Holupki (stuffed cabbage) (my friend Nancy’s recipe, from her Russian mother in law)
I have seen this dish spelled various ways, like Golumpki, Golabki, Golubtsy, Holubsti, but I am spelling it the way my friend does.
Select a head-sized cabbage, as pale in color as possible
1 large can of tomato juice (2 liters, or 2 quarts, whatever those big ones are)
1 can of tomato soup (concentrated)
coarse salt, pepper
Salted water in a large pot for boiling
3/4 cup ground lean beef or sausage (or you can mix them)
1 1/2 cups of cooked rice, cold
Fill a large pot about half full of water with a tsp of salt and put on the stove to bring to a boil. Meanwhile, take a paring knife about 2 inches long, and cut out/away the round “stem” of the cabbage bottom. You can accomplish this by roughly making a ‘circle’ of stabs, and then gouging it out, for a few inches deep. It does not have to be exact, or smooth; the removal just helps the boiling water to soften the leaves.
Boil the entire cabbage head — stem down — in the boiling salted water for about 5 to 10 minutes. Don’t boil it to death or the outer leaves will disintegrate.
Remove the cabbage and let it cool on a plate for half an hour, or until it’s cool enough to the touch to handle it. Pour off the water from the pot, but reserve 1 cup of the ‘cabbage water.’ Set aside.
Remove the two largest leaves from the cabbage, and lay them in the bottom of the emptied pot. These are just a cover — to keep the rest of the stuffed cabbages from sticking to the pot.
In a separate bowl, mix the raw meat and rice, adding a little coarse salt, and generous cracked pepper from a mill.
Beginning with the outer leaves, remove gently and “skim” the “spine” of the leaf with the paring knife at the thick end. This is to make the cabbage leaf more pliable for rolling. With the cabbage leaf in your palm, spine side against your hand, scoop about a tablespoon of the meat/rice mixture into the leaf near the thick end. Fold/roll the heel of the leaf over the meat, tucking in the sides (like closing double doors) over it, and continue rolling all the way to the most thin ending of the leaf. It makes a nice little roll and the damp sort-o-limp leaf naturally holds closed. Place ‘seam side’ down into the pot. Continue using all the cabbage leaves you can… they will get smaller as you use up the head. The very core of the cabbage is too small to roll with, but you should be able to get enough leaves to make a pot of cabbage rolls. “Loosely” pack them in the pot so that the juice will fill the space.
In a large pitcher, or bowl, mix the tomato juice and the juice of one fresh lemon. Stir in the contents of tomato soup concentrate, stirring with a long wooden spoon. Add about half of the ‘cabbage water’, and stir until smooth. Add coarse salt and fresh pepper to taste.
Gently pour the tomato soup/juice mixture over the cabbage rolls. They will “float” so reserve some of the juice for adding as it cooks down.
Place on the stove and allow it to slowly heat to a low ‘bubble’ cooking, stirring/arranging gently to keep cabbage rolls from “un-raveling” in the process. You may cover the pot, but just don’t let it boil over or too hard. You must let it cook ‘gently’ so that the cabbage rolls remain intact. Cook for about two hours.
Serve in flat soup bowls with fresh homemade french bread and red wine, or cold beer.
Everyone on God’s earth loves this dish; even people who claim they “hate cabbage.”