Welcome to “Cook Along With A Coalcracker In The Kitchen”. These posts will help guide you through making some of The Coal Region’s favorite comfort foods.
IMPORTANT — READ through the post first to familiarize yourself with the ingredients and processes involved in completing this recipe!
For many of us in the Coal Region, halupki — cabbage rolls — are at the top of our comfort food list. They evoke fond memories of family dinners and holiday celebrations; our grandmother or “the church ladies” in the kitchen, boiling cabbage, stuffing and rolling the leaves — electric roasters or baking pans filled to almost over-flowing with deliciousness. In my neck of the woods, you’d be hard-pressed to find a block party or church festival where these are not on the menu among the offerings at food stands.
What you call cabbage rolls is dependent on where “you’re from”; halupki, golumpki, gwumpki, or golabki, holubtsi, sarma, balandeliai (Lithuanian for “little doves”), or any spelling of the aforementioned — even “pigs in a blanket or “blind pigeons” — just to name a few.
Variety is the spice of life
Cabbage rolls in general are subject to great debate with every cook weighing in and convinced theirs are “the best”; ask 100 cooks for their recipe and you will get 100 different versions. Although they vary slightly with the cook and region, the concept is the same; blanch a whole, cored cabbage head, pull off the leaves as they loosen, stuff the leaves with a filling then roll closed, layer them into a vessel, pour a broth or sauce over the top, cover and cook.
Hotly contested among cooks are several factors: should you use cooked rice or un-cooked in the filling mixture? What ratio/types of meat? Should the rolls be cooked in a tomato-based sauce or a meat broth? Even rolling techniques are a matter of personal preference! And, of course, what they are called is even debatable — which I already covered earlier.
I chose this recipe for the cook-along because it is straight-forward and beginner friendly. I have another version here on A Coalcracker In The Kitchen that is more complex and yields a denser filling. That version also includes layering the halupki with sauerkraut and bacon, as well as sauteing onions and using both beef and pork in the meat filling. Once you master the techniques in this recipe, you might enjoy trying my other recipe for halupki.
I always trim off the thick vein of the blanched cabbage leaf to make rolling easier; you can trim the vein flat with a sharp paring knife, or if the leaf is large enough, cut it off/out completely.
Use a meat fork in the top of the cabbage and a large spoon to support the underside when submerging it into the pot of boiling water for blanching. This step is not one to involve the kids in! Be sure to use a large enough pot to fully submerge the head of cabbage and be careful not to over-fill the pot with water — it could splash out or boil over creating a safety hazard!
Let’s get started!
The halupki making process is not an exact science. Success depends on the size and condition of the cabbage you use. Sometimes you wind up with more usable cabbage leaves than filling; other times vice versa — it’s not the end of the world. Extra leaves can be used to line the cooking pan, extra meat filling can be formed into meatballs, placed in the pot, and cooked along with the halupki, if desired — or you can simply discard any excess.
Apologies for the couple fuzzy photos; trying to juggle the camera in one hand at times did not go as planned…
Gather your equipment
- 2 medium-sized mixing bowls
- 1-cup liquid measure measuring cup
- 1 cup dry measure measuring cup
- Fine mesh strainer
- Small (2 quart) covered sauce pan
- Measuring spoons
- Wooden spoon or kitchen spoon
- 1 large cooking spoon plus meat fork or tongs
- Plastic wrap
- Cutting board
- Sharp knife for dicing
- Sharp paring knife
- Oven-safe dinner plate or glass pie plate
- Kitchen towel (optional to help hold the cabbage when removing the core)
- 8 quart or 12 quart stock pot
- A large cookie sheet
- Dutch Oven, covered roaster, or deep covered casserole dish
- Can opener
Getting down to business
Preparing the halupki filling
Place 1/2 cup long grain white or Basmati rice (my preference) in a fine mesh strainer.
Run cold water over the rice in the strainer until the water runs clear or almost clear. This process removes the excess starch from the rice. There is no need to thoroughly drain the rice; it will be covered with water for cooking.
Place the rinsed rise in a small (2 quart) sauce pan that has a tight-fitting lid.
Cover the rice with water, about 1 1/2 inches above the level of the rice. I measure the water using my thumb: I add enough water so that the level of water comes up to the top of my knuckle when the tip of my thumb is touching the rice. The point is to have enough water so your rice does not stick while par-cooking. Better to have more water than needed rather than less. The rice will get drained of any excess water before use in the filling.
Cover the sauce pan, bring to a boil over high heat, watching carefully’ because the rice can easily cook over leaving a real mess on your stove top! Once it comes to a boil, turn the heat down so the rice is at a low simmer and cook 7 to 8 minutes. This step is to par-cook the rice, not fully cook it. It will finish cooking as the halupki cook.
Drain the par-cooked rice in a fine mesh strainer. This can be done by either setting the strainer in the sink and pouring the rice into it, or the way I do it because I have difficulty lifting a hot pot safely with my arthritic hands: use a large spoon to “fish” the bulk of the rice out of the water and deposit it in the strainer set in a bowl. You will likely have a little more cooked rice than you need for this recipe, so it does not matter if you do not get all of it out of the pot. You need one (1) generous cup of par-cooked rice.
Using a dry measure measuring cup, measure out one (1) generous cup of the drained par-cooked rice. I do this by simply mounding a bit more rice onto the top when I measure. Completely accurate measurement of the rice is not crucial to this recipe or step!
Place the par-cooked rice you just measured into a medium size mixing bowl and spread it out to start to cool. Set aside for about 10 minutes. I fluff the rice around to help it cool faster, but that is not necessary if you prefer to skip that step.
Once the par-cooked rice has cooled somewhat, add the egg, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, seasoned salt, and black pepper to the rice. Do not add the beef yet.
Using a spoon, mix the ingredients in the bowl together until well blended.
Add the ground beef to the mixture in the bowl.
Using a wooden spoon or your hands (my preferred method), thoroughly blend the meat with the rice mixture. Gently press your fingers into the mixture and turn the mixture in the bowl until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the mixture until ready to use.
Prepping the cabbage
NOTE: At this time get your water on to start to heat for blanching the cabbage. Fill a stock pot about 2/3 full with water (the pot needs to be large enough to comfortably hold the head of cabbage with enough water to submerge the head. An 8 to 12 quart stock pot works well.) Place the pot over high heat and bring the water to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat, cover the pot with a lid to keep it simmering and ready to receive the head of cabbage.
Remove any damaged leaves or leaves with any dark areas from the outside of an approximately three (3) pound head of green cabbage. When choosing cabbage, pick a head that feels heavy for its size. Keep in mind that you need about 12 to 14 nice sized leaves for this recipe for rolling the halupki.
Using a sharp paring knife, start coring the cabbage. DO THIS CAREFULLY! Take your time and make small cuts on an angle into and around the core of the cabbage. You need to cut deep and wide enough around the core or you will encounter difficulty removing leaves as you get more into the center of the cabbage. If that happens, it is often necessary to remove the (now very) hot head of cabbage from the pot of boiling water and cut out more of the core. This can be dangerous and something I learned a long time ago to try to avoid. If you find the cabbage moves around on the counter as you are coring it, placing it on a folded kitchen towel can help minimize movement.
The angle of the paring knife you see in the picture is what you need to use when coring the cabbage. I cannot stress enough that this is a step during which you need to take your time and concentrate. Work slowly to minimize knife slippage and maintain good control of your knife. Remember: you are less likely to cut yourself with a sharp knife than a dull one because you need less force with a sharp knife and you have more control. If you are not practiced at removing the core from a whole cabbage head, take small pieces off at a time. It is not a race and no one’s judging!
CAREFULLY lower the cored head of cabbage into the hot water. Lower it gently to avoid splashing of the water. I always use a meat fork inserted gently into the cored portion of the head of cabbage and a large spoon underneath to support it. Once the cabbage is in the pot, use the spoon to hold the cabbage down and pull the fork out. If your water does not completely cover the head or cabbage and you have room in the pot, you can add more hot water to bring up the level of water. You can also roll the cabbage around in the pot or spoon hot water into the core; all these things will allow the cabbage leaves to start to loosen from the head. Whatever method you choose, use caution — you are working around hot or boiling water!
Bring the water back to a rapid simmer or low boil and blanch the head of cabbage. It may take several minutes of blanching/cooking before you start to see the leaves loosen from the head. You want the leaves to be pliable enough to make rolling easier, so allow them to cook to separate; don’t force them from the head. Using the end of a large spoon, tongs, or a meat fork, grab hold of the outer most leaf of the cabbage and lift it to separate it from the head.
If the leaf comes away fairly easily, it is ready to be removed. Lift the leaf out of the boiling water. It will be very hot at this point. Place it on a cookie sheet/baking tray to cool.
Continue to remove leaves in the same fashion and set aside until cool enough to comfortably handle. Remove leaves until about 1/3 of the interior of the head of cabbage remains and the leaves are getting small and harder to peel away.
The remaining inner portion of the cabbage head will be shredded and layered on top of the halupki when cooking. NOTE: DO NOT DISCARD THE WATER YOU BLANCHED THE CABBAGE IN. Some of this will be added to the halupki sauce in a future step! Leave the water in the pot and set it aside for later use in this recipe..
Each cabbage leaf has a thick “vein”that should be removed prior to rolling the halupki. This is trimmed down with a sharp paring knife. Insert the knife where the vein starts to “rise” from the surface of the leaf.
Slide the knife down under the vein, keeping the blade level with the remaining surface of the cabbage leaf and slice it off completely. Discard this vein piece. Continue to prep 12 to 14 of the largest leaves you removed from the cabbage for rolling the halupki. Trim the vein from 5 or 6 of the additional smallest leaves you removed; these will be used to line the cooking pot to help prevent sticking or scorching of the halupki as they cook. Set the leaves aside while you shape the meat filling.
Pre-portion the meat mixture to help divide it up fairly evenly and make rolling the halupki more expedient. Each portion of filling for this recipe is basically a log that fits into the palm of your hand. They do not have to be perfectly portioned. If some are a little off (larger or smaller than the others), match them up with larger or smaller cabbage leaves.
Rolling the halupki
Place one prepped cabbage leaf on a work surface, trimmed vein edge closest to you.
Place one portioned log of meat mixture on the cabbage leaf on the edge closest to you (the trimmed vein edge).
Bring up and fold over the trimmed vein edge around the roll of meat mixture, wrapping the edge around the log of meat to where it is enclosed by the edge of the leaf of cabbage.
Bring in both outside edges, one at a time, to tightly fold over the initial “roll”.
Using your fingers as needed to keep the sides tucked in, roll the halupki away from you engulfing the flap of cabbage created when you folded in both edges. Try to keep the rolled cabbage tightly tucked in against the meat log.
Completely roll up the halupki ending seam down (the “seam” being the end of the cabbage leaf). Place on a tray.
Repeat the rolling steps until you have wrapped the remaining portions of meat mixture. Having them on the tray allows you to see how many you have and visualize the size pot or covered pan you will cook the halupki in. The halupki should be tightly packed in the pot or pan for cooking and you will need enough room to cover them with the sauce.
I find this cooking this size recipe works very well in my 6 quart enameled Dutch oven. I have also used an enamel-ware covered roaster.
Using the small cabbage leaves you prepped earlier by removing the veins, line the pot with 5 or 6 leaves.
Place the halupki, seam side down, tightly into the pot on top of the lining of cabbage leaves (the lining helps prevent sticking or scorching on the bottom while cooking.)
In a medium size mixing bowl, stir together the condensed tomato soup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and black pepper. Pour this over the halupki in the pot.
Taking the remaining interior of the head of cabbage left over from blanching, shred or chop the piece using a sharp knife. Use all or some of it, as you desire. My husband is a big fan of the additional cabbage, so in my Coalcracker Kitchen, I use every piece.
Place the chopped cabbage over the top of the halupki and sauce in the pot. Place an OVEN SAFE dinner plate that fits inside the diameter of the pot upside down on top of the contents (an upside down shallow pie plate may also be used). This helps hold the halupki down in the sauce and prevents them from floating and unfolding. Unfortunately, I missed getting a photo of this step with the plate… Pour four cups of the reserved cabbage blanching water into in the Dutch oven gently around the plate. NOTE: You can skip the step of weighing the rolls down if you prefer. They may float in the sauce and loosen up a bit, but it does not affect their flavor! I often skip weighing them down. If you decide not to use the weight, just gently pour the 4 cups of water over the top of the contents of the pot. Do not stir; everything will blend well while cooking.
Place the lid on the pot or tightly cover your baking dish with foil. Place in a pre-heated 325F degree oven. Bake for 2 to 3 hours or until the cabbage is tender. Periodically check the sauce level and add some hot cabbage blanching water if the level is getting low or the sauce is drying out. The cabbage should be fork tender when finished cooking. You may need to adjust your time and it can vary depending on the cabbage used each time.
Remove from pot, serve hot. Enjoy!
Cook Along With A Coalcracker In The Kitchen – Halupki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)Course: EntreeCuisine: Eastern European, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
An iconic comfort food in the Anthracite Coal Region of Northeastern Pennsylvania, the dish features a mix of rice and ground beef rolled in individual cabbage leaves and baked in a sweet/tart tomato sauce.
1 head cabbage, approximately 3 pounds
- Halupki filling
1 pound 80/20 ground beef
1 generous cup par-boiled Basmati or long-grain white rice (after cooking). You will need 1/2 cup uncooked rice to start.
1/4 cup ketchup
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 – 10 ounce cans condensed tomato soup
2 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Leftover cabbage blanching water – 4 cups to start and more if needed as the halupki cook.
- Place 1/2 cup long grain white or Basmati rice in a fine mesh strainer, run under cold water until the water runs clear or almost clear. Place the rinsed rice in a small sauce pan that has a tight-fitting lid. Add water to cover rice to about 1 1/2 inches above the level of the rice. Cover, bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 7 to 8 minutes. Drain the par-cooked rice in a fine mesh strainer. Measure out 1 generous cup par-boiled rice and place it in a medium size mixing bowl to cool for several minutes.
- Once the par-cooked rice has cooled some, add the egg, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, seasoned salt, and black pepper to the rice and stir together. Add the ground beef to the mixture in the bowl. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, thoroughly blend the meat with the rice mixture. Gently press your fingers into the mixture and turn the mixture in the bowl until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Prepare the cabbage
- Place an 8 or 12 quart stock pot filled 2/3 full of water over high heat and bring the water to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and allow to remain at a simmer.
- Using a sharp paring knife, core the cabbage. Carefully lower the cored cabbage into the hot water. Return the water to a rapid simmer or low boil. Using tongs or a meat fork, remove each cabbage leaf as it opens and pulls away from the head. Place blanched cabbage leaf on a cookie sheet to cool. Repeat until you have at least 12 to 14 nice sized leaves for rolling. Additional leaves may be removed for use in lining the pot for cooking the halupki and the remaining core will be shredded and placed on top of the halupki in the cooking pot. DO NOT discard the cabbage blanching water, some will be used later in the sauce; set it aside in the pot.
- Remove the thick “vein” from each cabbage leaf you blanched using a sharp paring knife. Set aside.
- Portion the filling
- Pre-portion the meat mixture to help divide it up fairly evenly and make rolling the halupki more expedient. Each portion of filling for this recipe is basically a log that fits into the palm of your hand. They do not have to be perfectly portioned. If some are a little off (larger or smaller than the others), match them up with larger or smaller cabbage leaves.
- Rolling the halupki
- Place one prepped cabbage leaf on a work surface, trimmed vein edge closest to you. Bring up and fold over the trimmed vein edge around the roll of meat mixture, wrapping the edge around the log of meat to where it is nearly enclosed by the edge of the leaf of cabbage. Fold in both outside edges to tightly close over the initial “roll”. Using your fingers as needed to keep the sides tucked in, roll the halupki away from you engulfing the flap of cabbage created when you folded in both edges. Try to keep the rolled cabbage tightly tucked in against the meat log. Completely roll up the halupki ending seam down (the “seam” being the end of the cabbage leaf). Place on a tray and repeat the rolling steps until you have wrapped the remaining portions of meat mixture.
- Using the small cabbage leaves you prepped earlier, line the cooking pot with 5 or 6 of them. Place the rolled halupki, seam side down, tightly into the pot on top of the lining of cabbage leaves (the lining helps prevent sticking or scorching on the bottom while cooking.)
- Cooking the halupki
- In a medium size mixing bowl, stir together the condensed tomato soup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and black pepper. Pour this evenly over the halupki in the pot.
- Taking the remaining interior of the head of cabbage left over from blanching, shred or chop it up using a sharp knife. Use all or some of it, your choice. Place the chopped cabbage evenly over the top of the halupki and sauce in the pot. OPTIONAL: place an OVEN SAFE dinner plate that fits inside the diameter of the pot upside down on top of the contents to help hold the halupki down in the sauce and prevents them from floating and unfolding. NOTE: You can skip the step of weighing the rolls down if you prefer. They may float and loosen up a bit, but it does not affect their flavor. Gently pour 4 cups of the cabbage blanching water over and around the halupki. Do not stir; everything will blend well while cooking.,
- Place the lid on the pot. Place pot in a pre-heated 325F degree oven. Bake for 2 to 3 hours or until the cabbage is fork tender. Periodically check the sauce level and add some hot reserved cabbage blanching water if it is getting low or the sauce is drying out. You may need to adjust your cooking time and it can vary depending on the cabbage used each time.
- Remove from oven, serve, and enjoy!