cabbage rolls

Mama Larisa’s famous golubtzi (cabbage rolls)

Cabbage rolls are a traditional Eastern European dish, there are a lot of cultures in Europe who make cabbage rolls. Today I am sharing my mothers Moldavian version of cabbage rolls. Some people use grape leaves and some use cabbage leaves, for this recipe we opted out for cabbage. It is filled with the most delicious filling that is made out of pork, rice, onion, carrots, and tomato paste.

cabbage rolls on a white plate with sour cream on top

Today I am writing about my moms amazing Moldavian cabbage rolls. I have tried many recipes for cabbage rolls and I’m proud to report back that this recipe by far is the best! Now I’m not just saying this because she is my mom…honestly they are AMAZING! There are a few things my mom does differently that make these stand out.

woman cooking cabbage with a white and blue head wrap

Momma Larisa’s secrets to good cabbage rolls

  1. Cube the meat instead of using ground meat.
  2. Mom uses a lot of onion and carrots.
  3. She doesn’t make a sauce to go over the cabbage rolls. She says that all the flavor needs to come from inside of the cabbage roll.
  4. Try to use a green cabbage ( summer cabbage) the leaves are softer. If you live local to me, Aldi has the best cabbage. (winter cabbage is more white in color, which has tougher leaves)
unrolled cabbage roll on a white plate that's on a wooden table top

What I love about this recipe is- when you unroll the cabbage roll you can see the rice, meat, onion, and carrots. I don’t like it when cabbage rolls are mushy inside once you unroll them. EVERY single person who has tried this recipe raves about it!

So as soon as my momma came to visit me I immediately asked her to teach me this recipe so i can share it with you guys. Which was hard to do lol, because she kept telling me ” I don’t measure, I eye ball it” MOM! I cant tell my readers “eyeball it” lol. I would run at her with measuring cups before she put anything in….I did it for you guys! All for you! I hope you will love this recipe as much as we do.

Ingredient’s

ingredients laid on a marble countertop
  • 2 pounds pork (butt country style ribs) or something similar
  • 2 pounds cabbage ( 2 cabbage heads)
  • 2 pounds carrots
  • 2 pounds onion
  • 1 pounds rice
  • 3 ounces tomato paste
  • 2 cups water divided
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoon salt divided
  • 1/2 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar

How to make mama Larisa’s cabbage rolls

Start with a bringing a big pot of water to a boil. Once it boils turn the heat down to low so the water is barely at a simmer. Do not turn the heat off. Pour 2 tablespoons of vinegar into the water.

Cut out the center of the cabbage from the bottom. Cut about 1 inch from the stem around the stem of the cabbage.

hand holding a cabbage head with a knife inside cabbage

Once the stems are cut out, place one cabbage in the pot with the hot water with the bottom of the cabbage facing down in the pot. Let the cabbage sit in the hot water for 5 minutes, then with a fork flip the cabbage so the bottom is facing up, then spin the cabbage so the leaves that are softened will start to fall off the head.

a picture split into two. cabbage boiling in a pot with water

Once the first few layers of leaves start to come off the cabbage, leave them in the water for an additional 3 minutes. Take the leaves out onto a plate. And continue to do that same process till all of the leaves come off.

hand cooking cabbage in a pot with water

After you are done softening all the cabbage leaves, let them cool down. Once they are cooled, you can place them on a cutting board and cut out the middle rib, then cut the leaf into 4. Stack them on top of each other. ( Do not discard the ribs of the cabbage leaves, you will use this later)

cabbage leave cut into 4 then stacked into piles

Cook the meat

Start with rinsing the meat under cold water. Then pat it dry. Cut the pork into small cubes. You can use chicken or beef as well, although it will change the flavor a little. Our family likes pork best.

To a small pot add the chopped meat then place it on a high heat. Do not add any oil to the meat. Once the meat starts to heat it will release its own liquids.

cubbed meat browning in a pot on the stove

At first the meat will release the liquid that’s inside the meat, this liquid is slightly grey in color and it doesn’t look clear. After 30 minutes on high heat the liquid will start to turn into fat. The fat will look more clear and will become more golden in color.

At this point turn the heat down and season with 1/2 tablespoon salt and 1/2 tablespoon of ground black pepper. Mix it and let it simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Then take the meat off the heat.

prepare the carrots and onions (zazharka)

Now is the time to peel and grate 2 pound of carrots. (1 bag) and chop 2 pounds of onion into small cubes ( 1 bag)

Into a big pan add 2 tablespoons of oil and put it on medium heat. Add the onions first and sauté them for 10 minutes until the onions become translucent.

Next add the carrots to the onions and continue to sauté together for another 5 minutes. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt or to taste.

Then add 3 ounces of tomato paste with 1 cup cup of water, mix well. Lower the heat to low. Add in the meat to the pan as well.

hand adding cubed meat to a pan with carrots and onions then a hand adding tomato paste

Wash your rice then add it to the onions, carrots and meat. Mix it all together then then turn the heat off Close it with a lid and let it stand for at least 2 hours or even over night in the fridge. ( If you want to keep it in the fridge, wait for the pan to cool completely then put it into the fridge) Mom says the longer the raw rice stays in with the onions, carrots, and meat the more flavor it soaks into the rice before cooking it.

sautéed onion, carrots, meat, and rice in a big blue pot with a wooden spoon

Prepare the pot that you will cook the cabbage rolls in

To the bottom of a big pot add half of the pieces that you cut out earlier from the cabbage leaves, and or any extra cabbage leaves that you may have. This will prevent any cabbage rolls from sticking or burning on the bottom of the pot while they are cooking.

Roll the filling into the cabbage

As you roll each cabbage roll place them standing up and place them in circles around the pot, once the first layer is done, start stacking them up until all the rolls fill up the pot to the top.

Once you fill up the pot with cabbage rolls, place the rest of the of the cabbage ribs and leaves on top. add 1 cup of warm water with 1 teaspoon of salt or to taste ( The water should sit 2 inches below the top of the cabbage rolls).

Cover with a lid then bring to a boil, once it boils turn the heat down to medium low and cook for 1 hour. To see if they are ready open the lid and take one of the cabbage rolls out and try it. If the rice is soft then they are done if the rice still have a bite to it, close the lid and continue to cook.

cabbage rolls in a big metal pot with a towel next to it

cabbage rolls

5 from 1 vote
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine moldovian
Servings 10 people

Ingredients
  

  • 2 pound pork (butt country style ribs) or something similar
  • 2 pounds cabbage ( 2 cabbage heads)
  • 2 pounds carrots
  • 2 pounds onion
  • 1 pound white rice (long grain)
  • 3 ounces tomato paste
  • 2 cups and more water
  • 2 tbl oil
  • salt (1/2 tbl & 2 tsp)
  • 1/2 tbl ground black pepper
  • 2 tbl vinegar

Instructions
 

Start with softening the cabbage leaves (refer to the pictures)

  • Start with a bringing a big pot of water to a boil. Once it boils turn the heat down to low so the water is barely at a simmer. Do not turn the heat off. Pour 2 tablespoons of vinegar into the water.
    Cut out the center of the cabbage from the bottom. Cut about 1 inch from the stem around the stem of the cabbage.
  • Once the stems are cut out, place one cabbage in the pot with the hot water with the bottom of the cabbage facing down in the pot. Let the cabbage sit in the hot water for 5 minutes, then with a fork flip the cabbage so the bottom is facing up, then spin the cabbage so the leaves that are softened will start to fall off the head.
  • Once the first few layers of leaves start to come off the cabbage, leave them in the water for an additional 3 minutes. Take the leaves out onto a plate. And continue to do that same process till all of the leaves come off.
  • After you are done softening all the cabbage leaves, let them cool down. Once they are cooled, you can place them on a cutting board and cut out the middle rib, then cut the leaf into 4. Stack them on top of each other. ( Do not discard the ribs of the cabbage leaves, you will use this later)

sauté the meat

  • Start with rinsing the meat under cold water. Then pat it dry. Cut the pork into small cubes. You can use chicken or beef as well, although it will change the flavor a little. Our family likes pork best.
    To a small pot add the chopped meat then place it on a high heat. Do not add any oil to the meat. Once the meat starts to heat it will release its own liquids.
  • At first the meat will release the liquid that’s inside the meat, this liquid is slightly grey in color and it doesn’t look clear. After 30 minutes on high heat the liquid will start to turn into fat. The fat will look more clear and will become more golden in color.
    At this point turn the heat down and season with 1/2 tablespoon salt and 1/2 tablespoon of ground black pepper. Mix it and let it simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Then take the meat off the heat.

PREPARE THE CARROTS AND ONIONS (ZAZHARKA)

  • Now is the time to peel and grate 2 pound of carrots. (1 bag) and chop 2 pounds of onion into small cubes ( 1 bag)
  • Into a big pan add 2 tablespoons of oil and put it on medium heat. Add the onions first and sauté them for 10 minutes until the onions become translucent.
  • Next add the carrots to the onions and continue to sauté together for another 5 minutes. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt or to taste.
    Then add 3 ounces of tomato paste with 1 cup cup of water, mix well. Lower the heat to low. Add in the meat to the pan as well.

Add the rice

  • Wash your rice then add it to the onions, carrots and meat. Mix it all together then then turn the heat off Close it with a lid and let it stand for at least 2 hours or even over night in the fridge. ( If you want to keep it in the fridge, wait for the pan to cool completely then put it into the fridge) Mom says the longer the raw rice stays in with the onions, carrots, and meat the more flavor it soaks into the rice before cooking it.

PREPARE THE POT THAT YOU WILL COOK THE CABBAGE ROLLS IN

  • To the bottom of a big pot add half of the pieces that you cut out earlier from the cabbage leaves, and or any extra cabbage leaves that you may have. This will prevent any cabbage rolls from sticking or burning on the bottom of the pot while they are cooking.
  • Take a cabbage leaf and place about 1 tablespoon of the filling in the middle of the leave. Then take one corner of the leaf and start rolling into a triangle. (Watch the video above)
    Roll each cabbage roll then place them standing up and place them in circles around the pot, once the first layer is done, start stacking them up until all the rolls fill up the pot to the top.
  • Once you fill up the pot with cabbage rolls, place the rest of the of the cabbage ribs and leaves on top. add 1 cup of warm water with 1 teaspoon of salt or to taste ( The water should sit 2 inches below the top of the cabbage rolls).
  • Cover with a lid then bring to a boil, once it boils turn the heat down to medium low and cook for 1 hour. To see if they are ready open the lid and take one of the cabbage rolls out and try it. If the rice is soft then they are done if the rice still have a bite to it, close the lid and continue to cook.

Notes

MOMMA LARISA’S SECRETS TO GOOD CABBAGE ROLLS

First she cubes the meat instead of using ground meat. Second, she uses a lot of onion and carrots. Third she doesn’t make a sauce to go over the cabbage rolls. She says that all the flavor needs to come from inside of the cabbage roll.

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