Adventures in Cooking: Stuffed Cabbage (Golubtsy)

Ready to eat!

I think people have a visceral connection with food. I am of course, making sweeping generalizations based on my own personal experience, but I really think i’m not the only one here. I’m talking about the good kind of connection, where you can’t wait until Thanksgiving for your mom’s sweet potato casserole. The next time you eat it, no matter where you are, you still get that same comfort of home & feeling of being loved.

My theory is, what a person considers to be the “best food” is the stuff with which he’s associated strong memories or emotions.

I have a visceral connection with an entire cuisine.

I’ve had the great pleasure of visiting Russia on two occasions. I know some of my travelling companions missed their hamburgers, but I have many fond memories of food, and the people I shared meals with. Picture this…


We’d taken a bus out to Rachmaninoff’s country home, and were picnic-ing in the nearby field. The sun is shining and we have set up underneath the birch trees. Simple salad of absolutely fresh from the market cucumbers and tomatoes, chunked, then sprinkled with sprigs of fresh dill. There is ALWAYS dill. Dense, black bread, with or without butter, but ALWAYS with fresh dill.


The university students threw us Americans a 4th of July party at the beach. So of course there was face painting, beer, rowboats on the lake, teaching Russians beloved American patriotic songs… and shashlik. I have no idea what kind of meat it was, or what spices were used, but it was heavenly. Pulled right off the skewer onto a piece of cardboard, you pull pieces off with your fingers and eat the chunks with fresh onion and tomato.


…I swear these anecdotes are relevant. Because I associate these memories with Russian food in general (and also because Russian recipes are hard to come by), I immediately pounce on it whenever one comes along.  These gloubsty once again come from the lovely Deb of Smitten Kitchen, who has shared with us her mother-in-law’s stuffed cabbage recipe. I am absolutely ecstatic that her husband is Russian, if for the only reason that these family recipes keep coming.

The veg ingredients Ze dry(ish) ingredients Steaming the cabbage Sauteein' the veg

I am immediately nervous about recipes that ask me to stuff something inside of something else. Invariably the outside-something comes apart, allowing the inside-something to escape and roam free in whatever boiling water or sauce mixture the whole mess is cooking. Fear not! Once you let the Savoy cabbage marinate in boiling water, the leaves are quite pliable & stick together quite nicely.

Note 1: Do, however, make sure you’ve considered the size of the cabbage head when you’re buying at the store… and make sure you’ve got a big enough bowl to fit it in. I couldn’t immerse the entire thing in boiling water, so I improvised & covered the entire kit with tin foil (to… keep the steam in? That was my thought process. Yay engineering?) It seemed to work, but I bet I would have gotten better results if I was able to cover ALL of the cabbage with boiling water.

Note 2: A WARNING— In its normal state, cabbage really has no smell, and therefore I was not prepared for the intense smell that’s created when cabbage is cooked. So i’m warning you. (You’re welcome.) Cooked cabbage smells pretty strongly of feet. Not the best of unexpected smells. Now, don’t let this prevent you from cooking cabbage at all, and thus never prepare this recipe. Because it’s totally, tastily, worth it. Just, y’know, be prepared for your kitchen to smell like feet for a while.

Cabbage rolls, simmering in tomato sauce

The best part about this recipe? I have leftovers enough for two additional meals, waiting for me in my freezer!

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