Speaking of things that are frequently confused between Russian and Ukrainian, I frequently see recipes for Ukrainian cabbage rolls (called “golubtsi” or “holubtsi”) categorized as Russian (such as in this buzzfeed article).

They are not. They are widely enjoyed in Russia, and have been for centuries, but they are a traditional Ukrainian dish. (Same goes for borsht.) My Ukrainian grandmother would be very insistent on this.

Here is a recipe for the classic meat-and-rice version.

And here is a vegetarian alternative.

Here are a whole bunch of variations, both with meat and without. (Since meat was often a luxury for the peasantry, meatless versions have been around pretty much as long as the meat-filled ones.)

First things first, I snagged the above photo from Lex Culinaria, because I didn’t think about snapping any photos of my own for this post…

Holubtsi or Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are a huge favorite of mine.  When I was a little girl, I feel like we ate these pretty often, but it might’ve been less frequently as they’re kind of pain to assemble.  Traditionally, it’s pickled or parboiled cabbage, stuffed with rice and a meat filling (though rice is more common, because meat was a luxury back in the day), covered in a thin tomato sauce.  And while lots of European cultures have their own version, my family is Ukrainian, and you could always count on seeing these on the table if a large number of Ukies were gathered.

Because the autumn season always makes me incredibly nostalgic, I wanted to whip up these delicious rolls after I purchased some cabbage for a separate dish, but ended up not using it.  Of course, the cabbage was on the smaller side and I didn’t really want to commit to the labor involved AND I’m on this crock pot kick… You see where this is going, right?  Time to whip up some ‘Deconstructed Holubtsi’.  

What you’ll need:

  • some protein.  I used ground turkey because we got a great deal on packs of ground turkey; I also kinda hate ground turkey because it’s just so bland, but recipes like this help pump up the flavor.  If ground beef or pork are more to your liking, then by all means…
  • rice.  I had a little box of wild rice, again leftover from a previous recipe that I didn’t end up using.  If you prefer to use just plain white rice or brown rice, that’s cool too.  I get really impatient when it comes to cooking rice, so that’s why I opted for a boxed mix.  If you go that route, check out the sodium content before you start cooking, because you might be able to go easy on the salt if your rice is salty.
  • a small head of cabbage.
  • chicken broth.  You could sub veg broth, or even water.  I always have chicken stock on hand, and usually an open one in the fridge that needs to get used up.
  • onion
  • garlic
  • 1 can of tomato sauce
  • 1 teeny can of tomato paste
  • herbs.  I like a dried Italian mix, but whatever you’ve got on hand
  • any other seasonings you’re into.  I also used some paprika (Hungarian) because it adds a smokey flavor to the turkey.
  • S&P
  • olive oil
  • a trusty crock pot

Here’s what I did:

Cook some onion and garlic in a pan, in olive oil, over medium heat.  When they become fragrant, add the protein—turkey in my case—and season.  For this I used S&P, dried Italian herbs and a liberal shake of paprika.  Cook turkey-onion-garlic mix all the way.  This is a great time to cook up the rice.  In fact, you might want to start the rice first, and then continue on to the turkey.  If you haven’t cooked the rice, start that next.  When the turkey and rice are both cooked, transfer both to the crock pot.  Then add the tomato sauce and paste.  You can probably skip the paste, but I think it adds a nice velvety richness.  Mix all these ingredients well.  Next shred up your cabbage and mix it into the stock pot until everything is incorporated.  Now you can set it on low for a few hours, checking occasionally to make sure nothing is dry or getting scorched.  The mixture is pretty wet, so that shouldn’t happen, but if it does, add the broth/water to keep it moist.  It should not be soupy, more stew-like, if anything.  I put the tiniest splash in before I left—if we had stayed home, I would have skipped the broth entirely, but we went out to meet up with pals, and I wasn’t home to watch it.  It went a few hours on low, and then we turned it off to cool overnight.

All in all, a great success!  BP and I both ate two helpings yesterday for dinner and enjoyed it immensely!  I even had plenty to freeze for dinners in the future—this recipe makes a quite a bit, so be prepared to handle leftovers if you’re making it!


Tonight in Buffalo: Pierogi Love Night @ the Ukranian-American Civic Center (Uki Club)

Beets and beats will be served tonight at the Uki Club. Resident chef Pani Hanupsiak will be serving village-style Ukrainian food such as pierogis, holubtsi, and borscht which can all be paired with Obolon beers. The live music starts in the back hall at 9pm with Malaria Control, Nick Gordon, Bear Flames, Pang!, Jack Topht, UVB-76, and DJ MJB (who I hear will be playing Eastern Bloc music) in between sets.

Photo: Ukrainian-American Civic Center