The Ukrainian word for cabbage rolls have a lot of different spellings when it’s transliterated into English. Holubtsi, holubchi, holubchy, golubchi, golubtsi. Why the h and g? Regional differences, I suppose.
In my family, holubtsi are more often meatless than meaty. This applies especially to Sviata Vechera, the meatless 12-dish Christmas Eve dinner. In this version, they are also gluten-free and could go vegan by swapping out the butter for vegetable oil.
While you could finish the rolls in the oven, this recipe in the Instant Pot helps you save some time by speeding up the fillings and the final cooking.
This recipe saves almost 2 hours of cooking time!
Do you have a sour cabbage head? Check out my recipe for Sour Cabbage Rolls – Holubtsi.
Dissecting a cabbage head
Make sure you choose a head of cabbage that will fit in your Instant Pot.
Then, you need to remove the core. This is just pulling out the hard centre on the cabbage to make sure it steams nicely. The first step is to work your way around the stem at an angle with a small knife.
After you’ve got a start, grab a melon baller and remove more of the solid areas of the core.
On a typical cabbage head, you’ll be melon balling out about 4 inches of cabbage core.
Once you have a cored cabbage, place it core-side-down in the Instant Pot on the steamer insert. I’ve found that pressure cooking the cabbage head means you can’t observe the cooking process – and all cabbage heads are unique. When I’ve tried pressure cooking, I’ve had overdone outsides and raw insides. So, steam it is. After the cabbage head is steamed and softened, you’ll make the rice and onions while the cabbage cools.
For several years now, I’ve replaced pearl rice with sushi rice in cabbage rolls. Pearl rice is the standard choice – it’s a short-grained rice. It’s supposed to be stickier than long-grained rices. But, I find it’s difficult to find pearl rice.
When I was eating sushi – specifically nigiri – I noticed that it was the same size and shape as a cabbage roll. It holds together incredibly well – because it’s just another short-grained rice.
Ensure the rice is rinsed thoroughly. I use cold water and spend at least 4 or 5 minutes rinsing the rice until the water runs clear.
With the Instant Pot, it’s really easy to make rice turn out every time. This recipe undercooks the rice. So, do not follow these instructions to make actual sushi rice. But, the Instant Pot fundamentals for good rice stay the same – 1 part rice to 1 part water.
Combine the semi-cooked rice with fried, chopped onions. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remember the rice will cook again as a cabbage roll!
The first thing to start making cabbage rolls is to unfurl the leaves off of the steamed head of cabbage. If the centre isn’t softened enough, toss it back onto the steaming rack to go a bit more.
Let’s look at the anatomy of a cabbage leaf:
There’s a stem at the centre of the leaf. While some people make big cabbage rolls with the entire leaf, that stem isn’t so great. It can be tough to roll.
With a small knife, cut out the stem. You’ll be left with two semi-circles of cabbage.
Press the rice filling mixture into a nigiri-sized ball. It’s less than ¼ cup of rice mixture. Place it close to the stem-side of the cabbage leaf.
Roll up the stem edge about one-third of the way to cover the rice ball.
Trim any ends that aren’t fitting with a small knife. Fold in the left and right ends and continue to roll away from you towards the edge of the cabbage leaf.
Now that the cabbage roll is rolled, give it a gentle squeeze to get any air out of it.
As you go along, some leaves won’t have the right shape or will tear. Save them! They come in handy later.
Putting it all together
At this point, you could assemble the cabbage rolls into a buttered casserole dish. You could freeze it and bake it later for about 2 hours in a 325°F oven. If you take this path, you’ll cover the top of the cabbage rolls with some large cabbage leaves to protect them from burning in the oven.
If you’re going to cook them in the Instant Pot, it’s the reverse. You layer cabbage leaves on the bottom of the Instant Pot.
Now, you’ll arrange the cabbage rolls on top of the leaves.
Pour the tomato substance of your choice on top.
- Instant Pot (any size as long as it’s smaller than your head of cabbage)
- Small knife
- Melon baller
- Fine mesh sieve
- Steam rack/insert
- Steam lid
- Medium-size casserole dish with a lid or foil to cover (if you’re baking them in the oven)
How long does the traditional recipe take? There’s still the manual labour stays the same but…
- Cooking onions: 1 hour on the stove now 15 minutes in the Instant Pot
- Rice: 30 minutes on the stove now 5 minutes in the Instant Pot
- Baking: 2 to 2.5 hours at 325°F now 45 minutes in the Instant Pot
* Instant Pot times are estimates but include pressurization, cooking and depressurization on the Instant Pot.
Instant Pot Cabbage Rolls / Holubtsi
- 2 onions finely chopped
- 1 stick or 1/2 cup butter or vegetable oil
- 2 cups sushi rice
- 2 cups water
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 head green cabbage
- 1 ½ cups water, broth, blended canned tomatoes, or tomato juice
- Remove the hard core of the cabbage head. Using the steamer insert, steam it core down with 2 cups of water. This should take about 20 minutes.
- Add the chopped onions and butter to the Instant Pot. Use the Saute function on Low to melt the butter. It heats up quickly so turn the heat off (Cancel) to avoid browning.
- Set the Instant Pot to Manual on High Pressure for 10 minutes. Do a quick release.
- Remove the cooked onions and drain in a sieve. Save the melted butter.
- Rinse the sushi rice in cold water until the water runs clear. This should require about 10 minutes of agitation and draining.
- Add the completely drained sushi rice to the Instant Pot with 2 cups of water.
- Set the Instant Pot to Manual on High Pressure for 5 minutes. After it's finished, release the pressure after an additional 5 minutes.
- Combine 1 cup of the cooked onions, salt and pepper with the rice. (Reserve the other cooked onions for another recipe or perohe topping)
- Unfurl the leaves of the cabbage. Remove the stem of each leaf and stack up the cabbage semi-circles.
- Press about 1/4 cup of the rice filling mixture into 2 inch long balls
- Roll up the cabbage (instructions above)
- Fill the bottom of the Instant Pot with cabbage that was too difficult to work with or tore.
- Layer the cabbage rolls on top.
- Pour the tomato mixture on top.
- Set the Instant Pot to Manual with Low Pressure for 30 minutes.
- Allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes then release any remaining pressure