauce
1 cup sour cream
Salt & Pepper
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 1 tbsp salt and 2 tbsp vinegar to the pot. Meanwhile, cut stem off cabbage head. Remove top 2 leaves from cabbage head and place into boiling water. Boil for approximately 5 minutes, and turn cabbage head upside down to boil for another 5 minutes. When the cabbage is ready, the leaves will turn a pale green or yellow color and feel soft to the touch. Rinse in cold water.
Cook 1 cup basmati rice in 2 cups boiling water in a pot. Add 1 tbsp salt and 1 tbsp olive oil to the pot. Remove from heat when done and add to a large bowl. Mix in angus ground beef in with the rice, and season with salt, pepper, and Vegeta seasoning.
Now in a large pan, heat up 2 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp butter. Add minced onion, garlic, and sauté for a few minutes until the onion is translucent. Add 3/4 of the grated carrots to the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Once the carrots are a bit soft, add in 1 cup of mushroom tomato sauce or marinara sauce and cook until carrots are done. Add this mixture to the rice and meat. Add 1 egg and mix.
Alright! Now we’re ready to begin stuffing the cabbage leaves and rolling them up. Prepare a Dutch oven (preferred) or a large casserole dish and set it next to your work station. Lay cabbage leaf flat on a surface and cut out stem. If the leaves are rather large you may cut them in half. Add about one large spoonful of meat and rice mixture to the top of the leaf, fold in the sides, and roll. Place the stuffed cabbage roll into the Dutch oven.
Once you’re done stuffing all the cabbage leaves, it’s time to prepare your sauce, or “podliva”! Add 2 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil into a pan. You can use the same pan you sautéed your carrots in before. Add remaining grated carrots, 1 cup of mushroom tomato sauce, and 1/2 cup of sour cream. Season with salt and pepper. Pour podliva over the cabbage rolls in the Dutch oven. Cover your cabbage rolls almost to the top with boiling water and cook in the oven for about 20 minutes.
Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and cook for another 40 minutes.
What shall we serve with these delightful golubtsi? Traditionally, sour cream is served on the side, and the golubtsi have a delicious podliva, or sauce, to go along with them. Since they are filled with protein, rice, and vegetables, they are pretty much a meal in themselves.
I believe a fresh Greek salad tastes amazing with golubtsi. Hot cabbage rolls in sauce dipped into sour cream, with a cold fresh salad- can’t beat that. Many Russian families begin dinner with a lovely soup and then jump in to the main course. If you’re very hungry, or want more variety at your dinner table I highly recommend a hot fresh red borscht to serve as the appetizer. You can find my recipe for Russian red borscht here.
The beautiful thing about memorizing a staple recipe such as this one, is that the possibilities with which to stuff cabbage rolls are endless. You may use pork and turkey, a very popular combination, or even ground chicken. Instead of the rice you could try a traditional Ukrainian buckwheat! You could also easily make this a vegetarian cabbage roll by omitting the meat altogether, and adding more veggies to the rice. However you choose to enjoy your golubtsi, I’m confident you’ll be preparing them often!