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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Warmth of Home Rolled Into Leaves

Russians stew cabbage, thicken soups with it, salt it for winter and stuff it. The cuisine of Russia must have more dishes based on cabbage than any other.

Russians eat seven times as much cabbage as Americans (even counting all that cole slaw served in every diner and deli), Vyacheslav Kovalyev and Nikolai Mogilny write in their book "Traditions, Customs and Dishes of Russian Cuisine."

For many Russians, stuffed cabbage rolls with meat, called golubtsy, are the coziest of cabbage dishes, the one most associated with the warmth of home. Originally Belarussian and Ukrainian, the dish was adopted by Russian cooks and became a prominent part of Russian food.

It is presumed that golubtsy was once a ceremonial dish of the Russian Orthodox Church, and it was so-named because the roll resembled a baked pigeon, or golub.

One of the keys to cooking golubtsy is to turn a crisp cabbage leaf into a soft, elastic and easily chewable wrapping for the meat stuffing. Perhaps because not every cook succeeds at this, many people -- children in particular -- like only the stuffing, capriciously leaving the leaves on the plate.

To make them soft, the cabbage leaves are removed from the stalk, the tough portion of the central rib is cut out, and the leaves are cooked in boiling water for 10 minutes. Even better: Wrap the pile of leaves in foil and cook them for 5 to 7 minutes in a moderately hot oven. The leaves will hold together but turn pliable enough to wrap the filling, and they taste much better.

When the leaves are cooked and cool enough to handle, a tablespoon of stuffing -- most often made of ground meet mixed with boiled rice and chopped raw onion -- is put on each leaf, toward the stalk end. Fold the two sides over and then wrap the stuffing, rolling toward the thin edge of the leaf. Each roll should be about 4 inches long and 2 inches thick. If the leaves are sufficiently pliable, you will not have to tie the rolls, but if necessary, tie them with kitchen string.

Place the rolls in layers in a saucepan, pour in enough beef stock to cover them and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Sprinkle the rolls with chopped herbs before serving.

Although the dish is very popular in Russian families, it is hard to find on the menus of Moscow restaurants, even those serving Russian food. It has been served in the Radio Club Gvozdi, a nightclub famous for its Russian menu, but is no longer served because too few people ordered it.

One place that does serve golubtsy is the Traktir U Yeliseyeva restaurant on Kozitsky Pereulok in the city center. Raisa Peternya, the restaurant's cook, shared her vegetarian version of the dish -- golubtsy with mushrooms:

"For the stuffing I lightly roast mushrooms with grated carrots, chopped onion, salt and pepper, then wrap the mixture in leaves and saut? the rolls for three or four minutes until they are pale golden. After that I pour sour cream over them, sprinkle them with ground cheese and bake in an oven until cheese is melted."

At 30 rubles ($5) for a 250-gram portion, Peternya said the dish is popular among vegetarians.

One more variant of the dish, so-called leniviye, or lazy golubtsy, probably was invented by cooks trying to limit their time in the kitchen. To cook them, you don't need to wrap the stuffing: Minced cabbage leaves are simply added to the meat and rice. Then patties are formed from the mixture, browned lightly on both sides in a saut? pan and stewed in stock or sour cream.

In the eastern parts of the former Soviet Union people cook aromatic and delicious dolma, using pickled grape leaves instead of cabbage and lamb instead of beef.

If you are puzzled over foods you find in Russia, please e-mail Tanya Mosolova at