Holubtsi are one of the most popular Ukrainian meat-based dishes, typically consumed on festive occasions or weekends.
They are cabbage rolls stuffed with the mixture of cooked rice and minced meat (pork or beef). However, the vegetarian option – with rice or buckwheat only – is the traditional choice on Christmas Eve and during the Great Lent.
Holubtsi are a great comfort food as they are rather hearty and nutritious. Don’t expect these to come with a salad – they served on their own with either a dollop of sour cream or sautéed tomato paste, and sprinkled with chopped dill. As they take a while to cook, they are never made in single portions. Normally, enough for two or three lunches and that feed a few people is made at one time. They taste even more exquisite the next day, so no worries about freshness. Oh, and don’t get discouraged by the lengthy process: the magnificent taste of holubtsi is totally worth the hassle!
- 1 (4,5 lb) head white cabbage
- 1 lb pork
- ½ lb chicken
- ½ lb beef
- 4 onions
- 1 (4 oz) cup rice
- ½ lb tomatoes
- 4 small carrots
- 8 oz sour cream
- 4 oz tomato paste
- 1-2 tbsp vegetable oil
- ground black pepper
How to Cook the Rice:
- Separate the cabbage leaves from the cob and scald the leaves in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes.
- If the leaves are large, cut along the vein on both sides. Otherwise, just cut off the veins, but be careful not to cut through the leaf.
- Set aside any damaged or small leaves. Line the pot bottom with the scalded cabbage leaves. If you have enough, place them around the sides as well.
- Rinse the rice thoroughly in cold water and boil it until semi-ready (approx. 7-10 minutes).
How to Make the Filling:
- Mix the ground meat and rice together in a large bowl.
- Fry the onions until translucent. Set aside 1⁄2 for the sauce and use 1⁄2 for the filling.
- Grate and sauté the carrots with approximately 3 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp butter over a medium-to-high heat until soft. These are added to the filling for their flavor.
- Mix the fried onions, carrots, and tomato paste together.
- Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
How to Make the Assembling:
- For small leaves: slice off the raised surface of the tough center stem just to flatten the leaf and make it easier to roll.
- Fill each leaf with about 2 tbsp meat mixture.
- Place the filling over the stem/bottom portion. Roll like a burrito and tug both ends in with your fingers.
- For large leaves: cut the leaves in half down the center, removing the tough stem. You will end up with 2 leaves.
- Place 2 tbsp meat mixture at the top of each (or as much as you can fit).
- Roll the leaf into a cone shape with the thicker part of the leaf at the base and stuff the wide part into the top.
- As you stuff your cabbage, arrange the rolls in the same pot you used to cook the cabbage.
- Place the cabbage rolls into the pot, wedging together tightly.
- Depending on the size and shape of the pot and the number of cabbage rolls, you may need to layer them.
How to Make the Sauce:
- Mix the remaining carrots with the sliced tomatoes and cream.
- Pour the sauce over them. The sauce should percolate through and completely cover the cabbage rolls. If it doesn’t, add a bit of water or tomato juice to make the sauce thinner.
- Cover the arranged rolls with the remaining cabbage leaves.
- Bake for 2-3 hours at 350 °F. Check on the level of the sauce from time to time. If it is getting low, add a bit of water to keep the edges of the holubtsi from burning.
- When cooked, let sit for 15 minutes. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and dill or parsley.
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