Golubtsi (Голубцы), beloved Eastern European cabbage rolls, are the perfect combination of comfort and flavor. Perfect for special occasions like the holidays or for a cozy meal. Cabbage leaves stuffed with a savory mixture of ground beef and rice, then rolled and simmered in a rich and flavorful tomato sauce. Tender, juicy and flavorful, Golubtsi are sure to delight everyone.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Easy - let me show you several ways how to roll cabbage rolls easily
- Versatile - make it the easy stovetop method for juicy golubtsi or use the popular oven bake method
- Tasty Comfort Food - the perfect combination of hearty beef and rice simmered in a rich tomato puree, comforting on a cold night
- Filling - cabbage rolls will leave you feeling full and satisfied for hours after you eat
- Economical - a cheap meal that feeds a crowd
Eastern European Comfort Food
There are so many different variations of cabbage rolls in many countries around the world. Even in Eastern Europe, Stuffed Cabbage Rolls are considered a national dish of many countries. Some add sauerkraut, others use fermented cabbage leaves, sauce can be broth-y or tomato-ey. Here are popular variations for Eastern European Cabbage Rolls.
- Polish - Golabki or Golumpki
- Ukrainian - Holubtsi
- Romanian - Sarmale
- Georgia - Tolma
- Balkans - Sarma
- Hungary - Töltött Káposzta
- Sweden - Kåldolma
- Jewish - Holishkes
- Russian - Golubtsi (Голубцы)
- Head of Cabbage - large enough to fit into a large stockpot
- Meat Filling - ground beef, rice, onion, carrots, eggs, seasonings
- Bacon - to add between layers, you have to try this!
- Passata Tomato Sauce - the secret to the rich tomato flavor
- Sour Cream - balances out the acidity of the tomatoes
- Beef Stock - Vegeta Stock or Beef Cubes
- Flavor Base for Sauce - onions, garlic, bay leaf and fresh dill
How to Make Golubtsi
The whole family can help make this Stovetop Cabbage Rolls recipe, even the kids, as it's not hard to roll cabbage and meat. It's a forgiving recipe, with different ways to roll, it's ok if you get it wrong, it all tastes delicious.
- Cook Rice - rinse rice and cook according to instructions, fluff with a fork and allow to cool.
- Prepare Cabbage - cut core from cabbage and remove outer leaves.
- Cook Cabbage - submerge cabbage in a pot of boiling water, core side down. Rotate cabbage as it boils and pull off cabbage leaves as they soften, but don't overcook. Allow leaves to cool. Cut out thick cabbage ribs to make rolling easier.
- Sauté Vegetables - fry onions and carrots until caramelized. Cool.
- Mix Meat Filling - using your hands, mix together ground beef, cooked rice, sautéed carrots and onions, 2 eggs, salt and pepper.
- Roll Cabbage - place meat filling inside cabbage and roll into tubes, tucking the sides in.
- Layer - lay cabbage rolls side by side in the bottom of a large stock pot until the first layer is filled. Add a layer of bacon and repeat until cabbage is used up.
- Sauce - pour tomato sauce over the cabbage rolls. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 40 minutes until meat is cooked.
- Serve - generously dollop with sour cream and garnish with fresh dill
Making Cabbage Roll Sauce
There are many versions of preparing cabbage rolls sauce, from beef broth with tomato paste to a full tomato broth. This Golubtsi sauce uses Passata, which is Italian pureed tomatoes. It's also known as Tomato Sauce or Tomato Puree.
- Sauté - in a saucepan, saute onion and garlic until tender.
- Pour - mix in 2 bottles of Passata Tomato Purée.
- Season - add Beef Stock powder (or beef cubes), bay leaf, fresh dill and sour cream.
- Heat - bring to a gentle simmer before pouring over cabbage rolls, to speed up cooking process.
How to Roll Golubtsi
Whole Leaf Method (like a Burrito)
- Lay the cabbage leaf on a cutting board.
- Cut the thickest part of the stem out, it will look like a small V.
- Place 3-4 tablespoons of filling near the base of the V incision. Roll over the meat and fold in in the left and right sides. Roll up the from the base until cabbage is rolled.
Half Leaf Method (smaller rolls)
- Lay the cabbage leaf on a cutting board.
- Cut the cabbage leaf in half, along the thick stem, removing the middle thick piece.
- Place filling on edge of cabbage and roll through.
- Tuck the ends of the cabbage into the meat, sealing the cabbage roll. You can also roll it into the shape of a cone, requiring only one side of cabbage ends to be tucked inside the meat.
Golubtsi in the Oven
A popular method is to bake your cabbage rolls in the oven. All you need is a large, deep dish baking dish.
- Heat - Pre-heat oven to 375°F/190°C.
- Fill the Dish - Place Golubtsi side by side in a baking dish. Even better when you lay them over a few strips of bacon. Cover with seasoned tomato sauce.
- Foil - Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour.
- Enjoy - Serve with smetana (sour cream) and fresh dill.
Freezing Cabbage for Golubtsi
This is an incredible timesaver, and rescues you from boiling the cabbage head, and it won't stink out your house like boiling cabbage. However, it might require longer baking time to ensure tenderness.
- Place cored cabbage in the freezer the night before you plan to make Golubtsi.
- In the morning, remove from freezer and defrost for 3-4 hours until room temperature.
- Cut out thick cabbage stems to make rolling easier, and your cabbage is ready to roll.
Recipe Tips and FAQs
- Extra Meat? any unused meat filling can be rolled into meatballs and placed over the cabbage rolls before adding the sauce. They will hold their shape as they cook and taste great.
- Buckwheat - substitute rice with cooked Buckwheat for extra fibre and antioxidants
- Pork - mix ground beef with pork, a 50/50 mixture
- Sauerkraut - use whole fermented cabbage leaves or add sauerkraut
- Grape Leaves or Beet Leaves - try something different, make a small tray of grape or beet leaves cabbage rolls
- Chop Leftover Cabbage - don't waste the core of the leftover cabbage, chop and save it for Braised Cabbage or add to your Cabbage Roll Sauce
- Seasoning Sauce - while not traditional, add Worcestershire Sauce or Maggi Seasoning to your tomato sauce
- Tough Cabbage? this means your cabbage hasn't cooked long enough. If using the frozen cabbage method, add 15 minutes to your baking time to ensure the cabbage is cooked and tender
Best Cabbage for Golubtsi
- Green Cabbage - traditionally used for cabbage rolls, readily available and most durable to maintain shape and minimize tearing when rolling (also has strongest cabbage flavor).
- Savoy Cabbage - visually striking, mild in flavor, but leaves are gentler and are more prone to tearing while rolling
- Napa Cabbage - the tenderest cabbage with mildest flavor. Take care when rolling as it will rip while rolling. Best using frozen method to prepare for cabbage rolls as it is very delicate.
- Red Cabbage - least traditional, but can be used for making cabbage rolls.
What to Serve with Cabbage Rolls
- Garlic Mashed Potatoes - excellent to serve alongside the cabbage roll sauce
- Cucumber Salad - a classic Eastern European salad
- Dill Pickles - adds a bit of crunch, perfectly complements Golubtsi
- Rye Bread - perfect to mop us the sauce
- Garlic Butter Green Beans
- Citrus Butter Roast Turkey - serve alongside your favorite holiday mains
Storing Cabbage Rolls
- Fridge Leftovers - place leftover cabbage rolls in an airtight container. Keep refrigerated and enjoy within 4-5 days.
- Fridge Uncooked - prepare Golubtsi the 24 hours before you are ready to bake. Keep refrigerated, remove from fridge 1 hour before cooking and pour sauce only when ready to cook.
- Freezing Uncooked - the best outcome when preparing cabbage rolls in advance. Prepare as per recipe but DO NOT BAKE. Freeze in a Ziploc bag to prevent freezer burn (up to 3 months). Alternatively freeze in baking dish, cover with cling wrap and foil (use within 1 month). Defrost overnight in fridge before cooking as per instructions, don't bake from frozen. Freeze leftover meat by making Cabbage Roll Meatballs for an easy meal to defrost later.
- Freezing Leftovers - place cooked cabbage rolls and sauce in a Ziploc bag. Freeze and enjoy within 3 months. Defrost in the fridge overnight before re-heating.
Try These Eastern European Dinners
- Hungarian Stuffed Peppers
- Beet Borsch
- Vareniki with Farmers Cheese
- Savory Stuffed Crepes - Farmer’s Style
- Creamy Chicken Stroganoff
Making Stovetop Cabbage Rolls is easy and ensures they are tender and juicy, or make the classic baked Golubtsi. Enjoy with a generous dollop of Smetana and fresh dill. Everyone will be asking for more. Bon Appetit! Приятного аппетита!
- 1 large cabbage
- 2 pounds (1kg) lean ground beef
- 2 cups uncooked medium grain rice
- 3 carrots grated
- 2 large onions finely chopped
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoon oil
- ½ pound (250g) back bacon optional
Cabbage Roll Tomato Sauce
- 2 jars Passata Tomato Puree 24oz/700g
- 1 cup sour cream
- 3 tablespoons beef stock powder
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 2 bay leaves
- bunch fresh chopped dill
- Rinse the rice, and cook according to instructions, and allow to cool.
- Cut out the core from the cabbage and remove the outer leaves.
- In a large pot of salted water, fully submerge the cabbage, core side down. Bring to a boil and rotate the cabbage. After about 6-7 minutes, pull off the cabbage leaves as they soften, and allow to cool. Leaves should be soft enough to bend but not overcooked.
- In a frying pan, heat olive oil and sauté onions until lightly browned. Add grated carrots and cook until caramelized.
- Using your hands, mix together ground beef, cooked rice, sautéed carrots and onions, eggs, salt and pepper.
- Place meat filling to the thickest side of the cabbage leaf. Roll up the cabbage, tucking the insides. Your first few might look a bit funny, but it will get easier as you go.
- In a large stock pot, lay the cabbage rolls side by side until the first layer is filled. Place a layer of bacon over the cabbage rolls. Repeat until pot is full, you should get 3 levels of cabbage rolls.
Cabbage Roll Sauce
- In a saucepan, heat oil and sauté onion and garlic until lightly browned. Add the Passata tomato puree, Beef Stock powder (or beef cubes), bay leaf, fresh dill and sour cream bring to a gently simmer.
- Pour the tomato sauce over the Golubtsi until fully covered. Bring it to a simmer, cover and cook for approx 40 minutes until the meat is cooked.
- Serve with sour cream, garnish with fresh dill and enjoy!
© PetersFoodAdventures.com *originally posted May 2015, updated April 2023