Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls with Mushrooms

A hearty cabbage roll is one of the most famous Slavic culinary treasures. There is a wide variety of cabbage roll recipes in Central and Eastern Europe, with different sauces, spices, and stuffings, and of course, every country has its own name for this dish. It’s gołąbki in Poland, öltött káposzta in Hungary, and sarma in Macedonia. All recipes look similar but have a distinct regional touch. In Ukraine, we also have our name for cabbage rolls – holubtsi. We usually stuff them with parboiled rice mixed with raw ground meat and some simple seasoning. Then we roll the stuffing into the blanched cabbage leaves and simmer everything in rich tomato sauce until the holubtsi are tender and flavorful. This is the recipe I grew up with, but it’s not the one I want to share today.

The cabbage rolls I prepared for you are different from the typical Ukrainian version. First of all, they are vegetarian, which is pretty uncommon in the South of Ukraine, where I was born and raised. Secondly, I used pickled cabbage leaves instead of the fresh ones, making the cooking process less labor-intensive and the taste more complex and stress-free. And lastly, I braised my holubtsi in creamy onion sauce to compliment the flavorful mushroom stuffing and slightly mellow the pickled cabbage leaves’ sharp acidity. The dish came together beautifully and already became a staple in our house.

Buying Pickled Cabbage Leaves

The only challenging part about this recipe is to find pickled cabbage leaves. You have two options – making them yourselves or buying a jar in the Slavic/European grocery store. I tried both, and as you might guess, the store-bought option is much more convenient. Try searching for a large jar of whole pickled cabbage leaves at your local Russian store or a specialty grocery market, where they sell European products. You can even order them from Amazon! Zergut is the brand I always buy and trust.

But other than sourcing pickled cabbage leaves, the recipe is easy and straightforward. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do!

If you’re looking for more hearty winter recipes, check out Tefteli – Slavic Meatballs Simmered in Tomato Sauce and Chahohbili-Style Roasted Chicken.

Cabbage Rolls

Vegetarian Cabbage Rolls with Mushrooms and Barley

Ingredients
  

For the cabbage rolls:

  • 10 medium-sized pickled cabbage leaves
  • 2/3 cups pearl barley
  • 1/2 pounds mushrooms sliced (shiitake, cremini, trumpets, and chanterelles work great)
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped
  • 1 1/3 cups veggie or chicken broth water plus a pinch of salt will work as well
  • sunflower or olive oil

For the sauce:

  • 1 large onion quartered and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup chicken or veggie broth
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • oil
  • salt
  • sugar
  • black pepper

For Serving:

  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley for garnish
  • sour cream

Instructions
 

  • Remove the pickled cabbage leaves from the jar. Unroll them and place them in a medium-large bowl. Cover with cold water and leave for 30 to 60 minutes. This procedure will help to make them less sour.
  • Combine the barley and water in a saucepan. Add a small pinch of salt and bring to a simmer over high heat. Cover the saucepan with a lid, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook the barley until tender but slightly chewy, about 15 minutes. Drain any excess liquid and set the barley aside until needed.
  • Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook everything until soft and fragrant, about 10 to 15 minutes. Mix in the barley and season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of oil n a deep oven-safe pan. Add the sliced onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and mix well. Pour in 1/4 cup water and cover with a lid. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook the onion covered, stirring occasionally, until golden and caramelized, about 15 minutes. Then pour in the heavy cream and broth; add the bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, and season to taste with salt and pepper; take the pan off from the heat.
  • Preheat the oven to 425F.
  • Remove the cabbage leaves from the water and pat dry them with a paper towel. Cut off any thick stem on cabbage leaves, if needed. Lay the cabbage leaves flat on the working surface. Place a few tablespoons of filling on each cabbage leaf, fold in the sides and roll it up.
  • Place the cabbage rolls in a pot with the sauce and transfer to the oven. Roast for 30 minutes, until sauce, is thickened and the cabbage rolls are soft and golden. Remove from the oven and top with chopped parsley leaves. Serve with a dollop of sour cream.