Slavic Cabbage Rolls, My First Attempt

Nancy Lopez-McHugh decides to try making homemade stuffed cabbage rolls for the first time. We think they turn out pretty great.
Text And Photo By Nancy Lopez-McHugh

Cabbage rolls, or stuffed cabbage, are one of those dishes that span many countries all with unique variations. To many of you cabbage rolls (stuffed cabbage) are a very common dish, perhaps even one you grew up with. To me it is still a fairly new one. I don’t have any childhood memories of my mother making cabbage rolls for us. Now that I think about it I’ve never seen cabbage rolls on any authentic Mexican menus. Perhaps they do exist but I’ve never had the pleasure of eating one. The first time I ate one was about 5 years ago in Berlin, Germany. The first time I saw them on the menu I knew immediately what I was having for lunch. The waitress set down a cabbage roll the size of my head with a light and creamy white sauce over it, I wish I would have taken a photo. With huge anticipation and a big smile on my face I took my first bite, I loved it! My husband having grown up with cabbage rolls also agreed that they were fantastic. From that day forward every trip we made to Berlin we went to Joe´s Wirtshaus Restaurant right down the street from the Zoologischer train station. On several trips we even had both our lunch and dinner there, much to the amusement of the staff. Sadly I just learned that after 15 years they have closed down. I will greatly miss Joe’s and all of their fantastic German cuisine. Auf Wiedersehen und danke Joe’s.

The only times I have eaten cabbage rolls have been on our trips to Berlin, maybe because I felt no others could compare. Czechs also eat cabbage rolls but so far I’ve only found them in the frozen food section and I rather have them fresh. A couple of weeks ago while reminiscing about Joe’s cabbage rolls I made it my mission to learn to make them. I searched high and low for a recipe that sounded or looked similar to Joe’s. I wasn’t able to find one so instead I settled for a standard regional version. In Czech they are called Holubky, in Russian Golubtsy, and in Polish Golabki. Both the names and ingredients are quite similar. Over the days I decided to wing it and experiment with my own take of a slavic variation. I used a local variety of white cabbage, typical Czech spices, the meat is a commonly found mix of ground pork and ground beef mixture. I didn’t really follow a specific recipe, instead I read through many to get the idea of the standard ingredients used. So you could call these a Mexican girl’s take on Slavic cabbage rolls, sounds kinda funny.

 

White Cabbage for Cabbage Rolls
White Cabbage for Cabbage Rolls

Ingredients:
Makes 12 rolls or 3-4 servings

  • 1 head of white cabbage (700 grams)
  • 1.75 lb. (or 800 g) ground pork and ground beef mix, or use just beef
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup raw long grain rice, boil after measure = 2 cups cooked or 400 grams
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
  • 1 tsp. sweet paprika
  • handful finely chopped fresh parsley
  • Tomato sauce to pour over the rolls before baking

1. Boil the rice and set aside to cool down. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Remove any damaged or bruised outer leaves from the cabbage and discard. The first thing to be done is to soften the cabbage leaves in order to make them soft and bendable enough to roll up. Peel away the cabbage leaves from the cabbage and place in boiling water for upto 10 minutes or until soft and bendable. Remove each leaf from pot with a pair of thongs then set aside to drain.

 

Cabbage Rolls Step-by-Step
Cabbage Rolls Step-by-Step

2. Preheat the oven to 200C or 392F. In a large mixing bowl combine the meat, rice and all of the spices. Mix until all ingredients are well incorporated and spices are well distributed. Grab a softened cabbage leave and spread some meat mixture towards one end of the leaf. Tuck, fold and roll the cabbage then set the roll aside. Repeat until all of the meat filling is used up, this recipe made 12 medium rolls. Place the rolls inside a deep baking dish. There will be extra leftover cabbage that can either be placed on the bottom of the baking dish to form a bed on which the cabbage rolls are placed over to bake. In addition I also used some of the remaining cabbage to add to the tomato sauce. Finely chopped the extra or remaining cabbage and mix with the tomato sauce.

Cabbage Rolls Step-by-Step
Cabbage Rolls Step-by-Step

3. Pour the tomato sauce over the cabbage roll. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil, place the baking dish in the center of the of oven. Bake for 45 minutes, then remove aluminum. Look at the cabbage and use a fork to test the softness of the cabbage leaves, making sure they are soft and wilted. Once cabbage rolls are soft bake uncovered a further 10 minutes to allow the tomato sauce to thicken.

Slavic Cabbage Rolls
Slavic Cabbage Rolls

In honor of Joe’s I served with them with mash potatoes. To add to the whole slavic theme I also served a small bowl of Ukrainian Borscht,beet soup, as an appetizer. These may not be Joe’s cabbage rolls but if I do say so myself, not bad for a first attempt. Do you guys have any tips or recipes for cabbage rolls similar to the ones served at Joe’s?

Cabbage Rolls with Mash Potatoes
Cabbage Rolls with Mash Potatoes

Nancy Lopez-McHugh

Nancy Lopez-McHugh is a food blogger, photographer and published author. Most recently she has published "Yummy Pics: A Food Blogger's Guide To Better Photos".

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15 Comments
  1. Your cabage rolls look great, you did very well :) These rolls are tradicional Central/Eastern European dish and they are tradition here in my country, Croatia, as well as Serbia. We usually make it during winter time and I can proudly say that my mom’s cabbage roll are one of the best I’ve tried so far. The key is also to use really good quality meat. Even today, when someone asks me what is my favorite meal, I say: my mom’s stuffed cabbage rolls :)
    I would also like to try yours because they look great!

    1. I’ve been hearing from so many Central & Eastern Europeans that it’s a traditional dish in their country. All of the versions sound so good. Your mom’s sound like they must be fantastic., yummy!

  2. I totally agree with Tamara’s comment..since we grow up in the same country I know what she is talking about..
    They look awesome Nancy, would eat this in a heart beat!! Beautiful photography too!!!

  3. You should know that cabbage rolls are almost if not THE national dish in Romania. They are a turkish inspiration recipe and they are called SARMALE.
    In Romania, the cabbage leaf used is muuuuch thinner and tender and they are baked in big clay or normal pots with the tomato sauce, time and some smoked bacon. I am shure that after you’ve had the Romanian melt in your mouth version sarmale, you’ll never go back to the thick, chunky ones.
    Great job, though, keep it up!
    http://espressostyle.blogspot.com/2009/12/cristmas-eve-cooking-sarmale.html

  4. Cabbage rolls are traditional food in Germany, too. Usually we fry the rolls before stewing them in broth or tomato sauce – which gives them a nice caramelized flavor…

  5. I made these last night for dinner – they were great. My kids loved them too. Love the idea of tinkering around with the spice mixture for next time we make these. Great as leftovers – just ate for lunch.

  6. Just made my own family version. Don’t know what Joe’s recipe is but here is mine.
    I use beef,pork and veal meatloaf mix because I like the flavor but ground beef works just as well.
    I mix in finely minced celery, onion and garlic, a bit of parsley, s&p, eggs and a dash of milk, keeps it very moist. I mix it with my mixer. I add the cooked rice and then mix by hand. After everything is all rolled up, I put them in a deep dish baking pan, add tomato juice, not tomato sauce, open a can of sauerkraut and sprinkle the top of the rolls with the sauerkraut. Bake 350 for 1.25 hours or so, pan covered in foil, the time depends on how many rolls are in the pan. I serve with sweet corn and mashed potatoes and drizzle the sauce and sauerkraut over the potatoes. I like the tomato juice because it makes a nice thin sauce, and of course, that is the way my mom made it.

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