Golubtsi – Ukrainian cabbage rolls (Recipes)

Golubtsi-Recipe-4-600x400Early in the XX century Ukrainians began to stuff cabbage rolls with the mixture of rice and meat and use tomato juice or paste as a sauce. Nowadays these are the most common ingredients for golubtsi in Ukrainian families. The name for stuffed cabbage rolls in Ukrainian language is “golubtsi” or “holubtsi” (singular – “golubets’”). The etymology of the word is vague, though there are two versions.

First – the word “golubtsi” derived from Serbian with meaning “dumplings” (similar in shape).

Second – the word “golubtsi” derived from Ukrainian word “golub” meaning pigeon under the influence of French cuisine. French cooks served roasted pigeons and Ukrainians found more affordable variant of the dish and named it “golubtsi”.

Golubtsi-Recipe-5-600x400Cabbage rolls history and variations

Recipes, stuffings and even shape of golubtsi are different in different regions of Ukraine. Lightly cooked rice was mixed with fried onions and pork cracklings and only on holidays with raw minced meat. This mix was used to fill the leaves. Rolled golubtsi were put into a large pot. Sauce was poured over rolls. Sometimes sour cream was added, too. The pot was placed into а well heated oven and was taken off when cabbage leaves became soft.

Golubtsi-Recipe-6-600x400The dimension of golubtsi was different for different Ukrainian regions. Cooks from Left Bank Ukraine made rolls from the entire cabbage leaf, so they were big. In Western Ukraine the cabbage leaf was divided into two pieces, so the rolls were smaller.

Most of Ukrainians consider golubtsi as everyday dish, but in Western part of the country stuffed cabbage rolls are also included in holiday menu.

Cabbage rolls with meat and rice

The most popular variation of Ukrainian golubtsi is made with meat and rice mixture. You can use any ground meat you want – pork, beef, chicken, turkey, their mixtures. Cabbage rolls with pork are fat and tasty, while cabbage rolls with chicken are lighter. You can even replace fresh meat with chopped salt pork or bacon.


  • 1.5 pound ground meat;
  • 2 medium cabbages;
  • 2 cups uncooked rice;
  • 1 medium onion;
  • 3 medium carrots;
  • 2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce;
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil;
  • salt, pepper.


How to prep the Rice and Cabbage

  1. Rinse 2 cups white rice and place in 3½ cups boiling Cover and simmer on low heat for about 15 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed.
  2. Fill ⅔ of large soup pot with water. Bring to a boil. Add ½ Tbsp salt.

12038760_890653371020474_4251049360392118317_o (1)You have to precook cabbage leaves in order to roll them into holubtsi. Leaves aren’t pliable enough, so they must be boiled.

                Peal and discard the top two leaves from each cabbage. Use a knife to cut out the core of each             cabbage. Put first cabbage in water, cork down, for about 3 minutes, then rotate and continue         cooking another 5-6 min. You will pull off leaves as they begin to soften. The leaves will cook               faster if they are pulled apart. Remove the leaves to a platter to cool when they are done. You            know they are done when they are soft and yellowish and larger leaves will turn a dull green.          Repeat with the second cabbage, adding more water if needed.

  1. Cut out the thickest canter part from each leaf at the bottom of the stem. Do not cut too far into the leaf.
  2. Reserve about 3 cups of water from the pot!

Stuffing/ Meat Mixture Prep

  1. Mix ground meat and rice together in a large bowl.
  1. Chop onion. Preheat frying pan (medium heat), grease it with vegetable oil. Once onion is golden, add 3 medium grated carrots and fry for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix to boiled rice and meat.
  1. Add 1 tbsp salt and 1/2 tbsp pepper. Mix well.

How to roll cabbage rolls

In order to make cabbage wraps, put a cabbage leaf on a flat surface, place filling into the center and roll the leaf over the filling. Don’t forget to tap the leaf under itself, so you create a tight bundle. When the roll is ready, fold open ends of the leaf underneath the bundle. By doing that you are preventing the roll from unraveling.

Sauces for cabbage rolls

The most popular sauce for cabbage rolls is tomato sauce. It has numerous variations, but still tomatoes are the main ingredient.

Tomato sauce for golubtsi

If you want to use tomato sauce for golubtsi, take:

  • fresh tomatoes or tomato paste;
  • onion;
  • carrot;
  • vegetable oil;
  • salt and pepper.

Blanch fresh tomatoes for 2 minutes in boiling water. Peel tomatoes and cut into dice. If you use tomato paste, skip this step.

Chop onion and carrot. Preheat frying pan, grease it with vegetable oil and fry chopped onion for 3-4 minutes. Add chopped carrot and fry for another 3-4 minutes. Add tomatoes or tomato paste, salt and pepper and stew for 5 minutes. If you want to make sauce thinner, just add water.

Ukrainians often make sauce for golubtsi with sour cream. To make sauce with tomatoes and sour cream, just add sour cream into tomato mix and stir well.

Sauce for golubtsi with sour cream

If you want to cook cabbage rolls without tomato sauce, take:

  • onion;
  • sour cream;
  • dill;
  • salt and pepper.

Preheat frying pan, brown chopped onion, add sour cream and bring the mix to a boil. Add chopped dill and water to make sauce thinner, salt and pepper. Stew for about 5 minutes.

How to cook cabbage rolls

You can boil golubtsi or bake them in the oven. If you prefer the first method, you put cabbage rolls into large soup pot. Pour sauce to prevent sticking to the bottom and add enough reserved water to almost cover golubtsi (2½ to 3 cups).Cook on low heat for 40-50 minutes.

If you want to cook golubtsi in the oven, preheat it to 180°C. Take a large roasting pan, place cabbage rolls into the roasting pan, pour the sauce and add 1.5 -2 cups reserved water. Cover the pan with foil and bake cabbage rolls for about 60 minutes. You can add time, if the leaves still do not feel tender.

When golubtsi are ready, you can serve them with sour cream.

Lazy Ukrainian cabbage rolls

If you don’t have enough time for cooking cabbage rolls, you can cook lazy Ukrainian cabbage rolls. The ingredients for lazy golubtsi are the same, but they are easier to make.


  • ground meat – 500 g;
  • boiled rice – 300 g;
  • onion – 1;
  • carrot – 1;
  • medium sized cabbage head – 1/3;
  • salt and pepper.

For sauce:

  • tomatoes – 3 (or tomato paste);
  • sour cream – 100 g.

Shred cabbage and cover with boiling water in a large bowl. Wait for 20 minutes. Meanwhile chop onion and carrot. Mix ground meat, chopped vegetables, rice, cabbage (without water), season with salt and pepper. Make medium sized balls out of the mixture and place them into large roasting pan. Put the pan into preheated oven (180 °C) and bake for about 30 minutes.

Make a sauce. Mix tomatoes (tomato paste or fresh peeled and nicely chopped tomatoes) with sour cream.

Take roasting pan with lazy golubtsi out of the oven, put sauce over golubtsi. Bake for another 30 minutes.

It’s one of the easiest and one of the best cabbage recipes. Try!

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