Stuffed Cabbage (Plnená Kapusta or Holubky)

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One of the best things about online publishing is that it’s a great two-way learning street. Not only it allows you to share your knowledge with others, it also allows you to gain new knowledge from the comments and feedback left by the site visitors. What do I mean? Shortly after I started this website, I started getting requests for a recipe for holubky. I had no idea what people were talking about! Despite living in Slovakia for the first 14 years of my life, I had not heard of this dish. To this date, the first, and only time, I actually had this dish was not in Slovakia, but in the US. It was at a Christmas dinner showcasing traditional Slovak dishes, which, well, didn’t seem so traditional to me. So I started to research this mysterious holubky in more detail, and found that it’s a common dish in the eastern part of Slovakia. Slovakia, despite it’s small size, has quite a large variation in traditional dishes from one end to the other. In the central region, where I grew up, it seems that this dish has not caught on as, let’s say, bryndzové halušky or Hungarian goulash, two dishes I grew up with. But, a week ago I visited a local farmer’s market in Falls Church, VA, the town where I live, and found a nice head of cabbage there. I figured the time has come to finally make some stuffed cabbage (plnená kapusta).

Ingredients: one head of cabbage, 2 tbsp of oil or lard, 1 onion, 3 tsp flour, 1 small container of sour cream, paprika
Filling: 0.5lb ground beef, 1tsp oil, rice (half a cup to a cup), water (twice as much as rice), 1 small onion, 1 egg, black pepper, one clove of garlic
Prep Time: 40 minutes

Make the filling and prepare the leaves

Start by cutting out the core from the cabbage (kapusta). Also take an onion (cibuľa), and grate it using a hand grater or a food processor. You will need two onions, one for the filling, and one for the sauce.

Stir the onion on a bit of oil until it foams. Add the rice (ryža). Next add water (twice as much as rice), cover, and cook until the rice is almost done. The recipe called for 1 cup of rice for the half pound of meat, but this made for a mixture bit heavy on the rice. Use less rice if you prefer more meat.

In the meantime, put the cabbage in a pot of hot water and bring to a slow boil. The leaves will start to fall off. Carefully remove the leaves as they come off with a knife. Next cut off the bottom stiffer part so you get a flexible leave that can be rolled. Save all pieces.

Chop the stiffer cut-off pieces into small strips. Fry for few seconds on oil along with a grated onion and paprika. Cover with water and bring to a boil.

Stir in 3 teaspoons of flour (I used Wondra) into the sour cream. Take a small amount of the liquid from the sauce pan, and stir into the sour cream mixture to dilute it. This is better than directly putting the cream in the sauce, as it will keep the cream from lumping up. Stir the diluted cream into the sauce.

Mix the meat, the egg, ground black pepper, salt, and a crushed clove of garlic. Add the cooked rice, and mix together.

Filling cabbage leaves

Start filling the cabbage leaves. Take about a teaspoon of the filling and place it to one side of the leaf. Flip one side over. Ideally, do this diagonally, as if you were making a funnel. This is not shown too well in this set of pictures.

Complete the roll, and finally tuck the end pieces in.

Cook the Holubky

Place the holubky in the sauce and cover with a lid to keep them from coming apart. This may not be really required, since I cooked some separately and they stayed together.

Cook until done, the best way to check is to take one and try it. It cooked mine for about 30 minutes, until the cabbage leaves were nice and soft. By the way, you can also cook the holubky separately. This will give them a cleaner appearance. Enjoy!