Irresistible holubtsi: A taste of Ukraine’s finest cabbage rolls

Holubtsi is a delightful dish for dinner combining minced meat, rice, and cabbage leaves in a flavorful sauce. Cabbage rolls, known as holubtsi in Ukraine, are a traditional dish in many cultures. Holubtsi can be cooked by stewing or baking using various sauces, spices, and seasonings. 

Let us introduce you to a traditional Ukrainian recipe for holubtsi with a tomato sauсe and sour cream


  • 300 g pork mince
  • 100 g rice
  • 3 bulb onions
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 cabbage
  • 200 ml tomato juice
  • 200 ml sour cream
  • Salt, black pepper, bay leaf – to taste
  • Vegetable oil – to taste


Step 1: Half cook the rice in salted water, then drain the excess liquid. Finely chop the bulb onions and coarsely grate the carrot. Sauté two-thirds of the onion mass and the whole carrot in a pan with oil until tender. We will use the remaining onions to cook the tomato sauce.

Step 2: Combine the minced meat with rice, and add salt and pepper to taste. Add the sautéed onions and carrots, and mix well until combined.

Step 3: After cutting out the core, place the cabbage in boiling water for a few minutes to soften the leaves and make them easy to separate. Take one leaf at a time and wrap it around the meat filling, trimming off any excess.

Step 4: Prepare the tomato sauce by sautéing the remaining onion in a frying pan with vegetable oil, then add tomato juice and let it simmer for 5 minutes. You can also add sugar, salt, and pepper to enrich the taste.

Step 5: Line the bottom of a suitable-sized pot with cabbage leaves and arrange the holubtsi on top. Place a couple more cabbage leaves over the holubtsi. Pour enough water to cover holubtsi completely and place the pot on the stove. Add a bay leaf and let the dish simmer for 30 minutes.

Step 6: Carefully transfer holubtsi from the pot to a baking dish or casserole. Pour the tomato sauce over them and place the dish in a preheated oven at 180°C (356°F) for 20-30 minutes. 

Alternatively, pour the sauce over the holubtsi in the pot to simplify cooking.

Holubtsi tips and suggestions

Similar to borshch, which follows a general cooking process with variations based on regional and personal preferences, holubtsi can be customized to perfection according to your taste. There are several ways to enhance the flavor of this dish and diversify the cooking process.

  1. Sear holubtsi in a frying pan before simmering or baking them. This will help initiate caramelization and give holubtsi a golden crust and rich aroma.
  2. Experiment with different meat combinations like pork and beef or chicken and turkey.
  3. Try various sauces such as tomato and sour cream or garlic-infused sour cream to add juiciness and flavor.
  4. Garnish the cooked holubtsi with herbs or tomatoes. This will add brightness and freshness to the dish.
  5. To enhance the sauce’s flavor, add a few slices of butter on the top layer when cooking holubtsi. This will create a richer taste experience.
  6. Stew holubtsi by covering the pan bottom with vegetables. Put chopped carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, and finely chopped herbs dill, parsley between the layers of holubtsi or on the bottom of a stewing dish. Add a pinch of salt, some water with dairy butter or vegetable oil, or sour cream. 
  7. Explore different flavors for the sauce by using dry white wine or diluted natural juices like apple, grape, tomato, or pomegranate.  

Holubtsi in culture

Holubtsi has been an integral part of Ukraine’s culinary traditions for decades. Like borshch or halushky, they are often cooked at gastronomic and cultural festivals. Various national records have been set, ranging from the biggest number of holubtsi types cooked to the largest quantity of holubtsi cooked in a single location. 

The town of Velykyi Bychkiv, located in the Rakhiv district of Zakarpattia, is known as the official Ukrainian holubtsi capital. It was here that the first cabbage rolls festival was organized in 2010, and in 2018 locals set a record by cooking 50 different types of holubtsi for guests.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Culture and Information Policy recently added holubtsi to the National List of Ukraine’s intangible cultural heritage

Holubtsi, an easy-to-prepare dish consisting of minced meat and grain wrapped in cabbage leaves, has a complex history, and many countries claim its origin. It is one of the most popular dishes in Ukraine, with various regional recipes. Try our recipe in this article or explore other Ukrainian cabbage rolls recipes on our blog, for instance cabbage rolls with buckwheat or holubtsi with mushrooms.