Ukrainian cabbage rolls “golubtsi” recipes

Cabbage rolls is a dish common to the cuisines of Europe and West Asia. The main ingredients for cabbage roll are cabbage leaves wrapped about different fillings.

ukrainian cabbage rolls golubtsi


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 and Russians found more affordable variant of the dish and named it “golubtsi”.

Cabbage rolls history and variations

Recipes, stuffings and even shape of holubtsi are different in different regions of Ukraine. In the spring fresh or pickled cabbage leaves were often replaced with fresh grape leaves in the southwest and with fresh red beet leaves in other parts of Ukraine.

In Western Ukraine corn grits were widely used and in Eastern part of the country buckwheat groats were much more popular for stuffing. Lightly cooked grain 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 fried, and then put into a large pot. Sauce made of meat broth or kvas mixed with water 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.

The dimension of holubtsi 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 several pieces, so the rolls were smaller.

holubtsi cabbage rolls with tomato sauce
Holubtsi with tomato sauce

Early 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 holubtsi in Ukrainian families.

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


Every Ukrainian family has the best cabbage roll recipe of its own. Often there isn’t any secret ingredient – just food products of high quality and cooking with love.

You can precook fillings for cabbage rolls using frying pan or skip this step. If you want to, just mix all the ingredients and use the mixture for cabbage leaves stuffing.

Cabbage rolls with meat and rice

The most popular variation of Ukrainian holubtsi 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, while cabbage rolls with chicken are lighter. You can even replace fresh meat with chopped salt pork or bacon.


  • ground meat – 500 g;
  • boiled rice (white or brown) – 300 g;
  • onion – 1;
  • vegetable oil – 1 tbsp.;
  • salt, pepper.

Chop onion. Preheat frying pan (medium heat), grease it with vegetable oil. Brown chopped onion, add meat, season with salt and pepper and fry for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix the rice in.

Vegetarian cabbage rolls

During the Lenten Ukrainians often cook vegetarian holubtsi – cabbage rolls without meat.


  • boiled rice – 500 g;
  • boiled beans – 300 g;
  • carrot – 1;
  • onion – 1;
  • vegetable oil – 1 tbsp.;
  • salt, pepper.

Chop onion and carrot. Preheat frying pan (medium heat), grease it with oil, brown chopped onion, then add chopped carrot and fry for 3-4 minutes. Add boiled rice and beans, stir and fry for another 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Holubtsi with mushrooms

Another one popular stuffing for holubtsi is the mixture of rice (or buckwheat groats) and mushrooms. It’s a great variant for Lenten.


  • boiled rice (or buckwheat groats) – 400 g;
  • mushrooms – 300 g;
  • carrot – 1;
  • onion – 1;
  • vegetable oil – 1 tbsp.;
  • salt and pepper.

Chop mushrooms and vegetables. Preheat frying pan (medium heat), grease it with vegetable oil. Brown chopped onion, add chopped carrot and fry for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms and stew until no water is left. Season with salt and pepper. Mix with boiled rice or buckwheat groats.

Holubtsi without rice

If you don’t like rice, you can use the mixture of meat and vegetables for rolls stuffing.


  • ground meat – 700 g;
  • carrot – 1;
  • onion – 1;
  • bell pepper – 1;
  • tomato – 1;
  • garlic – 1-2 cloves;
  • salt, pepper.

Chop all vegetables; mix them with ground meat, season with salt and pepper.

How to cook cabbage for holubtsi

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


  • large saucepan;
  • cabbage head of medium size;
  • water – 4 l;
  • salt – 1 tbsp.

Boil water in a saucepan and add salt. Take cabbage head and remove top damaged leaves. Hammer heat-resistant serving fork into cabbage stalk (lower part of cabbage head). Dunk the cabbage into the boiling water and boil for about 2 minutes. Take the cabbage head out of saucepan and carefully pull away softened cabbage leaves from the outside of the head.

Cut out the thickest canter part from each leaf at the bottom of the stem. Do not cut too far into the leaf.

You can also cook holubtsi with sour cabbage. If you take sour cabbage, you don’t have to boil cabbage head. Just pull away cabbage leaves and stuff them.

How to roll cabbage rolls

how to roll cabbage rolls
How to roll

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.

If you need to, hold each roll together with a toothpick.

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 holubtsi

If you want to use tomato sauce for holubtsi, 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 brown 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 holubtsi 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 holubtsi or bake them in the oven. If you prefer the first method, you put rolls into a saucepan or Dutch oven. Pour sauce (100-150 ml) in the saucepan to prevent sticking to the bottom, place holubtsi seam-side down and add the rest of the sauce. 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, pour 100-150 of the sauce. Place cabbage rolls into the roasting pan, pour the rest of the sauce. 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 holubtsi are ready, you can serve them with sour cream.

Lazy Ukrainian cabbage rolls

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 holubtsi 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 holubtsi out of the oven, put sauce over holubtsi. Bake for another 30 minutes.

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

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