Stuffed cabbage or golubtsy (“go-lub-tzy”) in Russian is a dish of Middle Eastern as well as European cuisine. This name usually refers to ground beef mixed with boiled rice or buckwheat wrapped in cabbage leaves. However, there are many varieties of fillings and the dish is popular in a many countries – Azerbaijan, Armenia, the Balkan countries, Moldova, Russian, Turkey, and Ukraine etc.
Stuffed cabbage is easy to cook, but the origins of this dish are somewhat confusing. Word “golubets” in medieval Russian meant name of the dance or structure made of logs. This word started being used as name of the dish from approximately mid-18th century when Russian food culture has been under great European, especially French cuisine influence. At the time among aristocracy grilled dove was a widespread dish; however, not everyone could afford it. Hence, some started cooking “fake doves” made of minced meat wrapped in cabbage leaves. Word “dove” in Russian sounds like “golub” and hence those “fake doves” got nickname of “golubtsy” (i.e. “small doves”, plural). Slowly, “fake doves” became more popular than the real ones but nickname stuck to the dish – “golubtsy”.
In Turkey golubtsy were never about stuffed cabbage. Lam with rice wrapped in grape leaves made a fine Turkish version of the same dish. In fact, even Greece and China had their own variations of the similar foods, but it is really impossible to say who was first.
This dish emerged on different continents and at different times under many names, but the essence of it remained the same: put some cooked grains and minced meat in large leave (grape, cabbage etc), wrap neatly and serve.
One more interesting version of origin of stuffed leaves dishes is based on the fact that nettle leaves are capable of keeping meat fresh for few days, and our distant ancestors were using them for this quality, thus creating the very first version of stuffed leaves dish known to mankind.
For more Russian recipes, visit Russian Cuisine page.
Cabbage leave must be large enough so they could wrap the stuffing. Young cabbage is preferred, it is tender and tastier. To soften leaves, the whole cabbage head can be boiled until it softens. Instead of ground beef you can also use rice with onions and boiled eggs, rice with onions and mushrooms, mushrooms with parsley root and celery. Buckwheat and porridge can replace rice, they can be used with onions and some butter.
My mom used to cook traditional golubtsy – minced beef with rice wrapped in cabbage leaf. This is the recipe I would like to share with you today.
Note: To cook the rice for the meat filling, place 1/2 cup of rice in a fine-mesh sieve and rinse under cold running water until water runs clear. Drain well. Bring the rice, pinch of salt and 1 cup of water to boil in a small or medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until rice is almost done, 10 minutes. Allow rice to cool slightly.
For the meat filling:
- 2 Tbsp. clarified butter or olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 medium carrots, shredded
- 1 lb. ground (minced) beef
- 1 cup long-grain rice, cooked
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
For the cabbage rolls:
- 1 medium head cabbage
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 2 cups chicken stock or water
- 3 Tbsp. tomato sauce, (I used Ragu Traditional)
- salt to taste
- plain whole-milk yogurt or sour cream for serving
Preheat the oven to 350F.
To make meat filling, heat clarified or oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and fry until soft, about 7 minutes. Place in a bowl with beef and remaining filling ingredients. Mix well to combined.
Core cabbage and place whole in a large pot of boiling salted water. Cook just long enough to soften leaves, about 10-15 minutes. Drain in a colander and cool under cold running water. Carefully remove the leaves.
Cut thick ribs from larger leaves, then halve the leaves; keep smaller leaves intact. You will need 14-16 leaves. Use leaves and trimmings to line a deep saucepan.
To make the rolls, place a generous tablespoon of meet filling at base of each leaf, roll one turn and tuck in sides to contain filling. Roll firmly to end of leaf.
In a saucepan over high heat, bring the stock and tomato sauce to a boil. Add the garlic, lemon juice and salt. Cook for one more minute.
Arrange the rolls in a large pot, pour the sauce over the top. Cover and bring to boil. Place in a oven for about 45-50 minutes.
Serve the rolls hot or warm. Serve with yogurt or sour cream.