Stuffed Cabbage Leaves (Golubtzi)

Thursday, February 28, 2013


We reserve weekends for big cooking projects. Oftentimes a whole day or two would revolve around food. A six hour quest in making pho. A day trip to a Japanese food market and an evening spent making maki and sushi (making it fresher and cheaper than at a mid-range restaurant). But on weekdays things are different.



A mad rush to scramble something out of whatever is in the fridge or at the bottom of the co-op box, with an occasional mad dash to a take out place. When on some days the amount of hours one is away are longer than those spent at home (including hours devoted to sleep), on weeknights time is sorely limited. And so lately our weeknight routine had been hastily put together dinner and an episode or two of whatever show we hadn't run out of watching on Netflix, and then bed.



To minimize the amount of cooking to be done during those few hours after getting home, I have been trying to accumulate recipes that would last for at least a few days. My husband made half a lobster-sized pot of chili that lasted us four days. We've been making Southwestern style enchiladas. And so things we can make ahead on the weekend and then eat for days afterwards are highly prized around these parts.



I also tend to fall into defaults when I don't have the time or the energy to be creative. I've fallen into these ruts before during busy times - rotating the same few recipes over and over again. Another thing I tend to do is fall back on is my comfort food. As much as I try to stray into new and at times exotic (to me) recipes, Russian food is my ultimate comfort food. It also helps that it is simple, filling, tasty, amenable to being cooked in large batches, with fairly uncomplicated and inexpensive ingredients.


Dishes like these stuffed cabbage leaves, or their naked sibling - meat and rice balls (made similarly except for the cabbage), along with things like pelmeni, would usually be made in bulk. While some dishes are more laborious than others (pelmeni can be a lot of work) - the time invested does pay off.


Cabbage and meat tend to get along famously, like in the Norwegian lamb and cabbage stew which we made before. For this recipe, the stuffed cabbage leaves are made with a traditional meat and rice filling. Here you can use a combination of the ground meat you like - I made them with ground turkey and chicken. The dish can be served as is, with a spoonful of sauce in which it is cooked, or with a dollop of sour cream.


Stuffed Cabbage Leaves
Makes about 20

You will need:
1 1/2 cup water for rice, plus more for the filling
1 cup uncooked white rice
1 lb ground turkey
1 lb ground chicken
1 large egg
1 small onion, chopped, divided
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/3 cup water

1 head cabbage

2 tbsp canola oil
2 cups chicken broth
6 tbsp tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil, add a pinch of salt and the rice. Bring back to a simmer and cook on  low heat until the rice is almost cooked through and the water has evaporated. Remove from heat and let cool. In a large bowl, mix together ground turkey, ground chicken, egg, 1/2 of the chopped onion, salt and pepper. Add the cooled rice and about 1/3 cup water to the meat mixture and mix until the rice is evenly distributed. Cover and refrigerate until needed.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Rinse the cabbage and discard the outer leaves. Remove the cabbage leaves, one at a time, by placing the cabbage stem up and cutting each leaf off at the base; then peel off each leaf carefully. It is alright if they tear slightly, but take care to keep them intact as much as possible. Repeat until you have a few small leaves remaining; discard those or use elsewhere.
3. Blanch the leaves, a few at a time, in the boiling water, until pliable, about 3 minutes. Rinse under cold water, pat dry, and set aside. Cut an elongated triangle of about 1 1/2 inch in length at the base of each leaf to remove the tough middle stem.
4. To stuff the leaves, place a small fistful of the meat mixture into the inside of each leaf. Fold the base of the leaf over it, then fold in the sides like an envelope, and roll the leaf into a snug roll. Place on a plate seam side down. Repeat with the remaining leaves.
5. In a small saucepan, heat canola oil and add the remaining 1/2 onion. Sauté the onion until translucent. Add the broth and stir in the tomato paste. Season to taste as needed, and bring to a simmer. Place the cabbage leaves in a large dutch oven, seam side down, in one or two even layers. Pour the broth mixture over the cabbage leaves; the mixture should just cover the leaves. Cover with a lid, bring to a simmer on medium-low heat. Cook, until the meat is cooked through and the cabbage is soft, about 1 hour. Serve hot, with an optional dollop of sour cream.


  1. Growing up, one of the staples in this country were similar-to-these stuffed cabbage leaves, which here are called `wrapped children´ (have no idea why!). I hardly ate them, they didn´t look tempting for a kid, but I´m so ready to try them now! Love this recipe Kat!

  2. There's nothing wrong with falling back on comfort food--especially when it's as clearly delicious as this! I don't think I ever ate stuffed cabbage leaves growing up, so I obviously need to make up for it as an adult. :)

  3. I'm with Eileen on this one - cabbage rolls were not part of my childhood, but I absolutely LOVE them now. I've never tried making them before - perhaps now is a good time to try. :)

  4. Mmmm! I LOVE cabbage rolls and have been wanting to make them but needed a little kick in the butt / friendly encouragement, this is just what I needed! Thanks for this lovely post :-)

  5. Kat,I love these poultry filled cabbage rolls!
    They are delicious and so much healthier.

  6. I have so many memories of eating my mom's stuffed cabbage growing up - they were always such a delicious treat! These look beautiful.

  7. This looks very healthy. I mus try it :)



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