Variations on a Theme
It is true that stuffed cabbage appears in different forms in various cultures -- however, no culture regards it as highly as the Ukrainian. Every corner of Ukraine has created their own version of golubtsi, modifying aspects such as the filling, sauce, shape and size, time of year in which they are enjoyed, and even the type of cabbage leaf itself. White cabbage is most commonly used, so why not try savoy, sauerkraut, beetroot or grape leaves? Instead of tomato sauce, simmer the golubtsi in mushroom sauce, kvas, or broth. And who says the filling must be rice with meat? Buckwheat or polenta work just as well. As do vegetables and grated potato.
Here is my version: white cabbage, stuffed simply with beef, herbs and greens, and simmered gently in a luscious tomato sauce. I made this recipe after chatting with a friend about whether golubtsi should require a heavily grain-based filling at all. If accompanied with bread, potatoes, or other starchy carb, grains used in the filling become superfluous. That being said, I decided to include crumbled bread in order to absorb the tomato sauce and keep the filling moist. Therefore, these are essentially meatballs (polpette) wrapped in lightly steamed cabbage and infused with sweet, yet acidic, tomatoes. A Ukrainian classic, revisited and tuned to the modern day.
Golubtsi, Ukrainian Stuffed Cabbage
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 2 carrots, grated
- 600 g tomato passata/purée
- 400 g water
- bay leaf
- 1 bunch fresh parsley
- 100 g dry bread, crumbled (optional)
- 700 g beef mince
- 60 g arugula/rocket
- 1 head white cabbage
- sunflower oil
- sea salt
- black pepper
In a wide pot, heat a couple tablespoons of sunflower oil over medium heat. Add the onion and carrot and sautée until translucent, stirring every so often. Season with salt. When ready, remove half to a bowl.
To the remaining half of onion/carrot in the pot, add the passata, water, and bay leaf. Bring just to a boil and then simmer. Stir every so often. This will be the sauce that the golubtsi will cook in.
In a large, deep pot, bring some water to a boil. The cabbage leaves can either be steamed or boiled. I prefer to steam them for about 3 minutes, until slightly soft yet still maintaining their structure. Run the steamed leaves under cold water to stop cooking.
To the onion/carrot in the bowl, add the chopped parsley and arugula, crumbled bread, minced beef, salt, and pepper. Combine very well.
Assemble the rolls: take one piece of cabbage and lay it on the work surface. Place about 60 g of the filling in the middle, then roll up carefully. Repeat for each leaf. This recipe makes about 12 to 16 golubtsi, depending on the size of the cabbage leaves.
Place the golubtsi, seam side down, in the tomato sauce. Arrange them neatly in the pot. Simmer for about 1 hour, checking every now and then to ensure the cabbage does not tear.
Serve with some of the tomato sauce and rich sour cream or yogurt. Priyemnoho apetitu!