GolubtsyA mixture of meat and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves and stewed in a savory broth, this is a perfect dish for a cold winter’s day and very popular, in one version or another, throughout Eastern Europe. Ideally, it is made with fresh cabbage leaves for the best possible flavor, but if you want to scale down the amount of preparation involved, you can find pickled cabbage leaves in some Eastern European stores. An even less labor-intensive version is “tefteli” — meatballs that are pan-fried and then stewed in the sauce for about 30 minutes. Do not use bouillon cubes for this dish. Use good-quality canned or frozen stock, or, better yet, make your own using beef and veal bones (I make mine in a slow-cooker).

1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground veal
½ lb coarsely ground pork
1 large head of green cabbage (the paler the cabbage, the better it will taste)
½ cup parboiled rice
1 large onion, minced
10 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced (see below for “How to peel and seed a tomato”)
1 quart strong beef or veal stock
1+ tbsp minced Italian parsley
2+ tbsp minced dill
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 dry cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream for garnish

You will need a large-diameter pot with a heavy lid, possibly two. Also, if using fresh cabbage, you will need a large stock pot and a barbecue or roast fork.

Prepare the cabbage leaves

If using fresh cabbage, bring a large stockpot of water to a simmer. Season with salt. Lay the cabbage with its tough stem up, and, using downward circular cutting motions, excise the stem in a conical shape. Make sure to cut no more than about half-way through the cabbage head.

Using a barbecue fork (prick the cabbage through the stem-hole, so you don’t damage the large outer leaves), immerse the cabbage in simmering water and allow it to cook for about 10 minutes.

Remove the cabbage from the pot (leave the pot on the stove) and let the cabbage rest until it is cool enough to handle. Start to carefully peel off the cooked outer leaves. Cooked leaves should be soft, and come off the cabbage-head easily, without breaking. If the leaves seem still tough and crunchy, boil for 5 minutes more and try again.

Continue to peel the leaves off until you get to the point where they don’t come off easily. At this point, return the cabbage-head to the pot and let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove, let cool, and peel off some more leaves. Repeat this process until you get the desired quantity of usable leaves. Reserve whatever is left of the head of cabbage for another use.

Pat the cabbage leaves dry and tenderize with a meat mallet before using, especially the tough middle stems.

If using pickled cabbage leaves, drain the leaves and rinse them with cool water. Tenderize with a meat mallet until the tough middle stems are completely soft and pliable.

Keep in mind that pickled leaves will impart a lot of salt to the dish, so season judiciously.

Prepare the filling

Boil the rice according to package directions, except reduce the water and the cooking time by about ¼, so that the rice is slightly undercooked.

Combine the rice and the different meats. Add 1 tbsp of dill and season with salt and pepper. (You can taste for seasonings by cooking a small amount of the mixture in a microwave.)

Prepare the sauce

Heat the oil in a deep skillet over a medium flame, add the garlic and the chili pepper and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds.

Add the onions and saute until the onion is soft and translucent, about 20 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and the bay leaf, season lightly with salt and pepper, cover and cook over a low flame for about 10 minutes.

Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Cover and keep warm.

Assemble, cook and serve

Lightly oil the pot in which you will cook the cabbage rolls.

Place 1-2 tbsp of the meat filling (depending on the size of the leaf) in the middle of a cabbage leaf and fold the four sides over it like an envelope. Fold the stem portion of the leaf over the meat first, then the sides, then roll the rest of it like a blintz. The cabbage leaf should be fairly snug around the filling, but not pulled so tight that it will tear. Lay the cabbage roll in the pot seam side down.

Repeat, laying the cabbage rolls in a single layer (do not stack), until the bottom of the pot is full. Place the cabbage leaves on the stove over a low flame and pour the sauce over them.

Bring to a simmer, cover, reduce the flame and cook for 45 minutes.

Taste the sauce and adjust the salt and pepper, if necessary. Add the parsley and the remaining dill, setting aside a small quantity of the herbs for garnish, cover, and let cook for 10 more minutes.

To serve, place one or two cabbage rolls in a soup plate and ladle some sauce over them. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and parsley and dill.