As the Russian invasion of Ukraine unfolded, author Gary Shteyngart posted on Instagram that he was “stress eating holubtsi.” That makes perfect sense. The Ukrainian-Russian-Jewish Shteyngart, who spoke of his passion for food to the Forward earlier this month, chose one of the country’s great comfort foods: warm, filling, forgiving to make, and stuffed, not just with meat and rice and dill, but memories of home.
Holubtsi (Ukrainian-Style Stuffed Cabbage)
1 large cabbage
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, finely diced and divided
1 large carrot, peeled and finely grated
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 c. grated apple
One 14½ -ounce can chopped tomatoes
1⅔ cups water
2 bay leaves
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 pound ground beef or turkey
¼ cup white long-grain rice
3 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 cup chopped dill
Directions Fill a large bowl with ice and water. Set aside. (You can also skip the ice bath part if you wish).
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Core your cabbage by cutting out a cone-shaped piece of the core while leaving the cabbage whole. Place the cabbage in the boiling water. Wait a few minutes and the leaves will start to easily come off. Peel each one off as it softens and place in ice bath (or set aside on a flat surface). When all the large leaves are peeled off, remove them from the ice bath and let them drain on toweling.
In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add half of the onion, the grated apple and all of the grated carrot, and cook until soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook a couple minutes, stirring. Add the tomatoes, 2 tsp. smoked paprika, water and bay leaves, and cook until somewhat reduced by half 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste, remove from heat.
In another bowl, combine the ground meat, 1 tsp. smoked paprika, rice and the remaining diced onion and 1/2 the chopped dill. Add salt and pepper to taste, mix and set aside.
Working with 1 cabbage leaf at time with the stem end facing toward you, place 2 heaping tablespoons of the filling into the center of the leaf. Fold the sides of cabbage over the filling, then roll up. Chop whatever remaining cabbage you cooked and add to sauce. Place the rolls, seam-side down, into the pot to form one even layer.
You may need to add water, stock or additional canned tomatoes to bring the liquid about an inch from the tops of the rolls.
Bring the pot to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover with the lid slightly ajar and simmer until the filling is cooked through, 35 to 45 minutes.
Top the stuffed cabbage with the chopped dill and serve.
Watch me cook this here.
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This article was originally published on the Forward.