Cabbage Rolls (Golubtsi) in Tomato & Cream Sauce

Cabbage Rolls with Tomato Sauce

Cabbage Rolls with Tomato Sauce

By Cat, Oct 2007 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

See also: 1. Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Rice and Mushrooms; 2. Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Chickpeas & Bulgur (Middle Eastern); 3. Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Lamb & Bulgur (Middle Eastern); 4. Ethnic Food Menu

Cabbage rolls (called golabki in Poland, and golubtsy or golubtsi in Russia and Ukraine) are common family food fare, especially in Eastern Europe, and are often made without meat, similar to stuffed grape leaves in the Mediterranean.  I provide two different vegetarian versions, and a meaty version.

For a good peasant-style meal, serve with borschtpierogi, Russian vegetable pie and a hearty peasant style bread (such as Yeasted Beer Bread or Whole Wheat & Bulgur bread.

The leaves of open-head cabbage (such as Napa), are softer and easier to remove than closed head cabbage.  But if you first soften a closed-head cabbage by removing the core and steaming the whole head for a few minutes, the outer leaves will be soft enough to separate from the head easily.  I think the softened leaves of a closed-head cabbage are easier to form into pockets to hold the stuffing.

Cabbage Rolls in Tomato and Cream Sauce

This recipe is adapted from Larousse Treasury of Country Cooking. It uses meat, but if you wish you can  substitute any of the vegetarian stuffings for my other Cabbage Roll recipes.

I use pasture-raised beef or lamb from local ranchers, and pork raised by 4-H kids from my local grocer. If you don’t like to use pork, use ground turkey.

After forming the rolls, you brown them lightly in melted butter, then cover and cook over low heat. I highly recommend tying fine string around the rolls so they don’t fall apart (as in photo, below, from (Wikimedia Commons)

Cabbage Rolls from Belarus

Cabbage Rolls from Belarus

After forming the rolls, you brown them lightly in melted butter, then cover and cook over low heat. I highly recommend tying fine string around the rolls so they don’t fall apart (as in photo, left, from (Wikimedia Commons; go to the link for better view of the string)

The delicious sauce includes tomato juice, sour cream and fresh dill.

Equipment, Ingredients & Method


  • Cooking pot wide enough for the cabbage leaves to lie flat
  • String
  • Cast iron skillet
  • Serving platter

Prep cabbage:

  • 1 green cabbage, with 12 good-sized leaves

Open-head cabbage (like Napa), cut the leaves at the point where the leaf begins. Chop up the stems (to add to the sauce). In a pot in which the large leaves will lie flat, heat water to boiling.  Put in the leaves, cover, and bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 3 – 4 minutes, or long enough so that the leaves will bend without breaking as you roll them.  Remove leaves. Then add chopped up stems and cook until just soft. Drain, reserving broth and cooked stems separately.

Closed-head green cabbage, remove the core and steam the whole head for a few minutes (or blanch in boiling water about 5 minutes), to make it easier to remove the leaves. If they are too stiff to fold around filling, heat them in boiling water as described above for Napa cabbage.

  • Refresh with cold water and drain well.


  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 6 Tbsp butter
  • 1 lb ground beef, lamb or buffalo
  • ½ lb ground pork (not seasoned) or ground turkey
  • 1 cup cooked white rice, brown rice, or softened bulgur*
  • 2 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

*Soften bulgur: Makes about 1 cup: Pour ¾ cup boiling water over ½ cup bulgur in bowl.  Cover and let stand about 20 minutes, until bulgur is tender and water is absorbed.  Strain of any remaining water.

  1. Sauté onion in 2 Tbsp of the butter; transfer to a bowl and add the meat, rice and parsley. Mix thoroughly with hands, then bind with egg and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  2. Flatten cabbage leaves. Working with one leaf at a time, place a portion of the filling on one end of each leaf. Roll up, tucking edges around mixture. Secure with string if desired.
  3. Sauté rolls in remaining 4 Tbsp butter until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. This can be tricky, as the  rolls tend to fall apart easily; I highly recommend tying them with string (see above).
  4. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook gently for 30 minutes. Remove from pan to heated serving platter and discard string. Keep warm.


  • 2 Tbsp unbleached white flour or 2 Tbsp tapioca starch
  • 1 cup tomato juice (bottled, not canned)
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 cup dairy sour cream
  • Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2  Tbsp dried dill weed or 3 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
  1. Add flour to butter remaining in the pan to make a roux. Cook for 2 minutes. Blend in the tomato juice and water; bring to a boil, blend in the sour cream and dill; season to taste with salt and pepper.
  2. Pour over cabbage rolls and serve.


  1. Larousse Treasury of Country Cooking

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