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Flavor From Scratch: Simple Stuffed Cabbage


Simple Stuffed Cabbage

Good old stuffed cabbage. Also known as holubky, if you want to sound Slovak. I mean that's what my grandparents, who spoke Slovak, used to call this dish so it's for sure authentic. However, I'm not so sure how authentic this actual recipe is. It does have condensed tomato soup as the main ingredient and I'm *pretty* sure that the canned stuff didn't exist until fairly recently. However, it's how it was made at home since I was little and there's nothing better than comfort food. Especially when it's fairly simple to make!

Funny story about stuffed cabbage. I loved stuffed cabbage growing up. It was something that was made when we were all gathered as family for special occasions or for a Sunday dinner. My grandmothers would probably spend extra time putting together and rolling the stuffed cabbage to make them perfect. We'd always end up with enough to feed a hungry army so I figure they probably spent quite a bit of time making them. Well, there I came along as a young child and I would absolutely refuse to eat the actual cabbage. I would actually make my parents or grandparents UNWRAP those beautiful little rolls so that I could eat the meat and rice and sauce without touching that "gross" stuff known as cabbage.

As I grew older I'm sure my parents told me a million times to eat the cabbage. Eat the cabbage. Eat the cabbage. No, I would not eat the cabbage. No, I'm good. I'm not eating the cabbage. You get the gist. All those years my parents would eat my cabbage for me (you certainly cannot waste this stuff!).

Well, turns out as you get older and move out and decide to cook for yourself, you no longer have parents to pick apart your stuffed cabbage and eat the cabbage for you. So, to my dismay...I ate the cabbage. FINALLY, after 20-some years I ate the cabbage and.../drum roll/...it turns out it tastes like everything else in the pot with it. What an anticlimactic ending to a 20 year battle. After simmering for hours in a pot, the cabbage is basically the same soft, lovely consistency as the meat and rice. Then you add the sauce (you have to add sauce, for sure) and I probably would not even be able to tell the difference between filling and cabbage without looking.

I suppose I had the best parents and grandparents in the world to put up with my stuffed cabbage issues. I'm sorry for all the stuffed cabbage that I unrolled throughout my life. They were most likely perfectly made with love.

prep time: 30 minutes; cook time: 2 hours
makes: 15-18 rolls

  • 1 head of cabbage
  • 3/4 cup parboiled rice (*see notes*)
  • 1 pound meatloaf mixture ground meat (mixture of beef, pork, and veal)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cans condensed tomato soup
  • 1 cup water, plus water to cover the cabbage rolls
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • salt & pepper, to taste

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cut the core out of the head of cabbage and place the cabbage in the water. Return to a light simmer. Using tongs, remove the outer layers of cabbage as they start to soften (approximately 1-2 minutes per layer). Place the softened leaves on a towel or in a colander to drain. Keep removing the outer leaves until only the middle of the cabbage remains. Remove and drain the middle. Let cool.
  2. Once the leaves are slightly cooled, cut out the thick rib at the bottom of the leaf. I use kitchen scissors to do this. Start with the largest leaves to make into rolls. Lay the smaller leaves or leaves from the center over the bottom of a large pot to protect the rolls from burning during cooking.
  3. Mix the parboiled rice, ground meat, eggs, salt, and pepper in a medium sized bowl. Place approximately 1/4 cup of the meat mixture in each cabbage leaf (depending on the leaf's size) and roll by pulling the sides of the leaf towards the middle then rolling away from you (like a burrito!).
  4. Stack the cabbage rolls with the open side down over the leaves on the bottom of the large pot. 
  5. In a separate bowl, mix together the cans of soup, 1 cup of water, vinegar, and salt and pepper. Pour over the cabbage rolls. Fill the pot up with enough water to just cover the rolls.
  6. Bring the water to a simmer on the stove top, cover, and simmer on low for 2 hours. Do not stir, though you can make sure the water is still covering the rolls by pressing them down periodically.
  7. Serve with bread to scoop up the extra sauce!

*To parboil rice place 3/4 cup of water and 3/4 cup of rice in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer until no more water remains in the pan.

You can use just ground beef for stuffed cabbage, but I really like the mix of meat. I just get the pre-mixed meatloaf mix at the store. Usually I don't even have to go to the meat counter for it.

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