Holubtsi: Ukrainian Stuffed Cabbage

Stuffed cabbage

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Prep: 37 mins
Cook: 90 mins
Total: 2 hrs 7 mins
Servings: 6 servings
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
400 Calories
15g Fat
61g Carbs
10g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
Calories 400
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 15g 20%
Saturated Fat 8g 42%
Cholesterol 44mg 15%
Sodium 184mg 8%
Total Carbohydrate 61g 22%
Dietary Fiber 9g 32%
Total Sugars 11g
Protein 10g
Vitamin C 100mg 499%
Calcium 194mg 15%
Iron 3mg 15%
Potassium 1586mg 34%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Cabbage leaves stuffed with meat, rice, and vegetables are common in Eastern Europe and the Balkans and are also found in Asian and African cuisines. Because recipes adapt to societal and cultural needs and to what's available in the area, many versions of these rolls have just meat, others are strictly vegetarian, and others are a combination of the two. The Ukrainian version of stuffed cabbage, known as holubtsi, also has many variations, but in general, the filling is always enriched with grain and flavored with vegetables. Our take on these "little pigeons," the literal translation of the name, is a meatless variation, ideal as a side dish to richer meaty recipes but also as a main in vegetarian families that might find this dish perfect with a side of potatoes or rice.

We use cabbage leaves, as do most traditional recipes, but beet, lettuce, or spinach leaves—and even grape leaves—are also used in Ukraine when making versions of this dish. The cooking liquid also varies by region and family and can include broth, tomato juice, and sour cream. For our filling, we chose a potato-buckwheat mixture, really hearty and nutritious. Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat and is actually gluten free, which makes this recipe suitable for people with gluten restrictions in their diets.

Although the dish requires some time investment, the beauty is that it yields generous portions that make great leftovers and that can be frozen too for a future lunch or dinner. Serve alongside a salad, potato pancake, or crusty bread. Use the pan juices to serve the rolls or use a simple tomato sauce or more sour cream to serve. Alternatively, mix the pan juices with additional sour cream and ladle it over the cabbage rolls.

Ingredients

  • 1 head cabbage, about 4 pounds in weight

  • 4 large potatoes, peeled and finely grated

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 1 small onion, chopped

  • 2 tablespoons butter

  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream, divided

  • 1/2 cup buckwheat, rinsed twice with boiling water and drained

  • Salt, to taste

  • Pepper, to taste

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Remove the core from the cabbage and place the whole head in the pot. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, or until softened enough to pull off individual leaves.

  3. Carefully remove the cabbage head from the water and allow it to cool until it's easy to handle. Use a paring knife to cut away the thick center stem from each leaf, without cutting all the way through. You will need about 18 stemless leaves.

  4. Finely chop the remaining cabbage and place it at the bottom of a casserole dish or Dutch oven.

  5. Drain the potatoes in a sieve or cheesecloth, twisting or pressing to remove as much moisture as possible. Transfer to a large bowl and mix in the lemon juice so they don't turn brown. Set aside.

  6. In a small skillet, sauté the chopped onion in butter until tender.

  7. Add the onion mixture to the potatoes, combining well.

  8. Add 1/2 cup of sour cream and the rinsed and drained buckwheat to the potato mixture, combining thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  9. Place about 1/2 cup of filling on each cabbage leaf. Roll once away from you to encase the filling.

  10. Flip the right side of the leaf to the middle, then flip the left side. You will have something that looks like an envelope. Keep rolling again until you have a neat little roll.

  11. Place the cabbage rolls on top of the chopped cabbage in the casserole dish or Dutch oven, seasoning each layer with salt and pepper.

  12. Pour the remaining 1 cup of sour cream over the holubtsi, cover, and place in the hot oven. Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the buckwheat filling is tender.

  13. Serve hot and enjoy.

Can I Cook the Rolls in a Slow Cooker?

An easy variation makes a hands-off dish. Follow all the method steps before baking but place the chopped cabbage at the bottom of a greased slow cooker:

  • Place the formed rolls on top of the chopped cabbage, seasoning each layer with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Mix the remaining 1 cup of sour cream with 2 cups of vegetable broth or stock and add this liquid on top of the rolls.
  • Set the slow cooker on low for 4 to 5 hours, or on high for 3 to 4, or until the filling is tender. If needed, add more broth to the pot to keep the rolls moistened at all times.