Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Grandma's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Polish Holubki)

Growing up, Mom or Grandma made stuffed cabbage rolls on a regular enough basis that they became synonymous with family gatherings.  But as a child I didn't really like the cabbage so I'd beg Mom to make just the stuffed part, or ask at the dinner table if I could unwrap it and just eat the insides.  It wasn't until I was an adult and really enjoyed the whole stuffed cabbage that I realized I'd only wanted meatballs.  But now I think, why have just a meatball when you can wrap it in cabbage, cook it in tomato sauce and get something so deliciously amazing.  The cabbage is perfectly steamed and flavors the meat, which is tender and full of texture and seasoning.  Cooked low and slow in a simple tomato sauce bath, these stuffed cabbages are not only comfort food for me, but are a huge hit with everyone in my family.  Of course, this is the same family that instead of eating leftover turkey on black Friday, we do a whole huge meal of stuffed cabbages and perogies, so we might be a little biased.

When a beautiful head of cabbage and two pounds of ground beef showed up in our CSA, I knew exactly what I needed to do.  So when I got home, I pulled out my community cookbook looking for Grandma's stuffed cabbage recipe.  But it wasn't there.  So I pulled out Mom's Babushka Power Cookbook and looked to see if she had marked a recipe as her go to. Nope.  So I went to the church lady cookbook Grandma had given me and there wasn't even a stuffed cabbage recipe in it! (The sacrilege!)  What to do?  Time to call Grandma.  Grandma is fun, funky and almost 90, but bless her heart I don't think she's made stuffed cabbages in the last few decades.  So while the quantities were a little sketchy, I think I extracted the right ingredients and flavors from her. I do believe the measurements for some of the seasonings were a bit on the low side, so I've adjusted them for you below.  The biggest key is steaming you cabbage to a nice softness, and by leaving it on the head while it steams, I ended up with no ripped leaves.  I used up the whole thing (down to the itty bitty leaves in the center), so some of my cabbage rolls were a bit on the small size, so either get the biggest head of cabbage you can find or pick up two and steam them both, using only the largest leaves.  Feel free to kick up the flavor on the sauce, but for me, it's comforting due to its simplicity. Just a light tomato flavor is all that's needed for a perfect "au jus" to drizzle over your cabbage rolls.  Surprisingly easy to put together and amazing in the flavor department, this recipe will definitely be used often in my family.

Grandma's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Polish Holubki)


1 large head of cabbage
2 pounds ground beef
2 eggs
8 ounces plus 24 ounces tomato sauce, divided
1 cup long grain white rice, uncooked
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
salt and pepper to taste

Carefully, use a sharp knife to remove the core of the cabbage head, keeping the leaves intact.  Rinse and let drain slightly.

Put a few inches of water in a large pot and cover with a steamer insert.  Place cored cabbage in the steamer insert, cover and bring water to a light boil to steam the cabbage leaves.  While that steams, prepare the filling.

In a large bowl, combing beef, eggs, 8 ounces tomato sauce, rice, onion, cheese and all seasonings.  Mix together until thoroughly combined.  Note: I used my hands to mix the meat filling.

Layer a thin amount of tomato sauce in the bottom of a 5-6 quart crock pot.

Once cabbage is softened, reduce heat to a simmer and carefully, using tongs or the very tips of your fingers (careful not to burn yourself), remove cabbage leaves from the head one at a time, taking care not to rip them.  Remove 3 or 4 leaves at a time and transfer to a plate or cutting board, returning lid to pot so the remaining exposed leaves steam longer.

Lay out a cabbage leave and place about 1/3 cup of the meat mixture about a 1/2 inch from the base of the leaf.  Roll the bottom edge up to meat the filling, turn in the sides, and continue rolling up, burrito-style.


Place cabbage roll seam side down on the bottom of the crock pot and repeat until out of filling or cabbage leaves.  Note: Extra filling can be formed into balls and cooked along side the stuffed rolls.

Pour tomato sauce between layers and over top of final layer.  Note: You may use more than the noted amount of tomato sauce, to taste.

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

When ready to serve, lift out carefully with a spoon, drizzle cooking liquid over top and serve with mashed potatoes.

Makes about 15-20 stuffed cabbage rolls.

Happy Baking,
The Cookie Princess

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