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 like this from time to time because I like fried cabbage and apples and 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.

Crossed post on Trkingmomoe’s Blog 

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9 thoughts on “Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ( Comfort Food, History and Recipes)

  1. cmaukonen

    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.

    This is what my mother called them. I guess from living in PA. Initially around the Allentown area and then when she went to college at Duquesne Univ. in Pittsburgh.

    She also did a variation stuffing Bell Peppers.

    1. This was part of Pittsburghese language. Pigs in a blanket was a sausage cooked in a bread type of wrapper in the British Island. The Scotts and Irish came to work in the coal fields as well as the Slovenians.
      So the Scotts and Irish just called cabbage rolls “pigs in the blanket” because they could not say “hulubky.”

      Polish families would make stuffed cabbage rolls for Christmas Eve.

  2. ~flowerchild~

    Where do I begin, momoe? 🙂 You might be sorry you asked us to post our recipes and stories :O

    First off, I learned how to make cabbage rolls from a lady named Rose. She was proudly Polish so I am assuming her recipe has its roots in Polish tradition.

    The filling ingredients are similar to the recipes above: about 1 pound of ground pork, about 2 cups of cold cooked rice, about 1 cup of fine chopped onion, a couple of finely minced or grated garlic cloves (granulated dried garlic will suffice), salt and pepper. (Rose never measured a dang thing for this recipe so that’s why there are all those ‘abouts’ in there.) Roll meat and rice mixture in prepared cabbage leaves, place in roasting pan, pour 1 to 2 quarts of tomato juice over top, cover and bake in a medium heat oven for about 1 ½ hours.

    And they do taste better warmed up the next day! They also freeze well.

    Tips from Rose on the making of cabbage rolls:

    Find a pot large enough to fit the whole cabbage inside. Fill about half way with water and bring to a boil. Also bring to a boil an extra kettle of water to add to the pot if needed.

    Core the cabbage using a short, sharp knife. Make sure the core is completely removed. Submerge the whole cabbage, cored end up, in the pot of boiling water. Use the extra boiling water to cover the entire head, pouring directly into the cored out end. This will push the boiling water between each leaf and make it easier to separate them.

    As the cabbage leaves soften, you can gently work each individual leaf away from the head with a pair of tongs. Let the leaves stay in the water until they get a waxy look to them and are flexible, about a minute.

    Then pull each one out of the pot and let rest until they are cool enough to handle. Keep working the leaves away until they get too small to make a cabbage roll with, any that are too small to cover the palm of your hand. Remove the cabbage ‘heart’ from the boiling water, set aside to cool.

    Shave off the hump of the thick vein with a sharp knife.

    Finely chop the shaved off veins and the cabbage heart. Add it to the meat mixture. This stretches the filling and nothing goes to waste.

    Rose also taught me a rolling method that doesn’t easily come undone. It is very similar to momoe’s photos except instead of folding in both sides, only fold in one. Continue rolling, letting the other side remain open. Then, using your index finger, gently poke the open end into itself. It tightens up the roll and keeps it together without the need for string or toothpicks.

    Tips from me, the gardener:

    Not all cabbage is created equal. Savoy cabbage is too delicate to use for cabbage rolls; it cannot stand up to the handling. Red cabbage is too small and can be brittle (and kind of turns an icky color when cooked anyway). Same story for the early green, round types (except it stays green). The most efficient type is the flattened head storage kind that you find in the fall. They are big and sturdy and cook up very nicely plus they hold up well in the freezer.

    I guess I have blathered on enough. I have a recipe for the Native American version of cabbage rolls. Should I just add it to the comments or post it on its own?

    1. I like the idea that it will be posted on it’s own. Make sure you tag it food and cooking that seems to work well for wordpress. The food community is a nice pleasent change from all the mud raking at dag. Oh…and change you primary blog from once upon TPM to Paradigm. When someone tags your post as “like” their email will ask them to go and look at your Worms blog at TPM. You want them to come and look at more recent posts. I messed around on the front pages at wordpress to find my personal info. But I don’t remember were I found the page.

      And thank you for your long comment. It added lots to the post.

      1. ~flowerchild~

        Thanks, momoe! I had no idea taggers were being directed to the old blog! Fixed. 🙂 I will post the Indian recipe a.s.a.p.

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