Russian Cabbage Rolls (Голубцы)

NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.

Cabbage rolls are found all over Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. They are staple dishes in Croatia, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, and Sweden; in Russia, they’re called голубцы (golubtsy) and make regular dinnertime appearances in most homes.

There is some controversy over the origin of the dish. One common theory is based on its name, which could be linked to the word Russian word for pigeons (голуби). Russian cuisine and culture was heavily influenced by the French in the 17th and 18th centuries, and these stuffed cabbage rolls could be an attempt to recreate roasted pigeons, a popular French dish at the time.

You’ll Need:
1 lb ground beef
1 cup cooked rice
1 head cabbage
1 onion, chopped finely
6 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2 carrots, shredded (1/2 cup)
1 tsp each salt, pepper, dried dill, prepared mustard
1 14oz can of tomato sauce
8 tbsp butter or ghee
additional 1/2 tsp pepper

This dish was the perfect opportunity to try out TX Bar Organics‘ ground beef. This 85% lean ground chuck was rich and flavorful and really stood out against the mild, subtle flavors of this dish. Highly recommended!

Chop the onion finely and set aside. Garlic too.

Warm 4 tbsp of the butter or ghee on medium heat for a couple minutes, then add the onion and sauté for about 10 minutes, until the onion is aromatic and translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute, then add the ground beef, salt, pepper, dill, and mustard. Continue to cook until most of the pink has been cooked out of the beef.

Add the cooked rice and carrot. Remove from heat and set aside as you work on your cabbage.

Cut out the core of the cabbage. Bring a stockpot half-full of water to a boil on high heat.

Drop the cabbage into the boiling water and press it down with the end of a wooden spoon. Hold it there for five minutes, until the cabbage softens. Pull the cabbage out of the water (I used two forks) and let it drain in a colander for a minute, but keep the water boiling. Peel off the leaves. If you get further down the cabbage and the leaves are hard and dry, drop the cabbage into the water for a few more minutes and repeat the process.

Place the cabbage on a cutting board and cut the spine out of it.

The next step is simple – put a spoonful of the ground beef into some cabbage and roll it together. There’s no foolproof way to do this, especially since the cabbage will be in various sizes and thicknesses; just put the filling near one end and roll it up toward the other end. Easy, right? You should be able to make about 18 cabbage rolls.

Place all the rolls in a casserole dish. Meanwhile, heat the other 4 tbsp of butter/ghee in a saucepan over medium heat for a minute or so, then add the tomato sauce and another 1/2 tsp of pepper, stir it together, and reduce the heat to med/low. Simmer the sauce for about five minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spoon the sauce over the cabbage rolls, and bake everything for 45 minutes.

That’s it! Serve immediately, with sour cream if you’d like. Serves six (three per person).

My version of this dish was also featured in the latest Highbrow Paleo Cook Off, which had a requirement of ground meat, three veggies of different colors, and an optional starch (in this case white rice). Check out everyone else’s submissions!

29 thoughts on “Russian Cabbage Rolls (Голубцы)

  1. Looks awesome as always!
    Here in Sweden they’re called “kåldolmar”, definately a traditional “Swedish” dish (served with brown gravy, potatoes and lingonberry jam), but I’m not sure I would consider it a staple (at least not these days).
    I wrote “Swedish” dish since it, as an extra background note, was brought here from Turkey by king Karl XII’s soldiers during the Great Northern War.

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    1. That’s an interesting word for the rolls, since I believe the Turkish origin word for their version of the dish is “sarma”, which is still used in several Balkan countries. Is it common for Sweden to mutate the “s” sound to a “k” sound, or does it have its root from somewhere else?

      Brown gravy, potatoes, and lingonberry jam doesn’t sound bad at all! :)

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      1. I looked around a bit, the word definitely comes from the Turkish word “dolma” (the “kål” part of the word is just the Swedish word for cabbage…the Swedish language makes new words by putting two or more words describing something together (eg “cabbage rolls” would with Swedish linguistic rules be written as “cabbagerolls”)).
        I’m not sure about the distinction between “sarma” and “dolma” as I believe they are used interchangeably, but think by definition “sarma” is something wrapped, and “dolma” is actually something stuffed.
        Another dish that is quite common in Sweden with the same flavors is “kålpudding”, which is basically the same ingredients layered in an oven tray and cooked in the oven.
        (…just realize I haven’t done that in a while, and it’s actually one of my girlfriends favorite dishes, so don’t be surprised if a paleo friendly version of it pops up on the blog in a near future ;).

        Have a nice weekend Russ! :)

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  2. i wish i could explain how inspiring your food is. The style and photography of your blog and FB page is amazing. I can’t get enough of all the different cultural and ethnic dishes you recreate to be primal friendly. I’m totally gluten free with occasional dairy, so just about everything you post i can eat. The minimal dairy in your recipes is also very easy to cut out and still have a delicious meal. You are definitely in my top 3 sites to visit for culinary inspiration or just to figure out what’s for dinner:) i <3 the domestic man site

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      1. just made this last night and it was really really good. I don’t know what i expected out of the dill and mustard combo, but it was magic. I very much enjoyed these and will be making them again. THANK YOU

        p.s. i added a bunch of chopped kale to the party (for some extra veggies) and doubled the dill and mustard that went in. I liked the stronger flavor and all of this played out very nicely on the dinner plate!!

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  3. They look amazing! Ive only eaten the Lebanese version (malfouf) before, but these look like a delicious variation that I’m going to try….thanks for the recipe!

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  4. I’ve made this twice, the first time following your recipe exact, and it was delicious.

    Tonight I made the filling but added 2 tbsp butter, 1/4 c heavy cream, and stuffed parboiled bell peppers instead. Used homemade chicken stock to cook the rice. Rigoddamndiculous. There was enough to fill 6 peppers, I filled 4 and then like the glutton that I am, stood in the kitchen eating the rest of the filling directly out of my mixing bowl, washing it down with French red wine. Glorious, glorious supper, thank you!

    Sincerely, half-Ukrainian girl in Colorado

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  5. I made the recipe as instructed, and they turned out wonderfully. These are delicious! Thank you!!

    I haven’t had rice in months, but I didn’t have a reaction to the rice in this recipe. However, I will be subbing sauteed mushrooms in its place for next time just to see how that will taste.

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      1. I ran the mushrooms in a processor before sauteeing them. The recipe still turned out beautifully! What really makes this recipe for me is the mustard and dill weed in the filling and the butter in the sauce.

        I love your blog! :)

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  6. Actually, there is a “special” way to roll them. Instead of cutting the “spines” out, you trim them down so they are more flexible. You put the meat mixture at the bottom of the leaf, roll it once, fold the sides over, roll again and tuck the “flap” in.

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  7. This recipe was AWESOME! I used raw shredded cauliflower instead of rice but kept everything else the same, though I did follow the tip someone else left in the comments about trimming the ribs instead of cutting them out. Thanks Russ!

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