Ukrainian Holubtsi or Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Recipe
3 hours 30 minutes
12 servings, 2 rolls per serving

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Craving something home cooked? Ukrainian Holubtsi or Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are a labor of love, and the epitome of an ultimate comfort food meal.

A plate of food, with Cabbage roll and Chicken

In case you thought cabbage couldn’t fill you up, think again. Serve these delightfully sweet and savory bundles alongside a make-ahead mashed potato casserole, bread and butter, pickled or sautéed beets, sweet and sour pickled onions, and a green salad with homemade mustard dressing.

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I hit the grocery yesterday so I could pick up a few cabbages. Once the weather turns chilly, there is nothing that quite competes with the aroma that fills my kitchen when I roast cabbage rolls.

Stuffed 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. I learned this method by watching women in my household assemble them for bigger gatherings because they do in fact feed a crowd.

overhead shot of Ukrainian Holubtsi or Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Looking for additional comfort food recipes? Be sure to browse my recipes for these great dishes, too!

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.

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.

a head of cabbage on a kitchen countertop

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 taking a few minutes to remove them correctly.

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.

Food on a table, with Cabbage

Ukrainian Holubtsi or Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Jenny DeRemer
Ukrainian Holubtsi or Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are a labor of love, and the epitome of an ultimate comfort food meal.
4.86 from 21 votes
Servings: 12 servings, 2 rolls per serving
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Resting Time 1 hour
Total Time 3 hours 30 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Poland, Ukraine
Servings 12 servings, 2 rolls per serving
Calories 321 kcal

Equipment

Ingredients
 

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 ½ 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

Instructions
 

  • 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.
    a cabbage being cored
  • 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.
    A close up of a person holding a pan of food
  • In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, cooled rice, chopped onion, eggs, and salt. Using your hands, work the mixture until combined.
    hands mixing rice and meat filling for Ukrainian Holubtsi
  • 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.
    hands stuffing a cabbage leaf
  • 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.
    roasting pan filled with stuffed cabbage leaves ready to be bakes
  • 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.
    finishes baked stuffed cabbage roll on a plate

The nutrition value can vary depending on what product(s) you use. The information below is an estimate. Always use a calorie counter you are familiar with.

Please note that table salt and iodized salt are NOT substitutions for Kosher salt. Do not deviate unless otherwise specified.

Nutrition

Serving: 1servingCalories: 321kcalCarbohydrates: 15gProtein: 20gFat: 20gSaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 98mgSodium: 680mgPotassium: 514mgFiber: 3gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 262IUVitamin C: 50mgCalcium: 71mgIron: 3mg
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Recipe Rating




43 Comments

  1. My wife, who is 100% Ukrainian, wants to know if you sell, ship and freeze holubtsi and if so, how long to defrost. Of course, I would write the check or use VISA. As the Amerikanski Cholovik, I like them, too. My grandmother from Polotsk made them and called them “Prakas.” Thank you, Barry.5 stars

    1. Barry, thank you for reminding me of Prakas. I have heard these called that, too, so I know you’ve enjoyed this dish in your lifetime! I am sorry to say that I don’t freeze and ship these. Kinda sad because I’d love for your wife to critique mine! If I had to recommend an online venue for authentic stuffed cabbage, I ALWAYS go back to my old New York City haunts and would recommend Sarge’s stuffed cabbages. Yes, I eat here EVERY SINGLE TIME I GO HOME. Sarge’s is in the Murray Hill section on 3rd Avenue. And yes, every item they ship is amazing, cabbage included! So, if you don’t try my recipe, give Sarge’s website a gander and let me know if you end up ordering a taste of MY NEW YORK 🙂

  2. I’m making this today so I’ll let you know how it goes…
    One thing I want to say is put your cabbage head in the freezer overnight if you can and defrost it in the morn. & cabbage leaves are pliable.
    I gave it a 5 star for it won’t let me post unless I rate it but I know it’s going to be good!5 stars

    1. Janet, how did your cabbage rolls turn out? I have not heard of the freezer hack, but I want to try it! If time permits, drop by and let me/other readers know if you changed anything about the method, time, or ingredients and met with success! 🙂 Jenny

  3. Bet your grandmother didn’t use canned soup for her sauce! My mother, born in Simferopol, made her’s from scratch, but I don’t know the recipe. Any pointers?

    1. Sergei, I’m afraid I don’t have any pointers for a homemade tomato sauce that will correctly compliment the acidity in the cabbage. I’ve only ever followed my grandmothers recipe which does include the canned tomato soup. Remember, she was an immigrant during the Great Depression. As my mom told me, the canned tomato product was easier and cheaper to come by during cold weather months than fresh tomatoes. Given the pricing of fresh vegetables during our current recession, I absolutely get it. The chili sauce is not original to her recipe, rather something I added to elevate flavor.

  4. Excellent !! Made these for my boyfriend. He remembered his Buba making them when he was young. He loved this dish.5 stars

    1. Diana, it sounds like if your boyfriend had a Buba, then he definitely remembers Holubtsi. Food triggers some of our fondest memories. Thank you for making a point of hopping back on here to tell me this! x – Jenny

  5. 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!5 stars

    1. 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

  6. 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.

    1. 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

  7. 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!!5 stars

    1. 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

  8. 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 🙂5 stars

    1. 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). 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.

    1. 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