Thursday, 24 January 2013

Golubtsy: the ultimate comfort food from Russia

Golubtsy (stuffed cabbage leaves) is a traditional Russian dish which goes back to the 18C. The name itself means "little pigeons". Apparently the original recipe from France used the pigeons wrapped in the cabbage leaves, but I don't know if this theory holds water.

I've been reading my old Russian cook books, as I wanted to refresh my memory of the golubtsy recipes, but the 1950s editions are not entirely suitable for a family of 4, all the recipes are catering for big families, almost a whole kolkhoz. It was a fascinating read though, and the list of ingredients confirmed what I had in mind.

M. Bogatyrev, First celebration in kolkhoz, 1930s.

Golubtsy (cabbage envelopes stuffed with meat and rice)
1 big cabbage (white & round)
200g cooked rice (or 1/2 dried basmati rice which you would cook as normally)
1 medium carrot
1 finely chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
500g minced beef and pork (50-50)
80g butter
1/2 mug of vegetable stock
black pepper
250ml of soured cream
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
3 tbsp plain flour (optional)

Fry the minced beef and pork for about 10 minutes (some chefs prefer to add the raw minced meat to the stuffing) with the chopped garlic, add salt and pepper.
Thinly slice the carrot and onion and fry with 1tbsp of butter until the onion is translucent. Mix all the ingredients: cooked rice, carrot, onion and minced meat. Leave it to cool.
In the meantime prepare the cabbage. Place the cabbage in the salted hot boiling water for 5 minutes, then take it out, and remove the leaves carefully, try not to tear them. If the inner leaves are sitting too tight, place the cabbage back in the boiling water for another 5 minutes. Once you have a stash of leaves, put them all, one by one back in the pot and cook for about 5 minutes. Take them out of the water and drain in the colander.
Now each cabbage leaf will be your envelope for the stuffing. Flatten each leaf and depending on the size of the leaf place 1+ tbsp of the stuffing. Fold the cabbage leaf like an envelope. If it is not big enough and doesn't want to stay put as a pocket, you might use the cotton thread to wrap around the envelope to keep it together while cooking.
The next step: melt 1 tbsp of butter in the frying pan and fry the golubtsy about 4-5 mins on each side.
Optional step: dip each cabbage pocket in the plain flour before frying.
Take a deep ceramic or glass oven dish and put all the stuffed cabbage envelopes together.

I should also add that you will most likely have some stuffing left, depending on the size of the cabbage (I did, as the leaves were getting smaller and smaller). It would keep well in the fridge for another day, and you can add it to the sweet pepper and roast them as stuffed. Or put in the freezer in the plastic container until needed.

 Add a bit of water or stock and the pot of the soured cream mixed with the ketchup. Add the remaining butter on top. Cover the dish with a lid and cook at 180C for about 45 minutes.
Remove the cotton thread before serving.
Serve hot with a chunk of good bread.

Irakli Iosebashvili was waxing lyrical about this traditional Russian dish in The Telegraph:

"The differences between Russian and French cuisine are many, but here’s one of the most important: French food is urbane, beckoning you forward while staying a few steps ahead, like a mysterious, beautiful woman; Russian food is like your mother, smothering you with love.

Golubtsy, or stuffed cabbage, is perhaps the most homely of Russian dishes. For most children of the Soviet Union, golubtsy evokes memories of mother or grandma and long, comforting meals in a warm kitchen" (to read the full article, please follow this link, it is worth reading, though I question the amount of minced meat used in that recipe, half a pound of each minced beef and pork would hardly fit in one cabbage).

If you are not keen on doing your own golubtsy but would still like to try them, then you might consider visiting the Russian restaurant Mari Vanna in London. Fiona from London Unattached has done a very entertaining review of Mari Vanna, with lots of lovely photos.


  1. Lovely Galina! I WILL try one day...and I think everyone should!!! though I have to say the mari vanna ones were delicious;)

  2. That really sounds like a lovely dish! Would be something for when I get into cabbage mode again.

  3. these are amazing my mums bf's step mum is from ukraine. she makes these at here dinner partys, when we go over me and my little brother love these.