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HOLUBTSI (Ukrainian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls) – A Family Slow-Cooked Favourite
This is a hearty Ukrainian comfort dish with seasoned minced meat & rice stuffed in blanched cabbage leaves and slow-cooked in a tangy tomato sauce.
There are four main steps to making Holubtsi:
- Meat & rice filling
- Tomato sauce
- Stuffing and rolling the cabbage rolls
- Slow cooking
Meat & Rice Filling
Using either beef or pork minced meat (or both), this meat is added to pre-cooked brown or white rice, butter-fried onions, egg, fresh chopped parsley and simply seasoned with salt and white pepper.
This sauce is a somewhat basic tomato sauce, except for the addition of butter-fried red peppers/capsicums. Simmered slowly for 10 mins, the flavour should taste sweet, slightly salty and pleasantly sour all in one go. More sugar, salt or red wine vinegar can be added to adjust the seasoning. Chilli sauce is added for some spice, although this is not a traditional ingredient, it has evolved into a popular addition.
Stuffing & Rolling the Cabbage Rolls
These are not difficult to fill or roll once the cabbage rolls are blanched for 5 mins. The blanching softens the leaves and makes them supple to fold and roll without tearing.
There are two ways to organise the cabbage leaves. Either blanch all the cabbage leaves ahead of time, drain and rest them on tea towels, or blanch them one by one.
Remove the tough stem from the cabbage leaves using a sharp knife or scissors.
Select and set aside a suitable deep casserole dish with a matching lid or have some foil handy to cover the dish while cooking.
Have the meat filling ready to start stuffing the cabbage leaves.
Place two heaped tablespoons in the centre of the cabbage leaf. Fold the bottom part of the leaf over the mixture. Roll the leaf forward and start tucking in the sides over the filling. Continue rolling neatly until the cabbage leaf is completely rolled.
Place the roll seam-side down snugly in the casserole dish. Pour the tomato sauce over them. Continue with the remainder and finish off with tomato sauce and extra cabbage leaves to create steam and flavour to the dish.
In a moderate oven, slow cook the Holubtsi for 1.5 hours. Turn the oven off and allow it to rest for 30 minutes before serving.
How to eat Holubtsi
It’s best to serve Holubtsi warm. As a main, aim for four cabbage rolls per person. Pour some extra tomato sauce over the rolls and garnish with some snipped fresh chives. Serve these with a dollop of sour cream and a warm gluten-free bread roll like Kaiser bread roll and/or mashed potatoes to help mop up all the sauce.
This naturally gluten-free meal is a traditional recipe, but feel free to add some extra vegetables and spices like mushrooms, spinach, peas or beans or chillis to lift the flavour to your liking.
If you are partial to cheese, add some ricotta and grated mozzarella or a stronger cheese like cheddar to the stuffing.
Made too many?
If you find that you have too many cabbage rolls leftovers, these freeze extremely well pre-cooked or cooked.
HOLUBTSI (Ukrainian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)
- 1 green cabbage head
For the cabbage meat filling:
- 1 medium onion, chopped finely
- 2 tbsp butter
- 750 g pork or beef mince, or a mixture of both
- 250 g brown or white rice, cooked and cooled
- 1 egg
- 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped finely
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp white pepper
For the tomato sauce:
- 1 red pepper/capsicum, diced
- ½ tbsp butter
- 500 ml passata or tomato puree
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp red wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce (optional)
- salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
To serve with:
- 250 ml sour cream
- 5 store-bought gluten-free bread rolls or Kaiser bread roll
- snipped fresh chives, to garnish
For the cabbage meat filling:
- Cook the rice (the day before or earlier in the day is ideal).
- Gather and measure the ingredients needed for the cabbage roll filling.
- In a small frying pan, fry the onions in the butter until they appear transparent.
- Transfer the onions to a large bowl to cool down and set aside the same pan to make the tomato sauce later.
- Add the minced meat, cooled rice, egg, chopped parsley, salt and pepper to the onions in the large bowl.
- Mix well and set it aside.
For the tomato sauce:
- Gather and measure the ingredients needed for the tomato sauce.
- Using the same frying pan that the onions were fried in, add the butter and diced red peppers and fry for 3 mins over medium heat.
- Add the passata, sugar, red wine vinegar and optional chilli sauce.
- Simmer uncovered for 10 mins over a low heat.
- Add salt and pepper. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary.
- It should taste sweet, slightly salty and pleasantly sour all in one go. If not, add more sugar, vinegar or salt if it is lacking any of these flavours.
Cooking the cabbage leaves:
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add some salt to the water.
- Carefully remove the core and the outer leaves from the cabbage. Set the removed outer leaves to one side to be used later.
- Plunge the cabbage head core side down into the water and simmer over medium heat for 5 mins.
- Once the leaves become soft, start removing the outer leaves 2 at a time and transfer them to a colander to drain.
- Continue simmering the cabbage to soften the next layer of leaves.
- Place the cooked cabbage leaves in a tea towel to absorb any excess water and cover them to remain warm while continuing with the remaining leaves.
- Remove the tough stem from the cabbage leaves using a sharp knife or scissors.
Assembling the cabbage rolls:
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
- Pour some of the tomato sauce at the bottom of your chosen casserole dish.
- Start rolling each cabbage one at a time, by fanning open the cooked cabbage leaf and placing 2 heaped tbsp of the meat mixture in the centre.
- Fold the bottom part of the cabbage leaf over the mixture.
- Tucking in the sides, continue rolling neatly until the cabbage is completely rolled.
- Place each cabbage roll seam-side down snugly into the casserole dish.
- Once the first layer has been made, pour some of the tomato sauce over the cabbage rolls.
- Continue and repeat the same steps for the next few layers.
- Once the final layer has been completed, pour the remaining tomato sauce over the cabbage rolls.
- Blanch the reserved outer cabbage leaves in the simmering water used earlier to cook the cabbage.
- Place the blanched outer cabbage leaves on top of the rolls. The leaves will act as a cover to create steam and add some extra flavour to the dish.
- Cover with a lid or foil.
- Cook for 1 ½ hours on the lower shelf of the oven.
- Turn the oven off and allow the rolls to rest for 30 mins before serving.
- Remove and discard the outer cabbage leaves from the top layer.
- Garnish the cabbage rolls with the snipped fresh chives.
- Serve with sour cream & gluten-free bread or Kaiser bread roll or mashed potatoes to mop up the Holubtsi sauce.
- Keeps for 3 days chilled
- Suitable to freeze pre-cooked or cooked
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