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  • Writer's pictureCulinary Cam

Holubtsi, Ukranian Stuffed Cabbage Rolls #FoodieReads

We love stuffed cabbage leaves. Filled with meat, rice, and vegetables, these are ubiquitous around Eastern Europe and the Balkan States.

LEARN THIS PROCESS! This is a stuffed cabbage roll into which you can use whatever ground meat and grain you happen to have on-hand. This version includes ground lamb, beef, and rice in purple cabbage leaves. I have also made these with rice and lentils for a plant-based version.BE CREATIVE...COOK FEARLESSLY!

The Ukrainian version of stuffed cabbage, known as holubtsi, literally translates to "little pigeons." I was inspired to make this after reading the historical fictional novel The Memory Keeper of Kyiv by Erin Litteken.

On the Page

The Memory Keeper of Kyiv by Erin Litteken is told in alternating points of view - from Katya in the 1930s in Tetiiv Raion of the Kyiv region of the Ukraine and Cassie in 2004 in the mid-Western state of Illinois. This story was a heart-wrenching tale of loss and death.

One of the things I love most about historical fiction: learning new things, even uncomfortable things. I had never heard of the Holodomor, essentially extinction by starvation, a manmade famine that swept across Ukraine from 1932 to 33. The Holodomor resulted in nearly 10 million deaths. Stalin's regime forced Ukrainians into collective farming; land, produce, livestock, and farming equipment were declared state's property and seized. Wealthy farmers were dubbed kulaks and were exiled to Siberia. Food that was squirreled away and found was confiscated and people who hid it were either deported or executed

This was a story about strength, courage, and survival. If you want to learn a little bit more Ukraine's history, this is a tough but lovely read.

On the Plate

In Cassie's timeline there were mentions of typical foods such as overnight oats, ham sandwiches, and fettucine alfredo. But it was Katya's timeline that inspired me into the kitchen. Here's the passage...

"'Holubtsi,' Kolya blurted out. 'What?' Katya raised an eyebrow at him. 'What about holubtsi?' 'It’s something I miss,' he said. 'The soft cabbage leaves wrapped around the meat and millet. And the sauce. Oh, I miss that rich tomato sauce poured over it.' Katya’s mouth watered. She could almost taste the flavors rolling over her tongue. 'I miss nalysnyky.' Her stomach growled and she pushed a fist into it. 'Sweet nalysnyky with cherries. My mother makes the best I’ve ever had.'"


One thing to note is that this cabbage was grown in our garden, but I couldn't really identify it. Can you?! Use whatever cabbage you happen to have!

  • 3/4 pound ground lamb (you can also make it with all ground beef).

  • 3/4 pound ground beef

  • 1 egg

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 Tablespoon paprika (I used 1 teaspoon hot paprika and 2 teaspoons sweet paprika)

  • 2 cups cooked rice (traditionally, you use raw rice, but I had cooked rice and it cut down on the final cooking time)

  • 2 large bay leaves

  • 1 onion, peeled and diced

  • olive oil, as needed

  • 1 large head of cabbage, leaves separated and blanched for 1 to 2 minutes

  • 3 cups sauerkraut, divided (my homemade version, just know you need at least 3 days' lead time)

  • 1 cup tomato sauce

  • 1 cup water or a mixture of water and red wine


Heat a glug of olive oil in a large, flat-bottom pan. Add the onions and cook until softened.

In a medium mixing bowl, place the ground meats, egg, salt, pepper, paprika, rice, and 1 cup sauerkraut and mix until well-combined; I use my hands, but you can use a wooden spoon.

Stir together the tomato sauce and water or water and wine. Add a glug of olive oil and begin to warm the sauce.

After you blanch and drain your cabbage leaves, place a leaf flat on a cutting board or other clean workspace. Spoon 2 Tablespoons of the filling onto the leaf, near the top. Fold the sides of the leaf in and roll as rightly as you can until you get to the stem. Place the rolls, stem side down, into the tomato sauce. Make as many as you can to fill the pot. After I ran out of cabbage leaves, I formed the rest of the meat into meatballs and added them to the pot.

Spoon the remaining sauerkraut over the rolls. Pour in enough water so that the rolls are about two-thirds of the way submerged. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot.

Let the rolls braise for at least 90 minutes. Check on the liquid levels about half-way through cooking so that the rolls don't burn.

Serve hot.

I am adding this post to the January 2023 #FoodieReads link-up, here.

17 views2 comments


Wendy Klik
Wendy Klik
Jan 20, 2023

I may have to look this book up. I just finished the next CTB selection, The Cooking Front. LOVED it.

Camilla M. Mann
Camilla M. Mann
Feb 06, 2023
Replying to

I have to read The Cooking Front next! Thanks for the reminder.

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