Ukrainian Holubtsi or Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
Ukrainian Holubtsi or Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are my Great Grandma’s Legacy To Me
Craving something home cooked? Ukrainian Holubtsi or Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are a labor of love, and the epitome of an ultimate comfort food meal.
Mom nailed it today. We hit the grocery yesterday so she could pick up a few cabbages.
Her take on it – family coming in mid-week, and Ukrainian Holubtsi or Stuffed Cabbage Rolls would definitely feed a crowd.
My take – she’s missing her Mom, my Grandmother who we lost in 2016. Truth told, I am, too.
If you are now, or ever have been, intimidated by how daunting the task of preparing Holubtsi at home appears, fear not because the process is a whole lot easier than you might think.
I grew up eating this dish. It was served very frequently at my Grandmother’s house.
It was her mother’s recipe, my Great Grandma, Rosa, who immigrated to the United States from Přední Poříčí, Bohemia (now lies in modern day Czech Republic) in 1909.
She was 18 years old, the 4th daughter of seven, but she came to the New World all alone.
She and my Great Grandfather are the only ‘NEW ARRIVALS’ to the US, as all other sides of my family were established here since the beginning…1607 in New Amsterdam for my earliest relation in fact.
But, back to cabbage…
Cabbage Rolls are common to the cuisines of the Balkans, Central, Northern, and Eastern Europe, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Iran, as well as West Asia and Northern China.
In case you thought cabbage couldn’t fill you up, think again.
Gram served her delightfully sweet and savory bundles alongside mashed potatoes, bread and butter, pickled or sautéed beets, sweet and sour onions, and a green salad with her homemade cider vinegar and sour cream dressing.
Looking back, I can’t believe how much my Grandmother would prepare for our family dinners.
It takes me half a day to process one cabbage into Holubtsi let alone three, and she made it look easy, never complaining.
Looking for additional comfort food recipes? Be sure to browse my recipes for these great dishes, too!
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Turkey & Pumpkin Curry
Creamy Chicken Alfredo Casserole
Most everyone I know refers to these as stuffed cabbage rolls. Others know them as halupki and others a golumpki.
I have always known them as Holubtsi and could pronounce them when I was just a wee one.
Great Grandma would repeat it until I could say it! What do you call them?
This dish ALWAYS made my Grandfather and my Dad go wild, and now my brother does his share of asking for my Mom to prepare Ukrainian Holubtsi or Stuffed Cabbage Rolls when he knows he will be down for a visit.
It brings back childhood, reminds us of humble beginnings, the struggle during the Depression whether we lived through it or came along after, and teaches us not to waste.
It is comfort. And it’s a BEAUTIFUL dish.
Cabbage leaves, unlike lettuce leaves, are not easily detached from the head. They require ‘softening of the cone,’ the dense whitish stalk that travels up from the bottom of the bloom. Ripped or torn leaves will not work in this method, so it’s worth spending the extra few minutes to remove the leaves correctly.
I woke by 7 this morning to the clanking of pots and pans.
My Mom is 75 years young.
It still surprises me when she musters the energy the way Gram used to, to wake early and core cabbages – yes, cabbages…plural.
It’s a lot of work, but as I said, I’ve just finished enjoying two dumplings, and she nailed it.
I grabbed my camera after throwing back a quick cup of coffee to document her method versus my own.
I guess I’ve become a bit possessive and snooty where my own methods to recipes are concerned because I was expecting an under salted batch of barely seasoned dumplings, but I was wrong.
My Mom rolls her cabbages like cigars. I prefer mine folded and tucked the way in which I asked her to do them for the above video.
I have seen others that appear to be nice, neat rolls with flat ends.
Regardless of how you assemble, the completed cabbage rolls get placed seam-side down in the roasting pan during the bake.
You needn’t worry about them becoming unraveled, as you’ll pack them tightly in.
She followed my Grandmothers recipe to the letter except for one ingredient we began adding a couple of decades ago, Heinz Chili Sauce.
I am unsure if Gram ever knew it’d been added, but she never complained when it became my Mom’s turn to serve Holubtsi to her.
Ukrainian Holubtsi or Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are filled with hearty combination of ground beef, rice, and chopped onion.
The homemade sauce the Holubtsi are baked in is made up of whatever cabbage remains after the filling is used up, condensed tomato soup, canned tomatoes, and our sort-of-not-authentic-secret-ingredient, Heinz chili sauce.
This dish could be described as sweet and savory. It goes very well with mashed potatoes, beets, sweet and sour onions, and a loaf of hearty Challah or other egg bread.
Ukrainian Holubtsi or Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
- lidded roasting pan
- large stock pot
Ingredients for Ukrainian Holubtsi or Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
One head of cabbage yields approximately 24 Holubtsi, sometimes more if the cabbage is very large, sometimes less if the leaves are too small to roll. Select a large, tight cabbage when purchasing.
- 1 large green cabbage
- 2 1/2 pounds ground beef
- 2 cups cooked rice
- 2 large eggs
- 1 medium onion rough chopped
- 1 medium green bell pepper cut into strips; alternatively, several to many small sweet gem peppers, any colors, cut into strips
- 10 cherry tomatoes quartered
- 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
- 2 10 3/4 ounce cans condensed tomato soup
- 1 1 pound canned tomatoes
- 1 bottle chili sauce I am using Heinz
- 1 tablespoon basil dried
- 4 bay leaves dried
- Cook rice according to package directs and set aside to cool completely once done.
- Adjust oven rack to lower half of oven to allow for height of roasting pan. Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Draw water into a large pot and set atop burner and bring to a boil. While water is heating, remove tough outer leaves of the cabbage and reserve. Core around the stem of the cabbage at enough of an angle to remove. Gently place cabbage into boiling water core side down. Add additional water to ensure cabbage is not touching bottom of pot.
- Reduce heat just a little and boil cabbage for about 5 minutes or until outer leaves become soft. Using kitchen tongs, remove the outer 2 or 3 leaves in tact to a colander placed over a bowl to catch the water. Continue with remaining cabbage leaves one by one, allowing a minute or two between leaves for underlying leaves to soften. You want them to peel apart in one in-tact piece.
- In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, cooled rice, chopped onion, eggs, and salt. Using your hands, work the mixture until combined.
- Position your cooked cabbage leaves alongside your bowl with the mixture in preparation for rolling/stuffing the dumplings. Before stuffing, prepare a large roasting pan by emptying one can of condensed tomato soup or a bit of the canned tomatoes in the bottom and spreading to coat. You do not need much.
- Begin rolling/stuffing the cabbage leaves one at a time, by taking a loose handful of beef mixture and centering in a leaf. Fold side to side, and top to bottom. Mom's 'technique,' show here, are more along the lines of fat cigar-shaped bundles. As long as they are tightly packed, they will keep their shape during cooking. Place seam side down in the roasting pan and repeat until all of the meat mixture has been used.
- Once all of the cabbage rolls are tucked tightly in the roasting pan, scatter the pepper strips and the cherry tomatoes. If there are remaining unstuffed cabbage leaves left, chop them finely and scatter atop as well. Pour the canned tomatoes, the remaining can of tomato soup, and the Heinz Chili Sauce atop the dumplings. Sprinkle with dried basil and add bay leaves. Dunk the reserved outer leaves detached from the cabbage at the beginning of the recipe into the still hot water used to soften the cabbage. This is simply to remove any grit from the surface of the leaves. Use the outer leaves as a 'blanket' and cover the dumplings completely. This is important so they both steam cook and also do not burn.
- Place the lid on the roasting pan and bake at 350°F for 2 hours. When 2 hours is up, turn off the oven heat, crack the oven door, and leave the roasting pan in the oven, undisturbed, for an additional hour.
- The Holubtsi are ready to be eaten as soon as they are done resting. Spoon the sauce over the Holubtsi and serve with plenty of bread for mopping up the sauce and juices.
Don’t let me telling you that this is a lengthy process scare you, or the images of processing the cabbage above to make you think this is an all-day event – it’s simply not.
In fact, the cabbage processing step can go pretty quickly if you preferred to do only that, refrigerate, and roll the Holubtsi the next day.
The idea here is make a mess of dumplings, bake them off, and either serve a crowd on the cheap, or freeze the additional batches for another night.
All images and text ©Jenny DeRemer for Not Entirely Average, LLC
Heading to grocery store tomorrow to pick up supplies. I have not made this in a very long time. This recipe looks great. Thanks Jenny.
Jane, you MUST tell me how it turned out!
These turned out absolutely delicious!! As a Ukrainian,I am totally going to be making them again, thank you for the marvelous recipe! (:
Larissa, what a kind message! I shared this with my Mom because it is she who taught me how to make these. I am so glad you enjoyed and it means soooo much that you took time from your day to tell me. Very grateful 🙂 Jenny
Both my parents were Ukrainian. Mom said the trick is to cook the cabbage the day before and refrigerate overnight. The leaves will be limp the next day and easier to roll and or cut off the spines.
We used beef, onions, rice and home made canned tomatoes. Line the pan with leaves. place in nice rolls. Use leaves in between layers. Top with leaves and fresh canned tomatoes and put in oven. Enjoy for breakfast, lunch or supper. Happy memories.
Alice, what a BEAUTIFUL memory you’ve shared here! Thank you! And your description illustrates how flexible this method really is, some parts similar to what I’ve outlined, as well as alternate tricks for addressing the steps. I too, remember gram sometimes prepping the cabbage the day before, so a fabulous ‘make ahead’ option. x- Jenny
Obviously there are many many versions of holubsti! My grandparents came to Canada from Lviv, and our family recipe is nothing like yours. We just use rice, cabbage, onion, salt pork, butter and tomato juice. I love the way my house smells when I make them. Reminds me so my of my grandmother.
Karena, I have heard from soooo many folks who also have a family tie to Ukraine and who also have methods for Holubsti that are nothing like mine…or yours! So, you listed salt pork – I am so curious how this is incorporated? Please do write and let me know because the idea is intriguing enough to me that I’d like to try it if you’d be okay sharing. I’m so glad you messaged me!!! Jenny
I Am not Ukrainian, but I found a recipe similar to these, but one version which I love, Love is adding sauerkraut in between the cabbage on the bottom and the rolls and also add the juice! Wonderful flavor and bit of tang!!
I made these tonight (still in the oven) but my mother (who is of Ukrainian origin) was horrified when she heard I didn’t precook the onions and meat? Is that correct or did I miss a step? Thanks
Kate, thanks for this question! As you’ve probably read from other comments before yours, there are MANY ways to make cabbage rolls. Many of these are generational and familial. You did NOT miss a step in the recipe you followed from me. Raw ingredients are combined with cooked and cooled rice and stuffed/rolled into par-boiled cabbage leaves, then braised in your oven in a lidded roasting pan. Two full hours of roasting time plus an additional hour of hot resting makes these rolls a true ‘low and slow’ dish. The wait, I think, is soooo worth it!
I would LOVE to know how you enjoyed the cabbage rolls. Did your Mom sample them? What were her thoughts? I imagine if she is used to eating them quite differently, these may have surprised her?
This isn’t my recipe, but I never pre-cook the meat or onions. We also use ground pork, rather than beef, when it is available.
Lauri, I do recall my great grandmother using pork, too. I believe I watched her mix it with the beef as you’d prepare meatloaf. Interesting!
A very comforting dish, thanks for sharing it on Fiesta Friday. We will be selecting features, so make sure you add a link on your blog posts to FiestaFriday.net and beautifulvoyager.com so you get the best chance of being selected.
Pauline, thanks for this kind message – I’ll pin that link!
Looks absolutely great!
Brian, thank you! One of my family’s favorites for forever!
Thank you for sharing your Ukrainian roots recipe with us! (Especially at this difficult time!) My Ukrainian/Polish grandparents have passed away and I needed to feel comfort while viewing all these terrible images of the war over there. 🙁
Making these tonight!
Sherry, I’d love to know how you enjoy these if you make them. This recipe has garnered so many responses from folks like yourself with Ukrainian roots. I hope that when you taste that first bite, it somehow reminds you of something your grandma used to cook, even if until now it’s something you may have forgotten about. Peace be with you – Jenny
Trying it today! I will let you know how I do!
Praying and thinking of Ukraine! What a Great Leader! God is WATCHING!
Bob, I am soooo happy you will be making these – let me know if you hit any snags along the way by emailing me at [email protected]. I’m on in real time for at least another 3 hours. And yes, I believe as you believe, that God is watching. Let us do what we know how to do in both prayer and spirit and #cookforukraine – xo – Jenny
My Ukrainian foster daughter says they tasted just like home.
My only suggestion is to add more chili sauce for more of a kick.
Ike, I agree with you regarding the chili sauce. I personally am trying to make them taste good, however there are a GINORMOUS population who believe staying true to the origins is part of the recipe, so I fretted even mentioning it in my post. When I process a large cabbage, I generally add one bottle, but if I process additional cabbages I may add as many as three bottles. I say this because the cabbage leaves are largely water, so much of the tomato-based products we add to flavor the cabbages is diluted regardless as the cabbages roast. I am intrigued by your foster daughter’s recollections of home. I wish I had her to talk with for a day. I’d love to know what she loves. You’re fortunate 🙂 Jenny
Can this be cooked in a slow cooker as well?
Lisa, yes with a caveat – slow cookers, especially older slow cookers, do not always keep consistent temperatures. Only you know the reliability of your cooker. If it’s newer, go for it and adjust your cooking time by giving the cabbage rolls and additional 30 minutes BEFORE turning the cooker off to let them stand. Let me know your method once you’ve run through this so I may share with other readers in the hope that it can help them, too! Jenny
Do you have the recipes for the sides your grandmother made with these cabbage rolls? Id love to serve a full meal for my family to try 🙂
Tiffany, as a matter of fact, some are already on this site. Others I am more than happy to email to you directly. But for the immediate, this is her bread (or she’d receive Challah as a gift often from neighbors), these beets, this salad, and these onions. I also recently posted her recipe for a savory Kugel. I will ask my cousin for the additional cabbage appropriate recipes and email you directly. Look for me in your spam just in case I land there rather than your inbox 🙂 By the way, this warms my whole heart that you have asked this.
This entire post brings so much comfort to me. Grew up eating these and swore when I was an adult I’d never have to eat them again… low and behold I order them whenever I’m at a Slavic restaurant and miss them (and my grandma so much). Thanks for sharing your family story of these (and the other labor intensive dishes!) I made these this evening with a few tweaks of my own to make it more our own family style (added ajika and lots of garlic), the structure of your recipe was so helpful! This type of cooking was never written down, just learned, and it’s been so long, you’ve helped piece together vital steps in this process!! Thank you!!
Jessica, forgive the late reply on this sweet comment of yours. You’ve entirely made my hours spent writing about Rosa and her food worth it for me. You are not the first person to reach out with messages of love that all seem to originate for each of us back in Ukraine/Poland. To sum it up, I think of the word “warmth.” What word do you use? Also, and since I may well be speaking with a cousin (you!) might you have an old method for Kolachi? If you do and feel like you want to share, reach out to me. I’d love to try yours 🙂 Merry Christmas, Jessica x- Jenny
My family celebrates a different country every Christmas and this year is Ukraine. This will be our main course and i was wondering if you could put the whole dish together day before and then bake the next day? Looking forward to this. Thanks.
Cindi, this makes my heart SO HAPPY! I will send you an email after I respond here, as I want to ensure you receive my reply 🙂
The answer is yes AND no. Do I recommend assembling the holubtsi ahead? YES. Can they be refrigerated and baked later as in the next day? NO. Why? RAW MEAT.
The good news in all of this is that holubtsi taste even better the next day. SERIOUSLY. But to assemble cooked cabbage leaves that will likely still be warm with raw meat…and then to wait to cook…that only invites potential bacteria issues. Kind of like how they tell never to stuff a cold turkey with hot stuffing. NEVER.
Assemble ahead of time and ‘inventory’ the amount of food you have for guests. Keep in mind that inner cabbage leaves are smaller than the outer leaves which means one of the burly men at your table may require as many as 3 cabbage rolls (depending also on what else you plan to serve).
Have an additional can of tomato soup, canned tomatoes, or jar of chili sauce ready in the event your fully cooked, refrigerated, ready-to-reheat holubtsi require additional moisture for the reheat. Cabbage by themselves will offer a ton of water as they bake, but I like ‘thick and soupy’ versus ‘watery’ when my finished cabbages emerge from the oven.
After you fully bake them in advance, simply allow them to cool completely (several hours) before placing the roasting pan with lid and outer leaves you placed as the moisture barrier IN PLACE into the refrigerator.
Give the pot a slight tilt before refrigerating to gauge how much liquid is in fact in the pot. You do need some, and often I just mix either the tomato soup, chili sauce, or a bit of both in a large measuring cup and add 1 cup of water and pour it over the cabbages before reheating. If they look to have plenty of liquid, just turn your oven to 325°F and allow the pot of cabbages to heat, LID ON, for about 2 hours to 2 hours and fifteen minutes.
The holubtsi may be served hot or at room temperature with some of that amazing pot liquor spooned over them. PLEASE let me know how you enjoy these. I am so excited that you are doing this! What a loving gesture to a war-torn nation of people. xo – and Merry Christmas – Jenny
The recipe was a little intimidating when I first read it. In actuality, it was very easy to follow. And it was delicious! We have a “rotation” of meals that we all love. One bite of the holubski and we all agreed that it was going on the rotation! I use a glass roasting pan and it doesn’t have a lid. Covering it with heavy duty aluminum foil worked fine. Thanks, Jenny, for a great recipe!
Ken, I only wish my grandmother and great grandmother could hear this awesome compliment from you and yours! My great grandmother came here from Bohemia in what is now modern day Ukraine with the clothes on her back. From her, I have this recipe, very early childhood memories of her (though vague), and a religious reverse glass painting that’s in pretty rough shape. That’s it. And I share the recipe because I can. Because those who appreciate it and make it help me to honor her 🙂 Thank you! x – Jenny