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Grandma's Stuffed Cabbage Came Out Delish - Here's the Recipe

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Grandma Gertrude Tobey's Stuffed Cabbage

I gave out a recipe for stuffed cabbage a couple of months ago from memory. Since then, I've discussed the recipe with my mom and she reminded me that my Grandma Gertrude actually used V-8 juice and not tomato sauce. I made it today and it was so very good, and easy - so here you go...

Cook a cup of raw long grain white rice in 2 cups water and salt to taste.
Mix the cooled rice with: 1# best quality fresh ground beef (I prefer Niman Ranch), #1 ground turkey (not breast meat), finely minced medium size raw onion.

For the sauce: In a big stock pot or dutch oven mix: large can or jar low sodium V-8 juice, 1 tsp celery salt (omit if using salted V-8), juice of 1/2 large lemon, 1T sugar, 1 tsp. paprika.

For the cabbage: You'll need a big one. Cut out the core and boil covered, waist high in water for about 10 minutes. Remove and cool under running water. Remove the leaves into a colander until you reach leaves that aren't yet pliable. Boil for another 10 minutes until this smaller part is pliable. When you've got all the leaves in the colander and the water shaken off, you're ready to assemble.

I like to work on newspaper to absorb the extra water. Rather than placing the rolls right into the sauce as you work, pile them on a plate, just in case you wildly miscalculate and wind up with a lot of extra leaves or filling, you can back up and re-distribute. You'll have some extra cabbage no matter what, as some leaves are too small to roll. You can chop and add to the sauce, or reserve for another use. Place about an egg sized amount of filling in the stem end of the leaf and press of form a rough rectangle, fold the sides in and roll up. Always place rolls seam side down - important as this holds them together as they cook. Fill your pot rather tightly. When done press down so the sauce covers the rolls. They'll float a bit - you don't want them to rest on bottom anyway, to prevent burning. Cover. Set on a high flame just until boiling. Turn down to medium low for 20 minutes. Allow to cool about 10 minutes before serving.

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  1. Sounds delish! You can also use the extra cabbage to line the bottom of the pot so the rolls won't burn.

    16 Replies
    1. re: EAF


      Did you cut away the ribs of the cabbage before rolling? I've always had trouble with the rib being too thick or too stiff even after the initial parboiling.

      Thanks for this recipe. Haven't had these in years. My mother used to make stuffed cabbage regularly.

      1. re: oakjoan
        Niki Rothman

        Hi oakjoan,
        Yes, for the bigger leaves, I took the knife point and just made a little "V" to cut out the tough stem end. Add 2 eggs to the meat mix (which I accidentally left out yesterday) and if you want it a bit sweeter you can add 1/4 cup ketchup.

        But I just could not believe how good that V-8 juice made it, compared to my previous attempts with canned tomatoes or tomato juice.

        Stuffed cabbage is one of my all time favorite personal soul foods.

        1. re: Niki Rothman

          Thanks for the reminder about this dish! Will try the V8 juice next time (this weekend?!) My mom added brown sugar on top of all, and used a bit of allspice in the meat filling. That was the only time the allspice ever made it out of the cabinet!

      2. re: EAF

        This is what my grandmother always did. She also used Campbell's tomato soup instead of V8 or tomato sauce. That probably makes some people shudder, but i wouldn't dare tinker with that aspect of the recipe. She threw in some bacon and/or a porkchop to give it some add'l flavor as well.

        Thanks for your recipe! After my grandmother died, i realized there was a lot missing from her verbal instructions and ingredient approximations she gave when i had the foresight to ask. It took a lot of experimentation and observing others' techniques to come close to her reality.

        1. re: papayagirl
          Niki Rothman

          I think if your grandma made stuffed cabbage with Campbell's soup, then that's the flavor you want to try to duplicate. When I made mine with the V-8 yesterday, it was just like my grandma was right there with me again. Amazing how food has such sentimental power...

          1. re: Niki Rothman

            Agreed. The sad part is, we've discovered a hidden polish meats and provisions shop just down the street from our home that makes their own stuffed cabbage every day. You can walk in and get it hot for about a buck a roll at any time. (Well, after waiting in line for a half-hour behind 3 old polish ladies, each buying $200 worth of meat for the week.) They don't make it with any kind of tomato product or sauce at all, and my husband actually prefers it to my grandmother's. I have to admit, it is damn good, but i miss it the way my grandmother made it. It's just so hard to get around to making it when there's a much easier alternative.

            1. re: papayagirl

              My Polish grandmother in Langenburg, Saskatchewan taught me and most folks in that community did not use any tomato sauce in the making of holubci. They did use sour heads which yields more than enough tang and simmered the delicacies on the stovetop. In the absence of sour heads regular cabbage was used and the rolls stacked with alternating layers of saurkraut and a good dousing of vinegar added to the water. Sour heads rule.

                  1. re: Tatania

                    The entire cabbage head gets fermented like sauerkraut. Here is the place I get them. My grandma, of course, put them up herself. Very tangy.

                    1. re: Size38pants

                      Wow. I did NOT expect that answer -- I thought it was going to be some sort of ferociously sour candy. This looks like an amazing product. Thank you!

            2. re: papayagirl

              Hi Papayagirl,

              My husband's family recipe, (called sarma) is also made with bacon and tomato soup. 'Sounds odd to some, but it's very good! We embellish a bit, but basically follow closely to the original. I like the idea of allowing this dish "marinate" overnite before enjoying! Many dishes taste better the next day anyway, don't they?

              1. re: nitegracee

                That sounds so different from the sarma I am used to. I make my Serbian aunt's recipe as well as a stuffed cabbage I found in a cookbook. May I have your recipe? I think my husband would like to try it. =) My Lithuanian grandma made stuffed cabbage with polish sausage in the sauce, but I have no idea what her recipe was. If it's just something she came up with on her own, I will have to just have to try my best to make something similar to hers.

                1. re: MrsJTW

                  Have ttried almost all the ways you all do stuffed cabbage,but in the end I wen't back to the way my Dad did it, which is the Serbian way,he sauteed the beef,veal and pork along with the onion's,I did however tweek it a bit by adding thyme and a tablespoon of mustard along of course with the salt and pepper and parsley,at the end of the sauteeing I add the rice put the lid on the mixture and let it cool.Since I no longer am privvy to sour cabbage heads I alternate sour kraut, he always used a lot of smoked meat's used water and several cut up tomatoe's,brought it to a boil then in the oven it went at 350 to 375 for one and a half hour's or more,I usually make my own sauce ,but when being lazy I use spaghetti sauce which I alway's have in my freezer but you can use a good store bought sauce,now my recipe call's for 1 1/2 pounds of meat to 1/3 cup rice.Oh almost forgot since my pocketbook can't afford all the smoked meats, I lay doublesmoked bacon on top of the cabbages,you can also use good smoked polish sausage.

              2. re: papayagirl

                =) My grandmothers and mother all used Campbell's soup in several different recipes, too. I grew up with that and always keep my pantry stocked with tomato soup and cream of mushroom. Plus tomato soup with lots of garlic powder and pepper is all I want if I get sick so best to keep it on hand just in case. ; )

              3. re: EAF

                Does your recipe freeze well? If so, how do you package it?

              4. n
                Niki Rothman

                Add 2 eggs to the meat & rice mixture.

                1. I use tomato juice and Campbells tomato soup. I also top the cassarole dish with strips of bacon and rinsed sauerkraut. The sauce is really delicious. This is the way my friends grandmom did it when I was a kid.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Doreen

                    Could I get your recipe, that sounds delicious?!!

                  2. I haven't made this anytime recently (for reasons that will be obvious) but my mom always made stuffed cabbage with the usual filling, but in addition to being cooked with a tomato based mixture (probably V8), topped with onions sauted in *tons* of butter.

                    Hard to resist.....

                    1. My grandmother's recipe is a bit different, too. She learned to cook Roumanian food to please my grandfather. The cabbage rolls are called holishka's in our family.

                      Her sauce was sweet and sour made by carmelizing the sugar before adding in the tomato sauce and a bit of vinegar. She also used uncooked rice mixed in with the ground beef and cooked the dish in a pressure cooker.

                      I salivate just thinking about it!

                      1. My grandmother's recipe is a bit different, too. She learned to cook Roumanian food to please my grandfather. The cabbage rolls are called holishka's in our family.

                        Her sauce was sweet and sour made by carmelizing the sugar before adding in the tomato sauce and a bit of vinegar. She also used uncooked rice mixed in with the ground beef and cooked the dish in a pressure cooker.

                        I salivate just thinking about it!

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: JoAnn
                          Niki Rothman

                          My family is Jewish and they pronounced it in Yiddish as hulupcheese - pretty close to your word. The original recipe calls for raw rice, but I found that it comes out just as good with cooked rice and the cabbage rolls cook so much faster. Just cook the rice with a bit less water than usual - 2:1 water to rice.

                          1. re: Niki Rothman

                            holupki (not the real spelling I'm sure) is what my non-Jewish Slovak family called it
                            *made with a can of tomato, uncooked rice, a mix of ground beef and pork, and lots of black pepper/salt for the filling
                            Lined the bottom of the pan with the outer leaves, and stuck bread (pita works great) on the top. Lid on.
                            Freezes very well

                            kapusta is cabbage, and hulooshkee (again, not proper speeling) is something else to do with cabbage that I can't recall

                            1. re: pitu

                              I htink I know this as galumpkie.

                              1. re: Chris VR

                                galumpkie is a different regional name, no? where?

                                1. re: pitu

                                  Pittsburgh is where I've seen it by that name (could have the spelling wrong).

                                  1. re: pitu

                                    Ok, to all these replies here....my mother's side is straight from Poland, and my father's side is straight from Slovakia. So, my mother's side (Polish) calls stuffed cabbage golumbke (proper spelling)...pronounced go-ump-ky. My father's side (Slovak) calls stuffed cabbage - holupke (proper spelling)...pronounced ho-lup-ky. I'm believing that hulooshkee IS the Jewish-Yiddish-Slovak pronounciation. Aside from all this...hasn't ANY1 used diced salt pork and a lot more onions (and canned stewed tomatoes) in their recipes?? Gotta tell you...my mom only uses this particular recipe and it is the BEST I've ever had. Sautee 4 onions chopped in diced salt pork (I use 2 packages of salt pork to 1 head of cabbage)...put entire pan of that (including drippings) in the mixture...you can even add ground pork and ground veal with the ground beef. Layer the skin portion of the salt pork on the very top of the cabbage pot (the BEST to use for this recipe is a crockpot on LOW all darn day or all night long). You usually need to use more than a crockpot for a large head of cabbage. Using the crockpot allows the steam to cook the entire pot and baste & makes the cabbage soft enough to eat with a fork alone....make sure there is enough tomatoe/water in the crock to cover all the sides of the cabbage up to the top.

                                    1. re: PrincessPolish

                                      The Polish spelling is actually gołąbki, but the nasal a (ą) makes it sound like 'golompki'

                                2. re: pitu

                                  My grandmother's family (Slovak/Pittsburgh) used these terms: halupke (stuffed cabbage) and halushke (shredded cabbage cooked in the skillet with noodles and lots of butter).

                            2. My dad makes a Cabbage Soup from the same ingredients that are in stuffed cabbage except for the rice. Totally amazing soup! Just had some today. Much better than the frozen Ratners version in the supermarkets.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Lee
                                Niki Rothman

                                You mentioned Ratner's frozen foods? I didn't know about that. They aren't in Calif. But I used to love Ratner's restaurant in NYC - closed like 15 years ago, I believe. Especially loved their vegetarian cutlets with veg. gravy. Say, wasn't Ratner's a kosher vegitarian restaurant? In which case, why would they suddenly be selling frozen foods containing meat, such as you mentioned? Can you give me any more info. about the Ratner's retail food operation? I'm really interested in finding out more.

                              2. we also called it hulupcheese, but my grandmother was not Yiddish but lived on the lower east side when she came to America with her family. She cut out the core and then heated the cabbage heads in water until they were a bit soft and the leaves came off. Cut off the tough viens and put the extra leaves on the bottom of the pot. She used chop meat, eggs, and rice and cooked it in water. Then smothered them in an onion, butter and evaoprated milk sauce. I think the original must have had cream, but the canned milk was available during the war, so that was what she used.

                                I am trying to locate the area of Europe that she came from from this white sauce recipe. She thought it was modern day poland, but probably not always poland. Any ideas?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: jnovello

                                  Your grandmother's recipe is probably from Hungary...I'm still researching my mother's side...and seems that her father may have come near the Hungarian border...the borders have been changed SO many times over the past 100 yrs. White sauces made from cream are usually in Hungarian recipes. I know the Polish use sour cream a lot though.

                                2. My gramma put ginger snaps in the sauce.

                                  1. We make our sauce with Hunts Tomato Sauce, Brown Sugar, Lemon Juice and Butter

                                    1. Just a suggestion for any stuffed cabbage recipe: Put the entire raw head of cabbage in the freezer for a day, then defrost in the fridge. You can then easily peel off the wilted leaves and go right to rolling without having to bother cooking the cabbage.

                                      My mother's recipe for sweet and sour stuffed cabbage included something called "sour salt"--a bottle of crystals found in the spice section of the market way back when. When I decided to recreate her recipe (which of course was never written down), I had no idea what it was or where to find it, but some research revealed it was citric acid--the stuff that makes your mouth pucker when you eat sour candy. I wasn't about to hunt for citric acid, but found that Joan Nathan's "Jewish Holiday Kitchen" recipe for stuffed cabbage tastes just like mom's and uses lemon juice for the sour component.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: MommaJ

                                        My Yiddishe bubby used sour salt, as well. It can usually be found in the kosher section of supermarkets (I think under the Rokeach label).

                                        My grandmother used tomato juice in her "halishkes" (she was born in Lithuania, then part of Russia, in 1903). I don't think I heard the terms cabbage rolls and stuffed cabbage until I was in my teens.

                                        My husband's non-Jewish Ukrainian cleaning lady used to put grated apple in her "halubchies" sauce.

                                        1. re: MommaJ

                                          Or microwave the cabbage. Peel of leaves as they become limp. Save yourself the trouble of an extra pot.

                                          1. re: sarahmchugh

                                            Or just put the whole head in the freezer, they'll wilt completely when removed.

                                        2. Recipe sounds good and the suggestions are well taken. The freezing of the cabbage really works. No burnt finger tips. Guess I'll be changing my menu for this week. Perhaps Saturday will do these. My previous attempts to freeze them worked well as do my stuffed bell peppers.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Shunick

                                            I find that the texture becomes a bit mushy when the cabbage is frozen rather than simmered.

                                          2. Thanks for all the great cabbage roll variations!

                                            I made a batch this weekend and used many of the good tips I found here including--
                                            Frozen then thawed head of savoy cabbage.
                                            Ketchup and brown sugar added to tomato sauce.
                                            (I will try the V8 next time!)

                                            Also...a new stuffing for me--
                                            Barley! half-cooked in beef broth with mushrooms, mixed with the local butcher's fresh beef sausage meat (without casing).

                                            My cabbage rolls turned out great!

                                            1. Raisins in the sauce!

                                              1. I made these recently - they are one of my husband's favorite. I snuck in brown rice instead of white and he didn't even know the difference.

                                                1. I made this tonight for dinner and it was awesome! I took a lot of the suggestions for the sauce, but I added a twist. Instead of lemon juice or vinegar to get the sour, I happened to have a jar of Thai preserved lemons - I cut up a small one and added it and a little of the liquid from the jar and really liked the results. My husband has never had stuffed cabbage before, and it was a hit!

                                                  1. This was great. I added the ketchup, 12 ground up ginger snaps to the sauce and heated it then deglazed the pan with 1/4 cup Marsala wine. Also added some celery seeds and caraway seeds to both the sauce and meat mixture. Place the rolls in a roasting pan, preheated the oven to 300° and covered with foil and baked for two hours. Wonderful.

                                                    1. Here is the best secret ever for making cabbage rolls. It was always tough to get that sour rock salt and brown sugar recipe just right but here is a tip that will come out perfect everytime. Make your sauce with one can of ocean spray whole cranberry sauce and two cans of hunts tomatoe sauce and the sweet and sour taste comes out perfect everytime, and those cranberries in the sauce after it is done are to die for.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Mr.D

                                                        I do something similar when I make "lazy" halishkes. I combine a jar of sauerkraut, 2 chopped onions, 1 can of jellied cranberry sauce, 1 1/2 to 2 cups of tomato juice, 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 cabbage, chopped; bring to a boil and add in meatballs (raw) made with 2 lbs of ground beef. Simmer, covered, for about an hour. The resulting "tam" is perfect. This is a great Passover dish, by the way, if you use matzo meal in the meatball mixture.

                                                      2. I agree with Mr. D. I made the cabbage a couple of months ago, used my mom's sweet and sour meatball recipe. One can whole cranberry sauce, and a 14 oz bottle of ketchup, just melt together. I ususally make double the sauce, good by itself, but I doctor if up with a little brown sugar and lemon juice and/or sour salt. We like a little more of the sweet sour taste. But basically foolproof.

                                                        1. We have stuffed cabbage or Holishkes every Thanksgiving. My great Aunt Ethel was the chef starting in 1957, well before I came along. I took over the job when she passed on.

                                                          My only "addition" to her recipe was to freeze the cabbage a day or so ahead of prep, when they thaw, the leaves are already nice a pliable. No need to fuss with parboiling. Cuts down preparation to a quick half hour.

                                                          She and I put raisins in our tomato based sauce... brown sugar and lemon add the sweet/tart.

                                                          1. My mother (and now I) bake the stuffed cabbage at 350 in a pyrex dish, bathed in crushed tomatoes. The sauce thickens up a bit. When they start to bubble through they are done. I never thought to do it in a pot. Sounds easier. V8 seems like a fine idea- I find it too salty to drink nowadays but it will work fine in the dish.
                                                            I can not render in english spelling how we used to pronounce it. Holupzi comes close. Now we call them galumpkis.
                                                            Kasha is good in the stuffing too.

                                                              1. i use a recipe from Jennie Grossinger cookbook. The sauce consists of sauteed onion, crushed tomatoes and salt and pepper. Savoy cabbage is placed for in boiled water for 15 minutes off the heat. Leaves easily seoarated and hard vein removed. Cabbage is filled with meat, rice, grated onion, egg, 2 tb cold water, salt and pepper. Rolled and cooked 1-1/2 hrs. Add honey, lemon juice and raisins.Cook for 15 minutes more. Yum

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: classylady

                                                                  That's closer to my Polish/Jewish Grandma's recipe..although my Aunt Blanche from the other side of the family (Galitzianer) also made it the same way...Galitzia was Polish or Austrian or Russian...and mayby all 3 at the same time! That border kept changing! But the raisins stayed the same!

                                                                  It was the 'sweet' component of "Sweet and Sour" in this dish...

                                                                2. your query about Ratners. They were more or less a vegetarian restaurant expect fish was included in their menus. The old Ratner cookbook that I have does not have any meat recipes and uses meat substitutes which can be found in the health food stores. The soup and salad recipes are great. I still remember the plate of onion rolls, pickles and cole slaw which was served before ordering your meal.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: classylady

                                                                    I used to love trips to Ratner's with my parents. What a blast from the distant past, thank you!

                                                                  2. Ive tried the rice both ways, cooked & uncooked and my opinion is the filling is much softer wit cooked rice. However what I have done with my receipe is to use the water that I blanche my heads of cabbage with I then used to cook my rice. I also will add a few pieces of uncooked bacon to the water and uncooked rice. After my rice is cooked and cooled I will add sautaed onions and bacon along with apox 1/2C of white vinegar to my ground chuck, pork mixture.

                                                                    1. Thanks for the ideas,

                                                                      We have started placing 3" lengths of smoked kielbasa between the cabbage rolls in the casserole dish and baking them together. Improves the flavor of each (and the sauce), and man oh man, do they go GREAT together....

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                                                        I'm so happy to find this post. I made a new post a week or so ago "ISO cabbage rolls"


                                                                        I don't have any kind of written down recipe, just my memory of what my mom did when she made them.

                                                                        She cored the head of white/green cabbage, peeled off the outter tough leaves and boiled it until the leaves were a bit limp. I THINK I WILL TRY THE FREEZING METHOD.

                                                                        I sort of remember one time she made them the rice wasn't cooked enough. So I think she started to pre-cook the rice about 1/2 way done.

                                                                        Oh, and she learned by burning them at least once, to put the old tough outter leaves in the bottom of the old blue and white roaster. And adding more water during the cooking process, they needed lots of 'steam' inside. She would never lift the lid---she said that dried them out...LOW SLOW OVEN COOKING IS WHAT I'LL DO.

                                                                        Since our family on my dad's side was partly Russian and mom's German, not Jewish, they had PORK and SAURKRAUT mixed with the rice filling. NO TOMATOES. NO RAISINS NO GINGERSNAPS, NO GARLIC. Lots of onion and black pepper too.

                                                                        Mom even started to make them with pre cooked spare ribs. She would cut the small ribs into 2 bones for each roll and 1 bone portion if it was a big one. Also she never used ground beef or ground sausage. It was cubed pork and then ribs.

                                                                        Should the saurkraut be rinsed or not? I don't remember what my mom did. As I posted in my own search my dad used to tease her that she made this Halupsi dish Chinese instead of German because she put in too much rice. So I know there was a lot of importance in the saurkraut to my dad's version.

                                                                        The cabbage rolls didn't make a 'sauce' just the dripping from being roasted. There was never anything juicy to spoon over them. They were yummy 'bare naked".

                                                                        Now to come up with a recipe from all those points.

                                                                        Please Jump in with a recipe idea for me if you like!

                                                                      2. Had the urge to make stuffed cabbage this week and I updated my Grandma Esther's recipe. To make the sauce sweet and sour, instead of sugar or vinegar or lemon, I used grated preserved lemon for the sour, grated carrot and parsnip for the sweet.

                                                                        Also, I microwaved the head of cabbage, which avoided blanching the leaves, and trimmed the rib thinner for easier rolling.

                                                                        Otherwise did what my grandma did for the stuffing and the sauce. Came out great.