Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ( Comfort Food, History and Recipes)

For many of us, stuffed cabbage rolls bring back memories of family holidays and meals. It is truly a comfort food. The recipes and traditions was brought to North America by immigrants from Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Historically cabbage rolls has roots in ancient middle east and spread to Eastern Europe as trade roots developed and people migrated. Some Jewish historians has found indications that stuffed cabbage rolls were part of Jewish food tradition as early as 1500 years ago. There is as many recipes and traditions as there is regions in Eastern Europe. Here are some of names and some of the differences in their recipes:

Jewish “holishkls” and is served during the fall harvest festival. Made with raisins, brown sugar, lemon and tomato for a sweet and sour taste.

Bulgarian “sarmi” made with veal, pork, finely chopped mint, sweet paprika and yogurt.

Romania “sarmale” is made with dill, ground pork and bacon on top when baked.

Ukrainian “holubtsi” is made with sauerkraut and served with perogie.

Czechs and Slovaks version is known as “hulubky”

Serbs and Croatians it is known as “sarma.”

Lithuanians calls theirs “balandeliai” translates to “little doves.”

Russian “golubtsy” means “little pigeons” and is served with sour cream.

Polish “golabki” pronounced “gaw-WOHMP-kee” means “little pigeon feet” and served with sauerkraut, and sweet paprika.

In Finland it is known as “kaalikaaryle” and the cabbage rolls are browned before brazing.

It was in the early 18th century that stuffed cabbage rolls were brought to Scandinavia by Sweden’s Charles XII from the middle east after he was exiled there and was able to return. The kaalikaarryle is made with rice and chopped meat and rolled in cabbage leaves then brown in table fat before it is brazed on the stove. A gravy is made and served with potatoes and lingonberry jam.

The name “golubtsy” came to Russia and the region around it in the 18th century when the aristocracy traveled back and forth to eastern Europe. In France, pigeon was wrapped and cooked in cabbage leaves and stuffed cabbage rolls where then called “golubtsy” because the dish resembled the French dish. The Russian word for pigeon is “golub.” After that Europeans continued to name dishes that resembled or mocked other dishes by what it resembled until the end of the Victorian period.

I have two recipes to share with you from my recipe box. The first one I got was from when I was a young girl. I was always encouraged to copy or write down recipes by my older relatives. My father worked at a private country club in North East Ohio when I was young and he was on call when they had parties. Sometimes I went with him when he had to repair a problem in the kitchen. I would sit on a stool and watch the chefs cook. One of the cooks who could speak English gave me the recipe for stuffed cabbage rolls that he learned from Hotel Algonquin in Manhattan. The Hotel is now a landmark and is still in operation. After that my father insisted we have golubtsy every new years eve with sauerkraut for good luck.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

  • 2 cups of cooked rice
  • 1 head of cabbage soften in boiling water and leaves separated
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • ½ onion chopped finely
  • 2 cups of stock
  • Salt and pepper

Mix ground beef, rice, onion salt and pepper to taste. Take meat mixture in the size of a large meat ball and form short logs to roll in cabbage leaves tucking in the sides as you roll. Place in large pan with lid and pour over the rolls with stock. Cook in medium oven for about 1 to 1/12 hours until meat is done. Stock can be made with tomatoes, tablespoon of sweet paprika and other vegetables. Also sour cream can be added to stock when finished cooking or sour cream can be served on the side. Don’t cook sour cream or it will curdle just stir into sauce until thicken. The cabbage rolls are better if made the night before and warmed up the next day before serving.

This recipe I must of gotten from the newspaper or someone gave it to me. I kept it and made it just like the recipe, occasionally, because I like fried cabbage and apples.  In this recipe you sautéed the cabbaged rolls first and sprinkled brown sugar on the rolls before cooking you didn’t cook this in tomatoes. At the time I did not know this was traditional for Scandinavia.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

  • ½ cup rice cooked with 1 cup of water until water is absorbed. Set aside to cool.
  • 1 medium head of cabbage blanched in salted water. Leaves separated and hard veins cut out.
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1/8 teaspoons pepper

Mix together with cooked rice and take ¼ cup of mixture and roll in cabbage leaves tucking in the sides as rolling. Tie roll in string to keep the roll together while frying in a Dutch casserole.

  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
  • ½ cup beef broth

Brown all sides in butter first then sprinkle brown sugar on top. Add beef broth and bring to a boil and cover reducing the heat to a simmer. Cook for 1 hour until tender and filling is done.

  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • ¾ cup of light cream
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon of pepper

Remove cabbage rolls and keep warm. Add flour to cream and mix. Add cream mixture to pan drippings stirring all the time. Heat on low heat until thicken but do not boil. Add salt and pepper and serve with mashed potatoes.

In North East Ohio and around Pittsburgh stuffed cabbage rolls were called “pigs in the blanket.” This was a blending of Slovenian and Scott-Irish influence in that area.

Please I would like you to add your families stuffed cabbage roll recipe in the comments and tell your families tradition with this comfort food.


13 Comments Add yours

  1. Ooooo – these rolls look so delicious! I am Norwegian and will definitely try one of these recipes.


  2. trkingmomoe says:

    Thanks for stopping by. I have been busy writing blogs from the extention center. There is a nice community of foodies on wordpress and I have been enjoying this and learning new things.


  3. Sheryl says:

    The cabbage rolls look yummy. I haven’t cabbage rolls in years–but this post is making me hungry for them.


  4. Nora says:

    I like the way you include the history behind the dish. Thank you for sharing!


  5. I have enjoyed reading the traditions. Great information. My husbands family is from ohio and penn, so this makes so much sense to me. Anyway, thanks for the info.


    1. trkingmomoe says:

      Thank you for stopping by. There wasn’t a Christmas when I was a kid that someone’s grandmother wasn’t making pigs in the blanket. It is truely a comfort food. I hope you have been given more recipes from his family. Slovak’s had some great cookies and breads.


  6. Dorena says:

    Reblogged this on Our Thrifty House and commented:
    This recipe I’m about to share comes from one of the blogs I follow, trkingmomoe’s. She writes about low budget meals and gives the history on some recipes as well. Very tasty and informative. These cabbage rolls looks delicious!


  7. pattyabr says:

    never have made them but always wanted to give it a try. Nice pics of with steps of making them.


    1. trkingmomoe says:

      Cabbage is in season right now so now is a good time to try them. Thanks for stopping in and making a comment.


  8. My Babci and Ciocis made wonderful golabki! The family recipe is a treasure, and I can’t wait to try these.


    1. trkingmomoe says:

      Thank you for your comment. I enjoy these myself and I still like to serve them on New Year. This blog has had the most traffic of all my blogs. Every family had that special touch when making these and for some the family recipe has been lost to them. I think this is why there is so much interest in this blog because I tried to find as many Eastern Europen names I could for this dish to show it’s history. People remember the name it was called by the family and search for it in hopes of recreating it. Thanks again for your interest.


  9. Linda {Davis} Kress says:

    I am Scotch-Irish with a great big bunch of German…I am making these today…I use my meatball recipe with added rice and use spaghetti sauce over all…delicious! Thanks for sharing the photos!


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