Ukrainian Cabbage Rolls "Holubtsi":  A Must-Have to Try in Ukraine
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Culture and History

May 26, 2023

Ukrainian Cabbage Rolls "Holubtsi": A Must-Have to Try in Ukraine

One of the greatest pleasures of traveling is experiencing the unique culinary delights of the country you’re visiting. If you visit Ukraine you will find that it is a hidden treasure filled with all sorts of delicious dishes that are often unfamiliar to visitors from outside of the region. Today we’re going to discuss one of the staples of Ukrainian cuisine, the beloved dish known as holubtsi (Голубці). These stuffed cabbage rolls are an essential part of both everyday meals and traditional celebrations.

Holubtsi are thought to have originated in Slavic regions and are common, in many different forms, throughout Eastern Europe. For example, in Poland they are known as 'Gołąbki' which is often Anglicized to ‘golumpki’ in parts of North America where many Polish immigrants settled in the last century. Although the Ukrainian term means “little pigeons”, there is some debate over the exact origins of the word. We can leave that debate to academic linguists and agree that these are simply delicious.

Ukrainian Cabbage Rolls Holubtsi

Preparing traditional Ukrainian holubtsi is much more involved than simply microwaving a cheap frozen dinner, and involves a number of steps and different ingredients which can vary from one region to another – a true labor of love. In its most basic form, boiled or blanched cabbage leaves are stuffed with a delicious filling made of meat, rice and other ingredients. The stuffing is wrapped in the cabbage and the resulting rolls are then cooked either by baking, steaming or simmering until they are fully cooked and tender. The rolls are typically served with sour cream, tomato sauce or mushroom sauce.

Although the basic form and process of cooking are similar, every Ukrainian cook has their own “secret recipe” and no two versions will be identical. For example, during Lent, some cooks choose to make meat-free vegetarian versions using mixtures of grains, mushrooms and vegetables. There is even a rumor that on the Black Sea coast holubtsi are filled with fish, although some consider this gastronomic blasphemy. At other times and in other places, some recipes might call for bacon or sausage filling, and of course, there are different varieties of cabbage which can lend distinct tastes and textures to the holubtsi.

There is even a version found in the Carpathian region called “Lazy Holubtsi” in which everything is chopped up and some tossed into a dish, casserole style. Although some chefs may debate the merits of this form of holubtsi, our friends at Front Line Kitchen prepare this style for soldiers who agree that next to borsch it’s their favorite meal. Lazy or not, it’s delicious and fuels our brave heroes on the front line. Come to Front Line Kitchen to participate in preparation of this nutritional dish for soldiers.

Ukrainian Cabbage Rolls "Holubtsi"
Lazy Holubtsi prepared at Front Line Kitchen in Lviv

Whatever form they take, holubtsi are symbolic of a rich culinary tradition passed down through generations, reinforcing the bonds of both family and national identity. As a result, holubtsi are much more than just a dish – they are a celebration of Ukrainian history and culture, one delicious bite at a time. 

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