Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Holubky)

Kaki, Merry Christmas! 🙂

It may be 74 degrees outside, but we’ve gotten into the Christmas spirit alright.  My dad and I started a new Christmas tradition last weekend that I’m super excited to share.  We busted out an old family cookbook (itself assembled as a Christmas present years ago) and made my grandmother’s recipe for Holubky, or Hungarian stuffed cabbage rolls.

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Now, these sounded intimidating; Dad and I set aside many hours on a Sunday afternoon to assemble them and let them simmer to their glorious, tomato-y conclusion.  But actually they turned out to be easier than we’d imagined (especially with two people).  The cabbage turned out to be a great natural wrapper; since they are already cup-shaped, they’re pretty easy to roll up.

We did make some adjustments to the recipe.  We doubled the filling, which turned out to be a good call; we had a little filling leftover but just formed them into meatballs and baked them.  We also used a seasoned rice (Zatarain’s brand, if I remember correctly), and the spices were a nice addition to the filling.  We sauteed the onion in a little olive oil before it went into the filling as well.  And we left out the short-ribs; Dad consulted his brother who confirmed they weren’t really made that way when they were growing up.

One of the greatest parts of making these was that my other Grandma was visiting us that weekend, whose family is Czech.  It was really neat to compare notes of the slight differences between regions; Grandma said they used to bake theirs, but that the filling and sauce were just as she remembered them.

I personally hadn’t had these since a family reunion many, many years ago, but they taste just as amazing as I remembered.  The tomato sauce is incredible, you’d never imagine the flavor it could take on in such a relatively short time.  And the cabbage loses all of its cruciferous  aroma, so there’s no worry of co-workers complaining about your leftovers.   If they last that long.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Holubky)
Serves about 9

Ingredients:

  • 1 large head cabbage
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • water
  • 1 1/2 cups rice (with seasoning if using packaged)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 bags deli sauerkraut (or 2 cans if you can’t find the bags)
  • 1 1/3 cup tomato puree (at minimum; just get a bottle of at least 11 oz and pour it all in)

Add an inch or two of water to the bottom of a pot fitted with a steamer basket (keeping the water below the steamer basket itself naturally).  Cover and bring to a steady simmer.

Using a sharp knife, cut deeply around the core of the cabbage and twist to remove from the rest of the head.  Place the cabbage, core-side down, into the steamer basket.  Cover the pot and steam for 10-15 minutes, until the leaves begin to be easy to remove.  (Check water level occasionally to make sure it hasn’t simmered itself dry.)  (TIP:  Use tongs to gently push each leaf off of the head, starting at the edge of each leaf; it sounds like using tongs to pull the leaves off would be easier, but instead they’re just easier to rip that way.)

While the cabbage is steaming, prepare the filling: in a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-heat.  Add the diced onion and saute for 5-7 minutes, until translucent.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

In a small pot, combine 3 cups water and the rice and bring to a boil. Once boiling drain rice  and add to bowl with onions (reserving cooking water if using seasoned rice).

To onions and rice add the pork and beef, eggs, 1 teaspoon of salt and pepper.  Mix thoroughly.

Once several cabbage leaves are soft enough to peel off of the head, remove them to a cutting board.  Cut away the spine of each leaf.

To fill: slightly overlap the edges that were to either side of the spine.  Add two heaping tablespoons of filling and fold the split side of the leaf over the filling.  Fold the sides over the filling, then roll to the whole edge of the leaf.  Place cabbage rolls on a large plate until all are filled.  (TIP: as the leaves get smaller toward the center of the head, just use less and less filling per roll.  Combining two small leaves to make one roll is possible, but is really more frustration than its worth.)

(Once all of the cabbage leaves are filled, if you have leftover filling just form them into meatballs and bake them separately.)

Drain the pot used to steam the cabbage.  Drain the sauerkraut and rinse thoroughly.  Place the rinsed sauerkraut in the bottom of the pot.  Layer the cabbage rolls over the sauerkraut.

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Pour tomato puree over the cabbage rolls.  Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Add water to nearly cover the rolls (using the seasoned rice water if reserved).

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Cover pot and bring to a boil.  Turn down heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

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Serve 3-4 rolls per person.  DEVOUR! 🙂

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P.S. In addition to the interesting Hungarian vs. Czech cabbage rolls discussion that this inspired, it also hit me that this filling resembles boudin, the Cajun meat-and-rice sausage.  Ah, peasant food knows no bounds.

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