Golubtsy - or, little pigeons


(Gołąbki in Polish, Holubtsi in Ukrainian) means little pigeons, although they look as unpigeonlike as possible. It is a popular Russian dish that involves wrapping meatballs into cabbage leaves and either simmering or baking for a long time on low heat in a tomato or sour cream sauce, served with sour cream.

Since I try to adapt most recipe’s for a low fat version in honor of Jesse’s gentle gallbladder, I have to cook with fat free sour cream (reminiscent of milk Jell-O..yuck) and I use ground lean turkey breast with lean ground beef. They came out OK. My grandmother’s are better, but she’s got 70 years on me, so I’m not too butt hurt.

My very basic recipe (makes 20 rolls, assuming the cabbage cooperates and has at least 20 leaves)
½ lbLean Ground Turkey Breast
½ lbLean Ground Beef
Carrot (2)
Sour Cream
Half gallon of milk
4 tablespoons of rice
Dill, parsley, green onion, etc.

I cut around the ‘stem’ part of cabbage – the idea is to give a head start to the whole leaf separating process. The Cabbage gets dropped into a hot pot of water, and as the outer leaves soften up, you pluck them off with a fork. I actually pluck them off with bare hands and swear a lot, but a fork would probably do the trick and lend a more ladylike atmosphere to the whole process.

Stuffing is combined turkey and beef. (If it was up to me, I would use, as intended by nature, history, and culture, half pork, and half beef. But, alas) I grate the carrots and chop up onions finely, and sautee them in some olive oil until they’re half done. During same time I bring 4 tablespoons of rice to a boil. When in Russia, and meat was scarce, a lot more rice was used, but beef is afforadable here, so, less rice. (I don’t even want to talk about the affordability of “lean ground turkey breast” but I would have liked to pretend-faint in the aisle of Vons. But whatever, we’re being all.. healthy, and all).

By the time the onions, carrots, and garlic have cooked, and you have thought of 8 ways to spend $8, none of which include lean turkey breast, and all of which are funner, you can take the rice, drain it, and with half sauteed vegetables fold them into the meat. I mix it well with sea salt and black pepper, and I also add a few tablespoons of sour cream into the meat to keep it soft. (And Lord knows you need it when dealing with the above mentioned turkey breast. That was my last turkey breast shot, I promise). I don’t know that Fat Free sour cream does the same thing Normal Sour Cream does, but I’m mentally willing it to. Some people throw in an egg for same purpose, I don’t, I like my eggs to manifest themeselves someplace eggy, like French Toast crust.

I line the pan (I use cast iron pots, enameled is probably better, but I was going in the oven with this, and my enameled LeCreuset has plastic lid knob) with couple cabbage leaves. Most recipes advocate envelope type assembly, but my grandmother taught me to simply roll the 2-3 tablespoons of meat into the leaf (I shave off the thick part to make leaf uniform) and tuck in the ends. This asembly doesn’t unroll like my previous envelope rolls.

I stack these into the pan, seam side down. During this, I heat my half gallon of milk (a little less), salt it, chop up green onions, dill, and parsley, a bit of butter, if you can, (I can’t) and some flour to thicken.

When the pot is full of ‘mini pigeons’, I pour in the milk broth, to cover, and bring to boil. As it comes to boil, I put it in 350’F oven, for a couple hours.

They came out good. Again, I thought they were a little dry, but largely because in the oven, some milk escapes from under the tight lid, and my top layer wasn’t really covered anymore. I may try stovetop simmer next time.

A lot of recipes call for tomato sauce, I may try next time. Instead of milk, one uses water or broth, sautee more onions and carrots in it, also a sliced apple, and into this combine either diced or fresh sautee tomatoes (with lemon juice), or simply ketchup dissolved in hot water – 1 to 2 parts. This sounds intriguing and chopped onions and carrots make a nice addition to the broth.

Serve with sour cream, enjoy! Jesse americanizes his with ketchup, which is vile, in my opinion, but seems to work for him.


  1. It kind of freaks me out that they reference pigeons in the name. But, the look pretty tasty, sans ketchup (and, really, who DOES that?!).

    What's the cost breakdown on this? Don't forget to add in the salt in your totals.

  2. Cost Breakdown. Teehee. Well, it was PROBABLY like .30 cents per pigeon, but then Jesse's turkey raised it, to, like, .45 cents. SIGH.