Czechoslovakian Cabbage Rolls

I’m going to share a very special recipe with you on this fine, freezing, winter evening. My Great-Grandmother Mary taught my Mom how to make these Slavic style cabbage rolls and she, in turn, taught me.

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I asked my Grandma about the history behind this recipe. She thought the recipe would have been passed down from my great-great-grandmother, Dorothy, who lived in Kostaleny, Czechoslovakia in the 1800’s. This is a picture of her (second from left) and my great-grandmother, Mary (standing in front of her mother), with her in-laws in their traditional Czech costumes.

Dorothy and inlaws

They were farm folk living in a small village and probably had to grow most of their food. With cabbage and onions from the garden and rice to stretch the meat, this was a pretty economical meal way back then, just as it is today.

Dorothy, along with her daughter, immigrated to America through Ellis Island in 1920 to meet her husband, Mike, who had gone before her 11 years earlier. My Great-Grandmother Mary was only 4 months old when her father left Czechoslovakia.

Dorothy holding Mary

This is my Great-Grandma Mary the way I remember her. She taught me how to make Bolshevik onion dumplings and to use butter like it’s going out of style. I’ll share that recipe another time.

Great Grandma Mary

Czechoslovakian Cabbage Rolls

  • one large cabbage
  • one onion
  • 2 lb. ground beef
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 c. rice, uncooked
  • 1 onion, sauteed
  • 1 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 t. pepper
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 15 0z cans tomato sauce
  • caraway seeds

Cut the stem out of the cabbage and remove old leaves. Steam just enough to soften leaves so that they release without tearing. Carefully peel individual leaves off the head of cabbage and set aside. Repeat until the leaves get too small to use as a wrap. Cut away the “backbone” of the stem for easier rolling.

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Roughly chop remaining cabbage and one onion and place half of both in the bottom of a large pot. Sprinkle with caraway seeds and top with a few tablespoons of butter.

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Combine meat, sauteed onion, eggs, rice, milk and salt and pepper.  Place 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of beef mixture on a cabbage leaf and roll up.

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Layer over chopped cabbage and onion inside the pot and repeat until the meat filling is gone.

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Pour tomato sauce over rolls. Top with remaining chopped cabbage and onion. Use water or broth to completely submerge rolls. Sprinkle with more caraway seeds and additional butter if desired. Cover pot with a lid and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer for 2 1/2 hours. Serve warm.

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There were literally years between this batch of cabbage rolls and the last time we had them. I was inspired to make them again after trying Lebanese cabbage rolls in a lemon olive oil sauce at a Mediterranean deli the other day.

After doing a little research, I’m intrigued by the cabbage roll and the many different ways it’s made around the world. Apparently, Swedes skip the tomato sauce and serve their rolls with potatoes, gravy, and lingonberry jam. Eastern Europe, where this recipe came from, uses the tomato-based sauce and sometimes serves them with sour cream. Asian rolls consist of seafood and mushrooms. Several regions use pickled cabbage, including Southeastern Europe.

Are cabbage rolls a traditional food from your family past? If so, how did they differ from this recipe?

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49 thoughts on “Czechoslovakian Cabbage Rolls

  1. Boy Sarah, you blog is a masterpiece. I didn’t expect to see family pics included. You did a lot of research. Good job. I’ll be interested in knowing what kind of response you get.

    • Thanks Grandma! I was hoping I’d get all the facts straight. :) It was very fun including family photos and doing the research for this! I couldn’t have done it without all your work on our family genealogy. Thank you!

  2. Reblogged this on Life with Tess and commented:
    Hello dear friends …
    On this the Ninth Day of Christmas I have been out socialising with a dear friend at a cafe and talking ten to the dozen as we caught up with Christmas news and other things. Oh, it was lovely!
    Therefore I came home late – fully intending to write on my blog – but as the day is getting on, I am running out of time to post.

    Then, an email comes in from a food blog I follow with the best recipe for cabbage rolls on it. But, what is even better, is the story of how the blogger came to be making Czechoslovakian Cabbage Rolls in the first place. It comes from her heritage! As I make Lebanese cabbage rolls for my family I thought you might enjoy this Czechoslovakian version. The blogger also tells you how to make other versions. It is a great post. Enjoy!

    • Hello Tess, Thanks so much for reblogging this post and for your wonderfully kind comment on it. I’d love to get the recipe for your Lebanese cabbage rolls – please? :D

      • Glad to reblog Sarah. Yes, I will get you my recipe for the Lebanese variety. I am having a belated New Year’s lunch for my family today so be patient and I’ll get it for you. By the way, when we have celebrations, we use vine leaves to make our ‘cabbage rolls’ – same thing only using the young vine leaves … but I still LOVE the cabbage variety best!

          • I’m not sure what you mean Sarah … is that dolmades? If so, I think they are. The cabbage gives a distinctive taste as you know, while the vine leaves have a totally different taste. We also make them with silverbeet leaves (the big green leaves sometimes called spinach but not here in Australia).

            I also have a vegetarian variety as well! I’ll make an effort to get the cabbage recipe to you today. Tess

            • Yes, I think it’s the same. I’ve seen them referred to as dolmas down here, which may not be accurate, but the description seems to be identical. :D Sounds delish!

            • Yes let me know and I have printed your one off too! I want to make it and taste the difference. It’s great isn’t it trying each other country’s recipes? All the best, Tess x

  3. Sarah, I love this post. I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to learn how to make these to pass down this heritage to you, and then to have you appreciate it so much. I love the old photo of the traditional dress. How beautifully these women decorated their clothes. How talented they were, and how soon we forget. So glad we have these photos to remember.

    • Thank you for the comment, Covetotop! I feel like I should be wearing a red cape with a big S on it when I read “Super Chef Sarah”. :P That conjures up some pretty hilarious pictures in my head!

  4. I just went through your slideshow three times…just marveling at how perfect you made that cabbage roll. You didn’t disappoint with this, Sarah. Beautiful post. So glad you included pictures. Makes me miss Great-Grandma…with her sparkly eyes and lovely little laugh. Thanks for posting this. You’ll have to teach Addie how to make these someday, you know. <3

    • For sure! If she’s interested in cooking. :) Blake helped me make breakfast the other day. Too cute. Thanks for your compliment, Sage! I’m glad it didn’t disappoint.

  5. I love the history of your family included in this lovely post. You never cease to amaze me! I am definitely inspired to try to make some cabbage rolls.

    • Thank you, Maris! And thanks for posting it on Facebook. Hannah Seawald is here and said she found from your link. :) My stats definitely took a leap too. :P

  6. Hi Sarah, Somehow I was no longer receiving your posts. Sage resent me your link, and it seemed so perfect that the first e-mail I received was a recipe my Mother made all the time. Czechoslovakia is my heritage too. Your post is so beautiful. I love seeing your family and those old photos.

    • Hello Suze! So good to hear from you and I’m glad you found your way back to my blog. :) Don’t you love the clothes they wore? I really wish that one of those outfits had been handed down for us to see in person.
      Thanks so much for the comment. Wishing you the best! <3

  7. So nice to have the history of your family available to you & with pictures, that is quite remarkable! This sounds like a great recipe I make these often, from a polish cook book, quite similar, but without caraway , will try this next time :)

    • Yes! My grandma and mom work so hard to make our genealogy come alive for us. I love knowing where we can from and some of our ancestry. I love the caraway! My great-grandma would put the seeds in sauerkraut as well, to serve with her dumplings. It’s my favorite way to eat sauerkraut now. Let me know what you think of the favor if you try it!
      Thanks for coming by Thelma!

  8. Those look delicious! I was browsing cabbage roll recipes and came across yours. Like you, my family also came from Czech. My grandmother never learned to speak English so my memories of her are of her and my mom sitting in the kitchen conversing in Czeh. Thank you so much for this yummy recipe…off to the store I go for my ingredients.

    • What a fun memories! My great-grandmother never spoke Czech, though I imagine she knew the language. Looking back I wish I was able to ask her more questions and get more of her history straight from her.
      Hope you enjoy the cabbage rolls and thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment, Susan!

  9. These look and sound delicious! I’m for sure going to give them a try. You do such great posts, Sarah and I love the family history! Thanks for sharing!

      • Okay I”m officially adding this recipe to my repertoire. I tried them out yesterday and they where delicious and fun to make! Dad thought they where amazing and he wanted to make sure I told you so. I also showed him your blog and he was impressed so you now have another unofficial follower … added to his bookmarks… LOL

  10. Sarah – Your story about your Great-Great Grandmother is so familiar. My Grandmother Anna Senyuk (sp) Orenic, came over from Czecheslovokia when she was 16 around 1910, met my Grandfather Michael Orenic in Joliet, Ill and raised 6 kids, including my father Edward J Orenic. Every time we visited Joliet, Gramma Orenic made a huge pot of Halupke. I’m craving it now! LOL

    • Hello Bill, Thank you so much for sharing some of your history! I haven’t heard cabbage rolls called halupke before, but I like that name. It makes me wonder if my great-grandmother called them that when she was in the Old Country,
      Thank you for visiting my blog!

    • Hi Marcia, I think fresh tomatoes would be great for the sauce. As for the milk, I honestly don’t know, other than that’s what my great-grandmother did. :) If you were avoiding dairy, I believe you could easily substitute for broth, or nut milks.
      Thanks for coming by and please let me know how you like them!

    • Thank you so much, Alison! There’s something about the “old world” cooking that just makes me happy. Maybe it’s the connection I feel to my ancestors. :)

  11. These bring back wonderful memories of my childhood :-) It’s amazing at how many variations there is of this. My Aussie husband has asked me to make these for dinner tonight. Like so many I didn’t write it down when mum made it and now she has passed, I am trying to reconnect with my Czech roots. I remember most of it and after reading yours it’s coming together nicely. Mum would keep 1 cup of the water that the cabbage was cooked in and add it to 1 can of tomato soup, along with a little cracked pepper, salt and a bay leaf or two. She served the rolls in this soup/sauce and it was to die for :-)

    • Laura, thank you so much for sharing your memories about this! I love the idea of using the cabbage water for the liquid to cook the rolls. Will definitely do that next time. :) You inspire me to be more diligent to hunt out and save the recipes of my grandmothers’ before it’s too late! Thank you!

  12. My name is Rita Hajek-Scott. I am half Czech, from my dad who is totally Czech. He teases mom that he is a double Czech – check!!! My other half is German from mom who is totally German. It is from her mother that we learned to make cabbage rolls which we call ‘pigs in the blanket’. We also know it as galushka ( ? spelling ? ). It is made like your recipe but without onion, caraway or tomato sauce although some of us choose to add chopped garlic to ground beef & rice mixture. We also put a bed of sauerkraut in the bottom of the pot & some over the top then rinse the kraut jar with water which is also added to the pot. Yesterday, 7-7-16, we ate at a Polish Restaurant, their mix was ground beef & pork & tomato sauce. I had pierogi while mom tried cabbage rolls, she said they were “very good”. I love learning more about my Czech heritage & thank you for publishing your recipe. Sincerely, Rita Scott

    • Hello Rita,

      Thank so much for sharing some of your heritage! I love hearing about the different variations each family has, whether it be how they made cabbage rolls, or bread, or anything else. :) And it’s always great when you hear the history of it as well!
      The Polish restaurant you tried sounds really good! I need to find one in my area. :)
      Thank you for coming by and taking the time to comment! Have a lovely week!

      Sarah

  13. My grandmother from Czech made “filled” cabbage all the time! I make it a couple times a year. My grandmother also added a lot of garlic, which I love. Other than that the recipe is the same. Did your family make kiffels or poppyseed and nut roll? So delicious all these recipes are.

    • Hi Paula, My grandmother taught us how to make kolache, which had a poppy seed filling. Is that similar to Kiffels? I hadn’t heard of that name before.
      I love garlic as well! It’s one of my favorite ingredients, so I just might add it next time I make the cabbage rolls. :)
      Thanks for the comment!

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