stuffed cabbage

stuffed cabbagge

No one ever tells you this, but the week after you get back from vacation is impossibly busy. For all you know, you come back, relaxed and tan, full of those lovely umbrella drinks, sand in your bag – and then wham, you get knocked down by work and life that apparently had the audacity to go on without you. You return to a full mailbox, bills to pay and laundry to do. I mean, the nerve, right? Shouldn’t the world stand still while you’re exercising your right to a bikini and a beach chair every day for a full week?

hollowing out the cabbagesteaming the cabbage
riceonions & celery

Oh and don’t get me started on the cold. The bone-numbing, soul-sucking, stop-you-in-your-tracks cold. I mean, I can’t even properly describe my dismay. Someone at work mentioned today that New York average temperatures around now were always in the mid-thirties and, well, we’ve certainly dipped below that just about every day. As luck would have it, my flight got into Newark on the same day that security breach took place and the airport was in near lock-down mode. I suggested to the pilot we turn the plane around and got back to Dominican Republic and he gave me a stare. I thought to myself, “Fine, but it’s either this, or an umbrella drink, buddy – you choose.”

stuffingall mixed
lining the potremoving the vein

We’re not even a month into this winter and already I’m whining. I swear, as the years go by the cold gets to me more and more. I complain about it bitterly, but get very little sympathy. Russians are supposed to tolerate these temperatures without so much as a shrug, I am told. But since I’ve not lived in the blustery St. Petersburg winter in over 21 years, I really can’t claim high tolerance for cold weather. Even if you do give me a vodka shot to quell the pain.

how to rollhow to roll
how to rollhow to roll

What I find myself doing, however, is craving Russian food. Badly. I like the heartiness and honesty of it; the way that it fills me up and makes me feel warm as if wrapped in a blanket. A food version of Snuggie, if you will, but far more attractive looking. And for me, in moments like this, stuffed cabbage really hits the spot.

a view from the top

In Russia, we called this dish “golubtsi”, and I’ve heard my Ukrainian friends refer to them as “holubki”. My friend Ryan took it one step further and referred to them as “pigs in blankets” and when I made fun of him and told he confused the name with another dish, quickly proved me wrong. But whatever you call them, they are amazing. In fact, they’re even better in the next few days as flavors develop more, and, if that weren’t bonus enough, they freeze beautifully too. Which is a great asset when you arrive home from the airport at 1 o’clock in the morning, starving and cold. A few minutes of defrosting in a microwave and you have a comforting, warm, soothing dinner. And if my week is busy, I can manage it, because I can have dinner ready in mere minutes, and focus on those other pesky things that took place in my absence, clearing my schedule for more important things like editing vacation photos. Clearly, more of a priority than paying bills.

stuffed cabbagge

Stuffed Cabbage

2 quarts water
1 large green cabbage (about 2 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 celery stalks with leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh, chopped dill
2 cups cooked rice
16 oz ground beef (I used ground turkey, but you can also use 1/2 beef and 1/2 pork or a combination)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups tomato puree
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup sour cream for garnish
dill for garnish


In a large stockpot, bring at least 2 quarts water to a boil. While you’re waiting on that, remove center core of cabbage. Once the water boils, pour the boiling water over the cabbage that you have placed into a deep bowl, to cover the cabbage completely. Put a lid on top of the bowl to let cabbage steam. Alternatively, you can gently slide the cabbage into the pot of water and let it steam there (fewer dishes to clean – bonus!) The reason you want to steam and not boil the cabbage is because it releases sulfur when cooked for an extended period of time and doesn’t smell so great (or so I’ve been told about the sulfur part).

Lift cabbage from water after a few minutes, and remove outer leaves. Return cabbage to the hot water and do that until all the leaves are softened. You might want to bring the water to a boil or add more hot water, but once water is hot enough, turn the heat off.

Reserve 2 cups cabbage cooking water. Trim thick center vein from bottom of each leaf.

Take the 3-4 largest outer leaves and line your pot or dutch oven with them.
In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and celery, and cook until golden and tender, about 8 minutes. Add some dill and cook another minute longer.

In a large bowl, combine onion mixture, rice, beef (or your ground meat of choice), salt and pepper. Stir well to combine

Add about 1/4 cup rice filling to one cabbage leaf and fold sides of cabbage over filling. Because you want to be starting with the stem end the filling should be closer to that end.
Roll the cabbage up and repeat with remaining leaves and filling.

Transfer stuffed cabbage to Dutch oven

In a large bowl, combine tomato puree, tomato paste and the reserved 2 cups of cabbage cooking water. Pour the mixture over the stuffed cabbage so it almost covers. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a gentle simmer; cover. Cook for 1 hour or longer, until cabbage is very tender, adding additional tomato sauce as needed.

Serve with dollops of sour cream and a sprinkling of dill.


  • kamran siddiqi

    It seems that I am not the only one here that loathes this cold weather! I think I need a bigger jacket… My mom will definitely kill me if I am not wearing my HUGE green “eskimo” jacket (as I like to call it) on the day of the Martha Stewart show. So, everyone should just look for a teenager with a big green eskimo jacket with a furry hood. LOL

  • Dawn

    My family’s roots are Croatian/Yugoslavian and the name for this dish is sarma. It is almost identical with the exception of the celery and dill. As for your friend, my sister to this day calls them “pigs” as in pigs in a blanket which is what we called them as kids. When I began to cook more on my own, I reverted to the traditional name so as to not confuse people with the hot dog in a crescent roll which goes by the same name. They are a Thanksgiving and Christmas tradition at our house no matter who is hosting they have to make the sarma. I have been known to go so far as to bring a few of them back on an airplane just acting like the aroma (er…stink) didn’t belong to me!!

  • noëlle {simmer down!}

    I love the way these little bundles look, and I love that they freeze well- as a single working gal, I’m always on the lookout for dishes I can freeze and just thaw out a portion or two at a time.

  • Sweets at Vicky's

    I’ve never had stuffed cabbages before! They look soo comforting, I just feel like biting into one now. It’s always warm here in Singapore, which can be quite boring sometimes. For one, we don’t get to wear the most gorgeous overcoats or trendiest boots. Hope it gets warmer soon for you though!!!

  • katie

    Oh, fantastic! I was planning to make stuffed cabbage this weekend and then this recipe popped up in my reader, looking far better than the plans I had in mind. Thanks! Can’t wait to try it.

  • Lady Gouda

    Ohhhhh my goodness, this looks really good. I was in Budapest last year and fell in LOVE with all things wrapped in cabbage. Thanks for including the “how-to” photos, they will be really helpful when I try to re-create this bowl full of comfort in the coming days.

  • whittsknits

    I live in South Florida and it is freezing here (for us) too! I am not a happy camper, I hate the cold. But this dish looks great and reminds me of my (Russian) grandmother’s.

  • Mark Scarbrough

    Funny enough, when either Bruce or I am away from home on business, the one left behind ends up making stuffed cabbage as the welcome-home dinner. And it may just be what I need on this cold winter day. Listen, I hear you. I thought moving to the countryside in New England would be a dream. And it is. If I can just keep looking at real estate in Florida all day long.

  • Arlene

    These look delicious. I just posted a recipe for “unstuffed” cabbage today. I just can’t get the hang–nor do I choose to spend the time–doing a proper roll. But I do so admire yours. I, too, live in the arctic New York and I’m sick to death of this weather. Can’t wait to escape to Florida in a few weeks.

  • Megan Gordon

    Now these look darn fun. We just made traditional red cabbage with a little vinegar and lemon the other night…love to try these guys as a main dish. And I remember the cold weather blahs from when I lived in Boston as a grad. student…February was the worst month for sure. Funny creatures we are b/c now I lust after it and miss it like nothing else. Anyway…glad you’re back!

  • Elvi

    These look SO good. I am inspired, especially given the poverty of the vegetable offerings at the grocery store lately. The cabbages were almost the only things that looked good.

    Btw, is that one clove of garlic, or what?

  • Radish

    Elycooks – I once went to a dinner where these were served and yes, they were sweet/sour, but maybe because I’m used to this flavor structure, I wasn’t a fan. They were too sweet for me.

    Elvi – 1 or 2 – there’s no hard science to these!

  • EB

    As a kid I hated, hated, hated this dish but now I find it absolutely comforting and delicious. Thanks for the great recipe!

  • anniemade

    so… about this freezing? how and when? after assembled, one-layer, flat in a baggie? i think that’s what i would do!

  • Radish

    Annimade – I freeze after the dish has cooled, in individual glass containers, with a piece of wax paper on top, and a lid. I like the individual sizes as I can have them for dinner without much fussing. If you live with a roommate, significant other, family, you can portion according to how many you think you might need.

  • Leesie

    Is that one clove of garlic? I am making this tonight for dinner – can’t wait to try it!

    Thank you.

    (SeasLife on Twitter)

  • anniemade

    excellent! thanks so much. i do lots of freezing in individual/2-person servings. so helpful during the week!

  • anniemade

    excellent! thanks so much. i do lots of freezing in individual/2-person servings. so helpful during the week!


    Just a heads up – you left the fresh dill out of the mixture of ingredients I believe, I was writing down the recipe and thought…hm where did that dill go besides garnish? It looks like in the picture though, that it was in fact mixed in. Let me know if I am wrong! Thanks for the great classic recipe :)

  • Radish

    Jessie – thank you, i’ll make changes. I could’ve sworn I typed it up, but maybe I accidentally deleted? Proofreading is what I lack. That and sleep :)

  • Lynn @Mama_Says

    Your recipe and photos are fabulous. Reminds me of cooking with my mother-in-law, this is one of her classic dishes. I agree with you regarding the stress of January…I cheated recently and made a crock pot version of stuffed cabbage to get us through a busy couple of days!

  • Alena

    I made this for dinner tonight with 1/2 lb beef and 1/2 lb pork. It’s a bit difficult to get fresh dill right now so I used some fennel frond instead. So good! Thank you so much for sharing this recipe.

  • Reg A. Klubeck

    This is the second wonderous recipe I’ve found on your site today (via Gojee)… I think I will be a frequent flyer here. Oh, and my Polish relatives called them gwumpkes (sp?). Thanks!

Leave a Comment